“Hey, whatever happened to Jeremy?”
The question hung in the air longer than it should have. Jeremy wasn’t our best friend for sure, but I didn’t think I had to remind everyone who he was. He was in our class last year; he hung out with us at lunch, drew pictures, collected comics. He was quiet, but he was part of our social circle. I was about to paint a picture for them when Steve spoke up.
“Jeremy’s dead, dude.”
The words did not register. I stopped mashing buttons on my controller. Jeremy lived up the street from Steve. If he was going to a different high school or something, there was no reason to just write him off. That was cold, even for Steve, who could be sort of doofy sometimes. I looked over at Chris for some kind of explanation.
“How did you not know this? He friggin’ died, man.”
Now, I just shot my eyes between them. It wasn’t unlike Steve and Chris to kind of team up on me, bust my balls a little. But this seemed way over the top and too twisted even for them.
“Seriously, guys, what are you talking about?”
Steve sat straight up. “I’m serious, he died last summer. He had like a brain cancer or something. He had it for a long time, I guess, and just never wanted to tell anyone. How did you not know this?”
I couldn’t really say. I had gone camping a couple of times last summer, and I worked for my uncle. I spent most of my weekends at my grandparent’s, but I had seen Steve and Chris a couple times over the summer.
“I dunno, how did you not tell me?”
“We just thought you knew.” Chris caught himself in a laugh. I couldn’t blame him; this was not a normal conversation.
“Did you guys go to the funeral or anything?”
“No,” Steve said, “I just . . . I went down the street to see if he was around and his mom answered and . . . she said he died. I asked about it and she just said, ‘Cancer, in his brain’, and she shut the door. You know how weird and religious and stuff they are; they never even liked Jer hanging out with us.”
I hadn’t known that. Other than eating lunch with him in school and having one science class together in seventh grade, I had only ever hung out with Jeremy at Steve’s. He’d just be there sometimes, watching movies or playing video games. He had gone to one of Steve’s birthday parties. It had been for his twelfth birthday; it was the three of us, Jeremy, and our friend Eddie, who had moved away. We drank Cokes all night and played truth or dare. Jeremy ate a bouillon cube, and I put Fruity Pebbles up my nose. Sneezed colors for weeks.
All I could do was bite my lip and shake my head. Jeremy wasn’t my best friend, obviously, not the way Steve and Chris were. But when your friends couldn’t field a baseball team, regardless of their collective disdain for organized sports, losing one friend made a big impact. Even if you barely knew him.
“Man, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, I really am. I think I found out right before we went to Maine, maybe? I just thought I told you.”
“And I figured you knew when I knew. Weird, man. Weird.”
I sat there numb for a moment. Chris swiped my controller.
“Jesus, dude, it’s my turn if you’re just going to sit there and cry out yer ‘gina.”
We sat in silence and watched Chris fight aliens for awhile.
“Remember . . . remember the psychic snail?”
“Shut it. S’no snails in this game.”
“No, remember, uh . . . we were in lunch and I was like, something like, ‘You never know what she’s thinking’, like Mrs. Hogan, what she’s thinking. And Jeremy’s just like, ‘Not unless you have a psychic snail for a pet,’ all quiet. And we just frickin’ died, man. It was just . . . he was so serious. And then he just folded his arms and looked like we were crazy. All like this.”
I did a spot on Jeremy impression, complete with faux disdain and indignation. Chris spammed the controller.
Steve slipped off his bed.
“I remember that. And he would, uh, he’d always autograph my homework.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t even know he’d done it. I’d like hand in my homework and there’d be red marker when I got it back, ‘Who is James Henry Dupree?'”
“Who’s James Henry Dupree?”
“I dunno! He’d just always autograph these weird names on my papers! And then I’d ask him and he’s be like, ‘Must have been a Mr. Dupree.'”
We both looked over at Chris, but he didn’t seem to have anything to add. Steve tapped me on the arm and pointed to Chris, then made a crying motion with his hands near his eyes. He followed it up with the sign for a pinch. Then he put a hand on my shoulder.
“I know it’s weird, bud, and sad. But you just go on living, right?”
That night, I lie awake for a long time thinking about Jeremy. I’d only ever had one friend die before. We had gone to the same elementary school but went to different middle schools. In seventh grade, he was in a car accident and died. It was in the newspapers, and there was an announcement in school. Everyone was really broken up, because who wants a kid to die? But there was nothing like that for Jeremy. I might have been one of his closest friends, and I hadn’t even known.
Jeremy only had one other friend that I knew of, a kid named Andrew. I didn’t like the kid, but Jeremy did. He and Jeremy wrote these computer games together, and they had seemed pretty tight. I thought maybe I should talk to him, though I didn’t quite understand why I wanted to or what we would even talk about. I felt like I should.
Dan Pullen lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. He writes stories about simple people and their complex lives.