A reblog from my author site: http://www.mjnatali.com/coffeeandings
My friend Chuck used to call me your average Joe. Not original if you ask me since my name is Joe. Chuck was my only friend. My best friend since we were boys, and we had big plans for our lives. We’d attend the same college, live on the same street once we got married to our dream girl, and move to Mexico once we retired. We planned on never being apart. Now though… now I’m alone since that fateful Saturday night when a drunk driver swerved onto the same sidewalk as us. Chuck pushed me out of the way taking the brunt of the hit. He was always selfless like that.
When I woke up in the hospital bandaged, sore and confused, I looked at the adjoining bed expecting to see him lying there, but instead I find his mom. She felt it was her responsibility to let me know he didn’t make it. She knew how close we were. She knew I’d feel guilty. She knew I would cry. Do you know what she did? She stayed with me until I cried myself to sleep, telling me he’s with us in spirit. It was the only way she knew how to console me.
I replay that night over and over in my head. Could I have done something different? Chuck was better than me in so many ways. He was outgoing and popular while I was the hermit and introvert. He volunteered every Sunday at the local Church. I didn’t attend because my parents are atheists. It should have been me that died, not him.
The casts on my legs and right arm were removed yesterday and my ribs still hurt when I breathe, but the bruises are at least healing. I missed his funeral, but it’s better to be late than never I guess.
I throw on a hoodie and buy a bouquet of his favorite flower: the Lotus. I used to laugh at him for it, but he said they symbolize rebirth. The cemetery is a few blocks down and it’s not long before I’m staring at his headstone.
“Hey buddy. Are you in that Heaven of yours?” No answer, just morbid silence. He’s nothing now. I place the bouquet next to the others and stare a moment.
“Well, if it’s real, I hope that God of yours knows how special you were. Thanks for being my friend.” I don’t understand why I’m talking to a piece of stone, but Chuck kept insisting Heaven is a real place, and so is God. If he is up there, maybe he heard me.
I turn up the music on my iPod, shove my fists in my pocket and leave. The dark clouds threaten rain as if sensing my mood. My life now actually. I’m lonely without him. We’ve never been apart a day since we’ve been best buds. It feels like a part of me died that day along with him. I want to disappear or fade into nothingness.
As soon as my hand opens the gate, a pebble hits my shin. Turning off my music, I turn to see who’s behind me, only to see I’m alone. It doesn’t stop the creepy feeling shivering down my spine though. I shrug and continue to leave this wretched place towards the small lake across town. The lake is where we met and became our hang out. We even build a small shack with the help from his dad.
The creepy shiver from earlier won’t go away. I turn my head every ten minutes to inspect the people on the street. Women and their kids, the elderly, package deliverers. Nobody looks guilty. Why can’t I shake this feeling I’m being followed?
I reach our favorite convenience store and grab a few days supply of soda and chips. When I see a bag of Cheetos’ fly off the shelf for no reason, the creep factor intensifies. Chuck’s favorite snack. “Get it together, idiot.”
The shack welcomes me in the distance as if glad to see a presence today. The weather is too cold for beach goers, but I don’t care. Mom will see the note I left before she panics. She’s been hovering over me as if I’d break like precious china. I love her for it, but she’s driving me crazy. At least now I can have my much-needed solitude.
The beach-worn pine door creeks when I open it. Discarded wrappers and cans from our previous visits remain piled in the corner. I unroll a musty sleeping bag and snack on today’s meager dinner, allowing the waves to lull me into a brief respite of nothingness. This is what I need. To feel nothing. To be nothing. Like Chuck.
A can rolls over the sand and out the open door. Creep factor intensifies and freaks me out when the door slams shut. There’s no wind today, just dark clouds and the start of rain. The fading light peeks in through the cracks, allowing me to see a vague shadowy figure standing before me.
I have nowhere to run since it’s blocking my exit so I back myself into the corner screaming. I hurl the can touching my hand, followed by more cans and wrappers, hoping this thing will go away. With each hurl and scream, the shadowy figure solidifies into a familiar figure. And it’s laughing at me.
My hand holds the remaining can in mid throw. “Chuck is that …… are you real?”
“Yep in the flesh. Well, not really but you know what I mean.”
I throw the can anyway. “Jackass. Was that you in the cemetery?”
“And the Cheetos. Don’t forget those. I miss them the most.”
I watch him sit on the sand wondering if I’ve finally lost my mind after two months without talking, shutting myself in my room, and barely eating.
“Calm down Joe. I’m really here, and I’m not.”
Quirking my brow I stare at my visitor. He sounds like Chuck. Talks like him even. “So…. how are you?” Stupid question I know, but I’m still freaking out inside.
“Marvelous. Heaven is amazing. The love you feel there is incomparable to anything I’ve ever known. And the colors? WOW!”
I watch his eyes light up as he describes bits of his Heaven. “If it’s so great, why are you here then?”
“Because of you Joe.”
His quirky smile brings me to tears. “I…. I miss you buddy. I feel broken.” He’s seen me cry before so I don’t hide my pain. I bury my head between my knees cry out my feelings. He waits until I man up and dry my eyes before speaking again.
“I miss you too, but that’s not why I’m here. I want you to do something for me Joe. It’s important.”
“Learn all you can about God, Heaven and what he’s all about. I want you to believe.”
A sarcastic laugh escapes. “You know my family are atheists.” He’s never tried to convert me before. Why now?
“Because once you believe, you are to spread the word and find others to believe too.”
“Couldn’t find anyone better?” I smile at him, trying to lighten up the atmosphere.
“Funny. Seriously though. If you agree to this, there’s a catch.”
There it is. The tiny small print you barely see at the bottom of contracts. “Oh? What’s the catch?”
“God will grant you the ability to heal with your hands. Too many people are turning away from Him so it’s time to bring in a modern-day prophet of sorts to teach about Christ. That’s Gods destiny for you.”
“Heal. With my hands. Like in the movies? Will they glow or something?” Now I know I’m crazy.
“Yes heal. No there’s no glowing or magical crap. Just your long-fingered hands.”
“Hey, these fingers are designed to play the piano.” He stares. He knows I have no interest in piano.
“Wait, a second. You said it’s my destiny.”
“Yes it’s your destiny. My destiny was to inspire you, and my death was meant to be the catalyst to spur yours into action. Joe, you are meant for something more than retiring to Mexico. God chose you because once you put your mind to something, you succeed beyond even your own expectations.”
“When you died in that accident, it was your choice? What kind of God do you have?”
“Listen Joe. Before we are arrive into an earthly body, we agreed to achieve a goal. This was mine, and it was my choosing to die in this way. Don’t worry, I didn’t feel a thing.”
“We? I chose this?” We’re atheists, so why would I be in his Heaven?
“In this lifetime, you chose this family situation. We’re comrades Joe. Once you believe again in all your heart, ask Christ to accept you. Tell the Almighty Father you want him in your life. Then, once it’s your time and you’ve completed your mission, we might see each other again.”
I can’t help it but I stare in disbelief. “You know this is hard to accept. How do I know this conversation isn’t a delusional hysteria I’m having?”
“You don’t. Have I ever lied to you Joe?”
“Nnnnoooo…. no you haven’t.”
“That’s right. And I wouldn’t start now. Do it Joe. Do it not only for Him, but you. And me.”
“What if I don’t want to?”
“I can’t force you, like say something like, I saved your life and you owe me.”
“Let me think about it okay?”
“You have the remaining few days to think about it. If you agree just tell the Almighty Father you agree and the rest will take care of itself.”
I watch him begin to fade. “Chuck! Will I see you again?”
“If you play your cards right, I’ll see you on the other side buddy.”
With that he fades back into nothingness.
I mull it over and make my choice. My planned out life curtailed and before me sat a blank slate. I believe Chuck paid me a visit. Whether or not he knows it, he did guilt me into at least trying.
Five years have passed now. I skipped college to spend my time traveling around the country taking small jobs here and there in exchange for food and board. The one thing I’ve learned on my journeys is that you can’t force someone to learn or change if they don’t want to. Some souls may be lost despite how hard I tried. Maybe someday they’ll change, maybe they won’t. I have enlightened a lot and I realize Chuck was right. I exceeded way beyond my expectations.
When I meet someone for the first time and they ask, “Who are you?”
I reply, “Not your average Joe.”