By Melinda Williams
The main character in this story is already dead.
Now, being that I’m a narrator, I’ve always been told, and at one point even believed, that at this point a story ceases to exist. Also, it’s general knowledge that one does not kill off a main character under any circumstances (at least until the very end), thus they stop being the main character and the story is no more. However, being that I’ve grown into adult narrator-hood and rules in literature are ever-changing, I’ll go ahead and surmise that this story is not over.
Miller’s death is really just the beginning.
Take Sally, for instance. She loved Miller. She loved him more than any seven year old had ever loved any other seven year old. It was real; at least as far as elementary school crushes are concerned.
“Class, I have terrible… just terrible news,” their teacher, Ms. Pimsley said on October 1st. Sally’s heart sank, for she did not wish to hear terrible, just terrible news on a day when Miller was absent. She could handle all things terrible better if he were by her side. He said he would be at school. They had planned on holding hands that day. So, she wondered, where was he?
“Miller was in an accident,” Ms. Pimsley said, one tear streaming down her cheek and taking with it about half of her mascara, which all the kids noticed but were too trained on manners to act like they noticed.
Death brings out so many lies, doesn’t it? Why did Ms. Pimsley feel the need to say Miller was in an accident? Why couldn’t she simply tell the class the truth…that she didn’t know how he had died?
She wasn’t the only one lying. But Ms. Pimsley said what she said to the class, regardless of how accurate (or inaccurate…). Oh, Sally breathed to herself, that must be why he’s late. I’m glad our teacher is giving us an explanation.
At this point Ms. Pimsley’s one unattractive tear turned into many, all gushing out of her blood shot eyeballs and plunking down onto her thighs with huge plops like rain in a heavy storm. Sally watched with concern, wondering why her teacher was so distraught. And why hadn’t Miller shown up yet?
“He…he won’t be coming back to class. He has passed away,” their teacher finally said, inches closer to the truth. She closed her eyes and held her hand over her mouth, shaking her head. Sally realized she hadn’t heard her teacher correctly. Miller… he did what? When was he going to walk into the classroom? Wait… he what?
Some of the students started crying. Others were too shocked at their seven year old developmental stage to really understand what Ms. Pimsley had just said. Sally raised her hand.
“Yes, Sally?” Ms. Pimsley felt especially sorry for Sally. Being such a tentative teacher, she was aware of the relationships her students had formed in the last week. She had even embarrassed Miller in front of the entire class for passing a note to Sally which said Do you like me? Will you hold my hand this week, if you do? That poor girl, Ms.Pimsley thought. Her first love ends so quickly. Now she’ll never believe in fairy tales. She’ll grow up to be a bitter old lady with ten cats and a broom to scare away the neighborhood children.
“Um, I’m sorry, but, um, where is he, then?” Sally was cocking her head to the side and her ponytail looked extra curly that day. Her teacher leaned forward and took Sally’s hand.
Ms. Pimsley wasn’t sure if Sally meant spiritually or physically. If a student was asking a spiritual question then a teacher had no place to answer. If she said heaven, she’d get sued. If she said no where she’d get sued ten fold. She began carefully, “Sally, I’ve just told you. Your classmate, Miller Jones, has passed away. He is in a better place.” Whatever that means.
“I don’t know.” Even if anyone in Sally’s world had known, none would tell a seven year old just how Miller Jones died.
Sally began to cry. There went holding hands. There went walking home together in middle school. There went kissing each other in high school. There went marriage… there went it all, thought Sally. She couldn’t focus on the math problems on the board for the rest of the school year. She almost failed the grade and had to repeat it. Sally moped around for weeks and persisted with her questions even when her parents told her to stop asking. It wasn’t her concern.
And thus began Sally’s story into what would become her adult personality. Being a narrator, I know these things. I knew what Sally would do before she did it. She would never really trust a relationship again. It wasn’t that she would have trust issues with the people she met, but she would never trust in the fact that she would wake up and see them the next day. Because of Miller’s death Sally expected everyone to die. Instead of taking no day for granted and living out her relationships to the fullest, Sally would go on to be that old spinster with the ten cats.
You see, Miller had everything to do with her story. Especially after he died.
Let’s not forget Miller’s best friend, Jake. He was a grade lower but almost five inches taller. On the day Ms. Pimsley shared the news of Miller’s untimely death with her own class Jake had no idea what happened. His family had just gotten back into town from a vacation the night before. His parents hadn’t watched the news and certainly hadn’t heard of their youngest son’s best friend dying. It was recess when Jake found out.
“Are you going to find a new best friend?” Another classmate, a boy named Kyle, asked him.
“No! Miller is my best friend. For life.” He stuck his chest out and said it with pride. Jake was missing him that day. It hadn’t escaped his attention that Miller wasn’t there.
“But he’d dead! How can you be best friends with someone who’s dead?” This wasn’t said in a mocking tone, but in a very earnest one. Kyle was a kind boy. He had always wanted to be in on the Miller and Jake duo but they never quite let him in. Not every secret of theirs was shared with him. Not even half of them. Miller’s death gave Kyle a kind of hope that maybe he’d swoop in and become the new best friend. At the same time he did feel bad, too. Young boys can often feel sadness and excitement at the same time. It wasn’t his fault Miller died, so why should he feel too guilty?
“What?” Jake wanted to use the cuss word he had learned from his cousin. He was tempted but knew he and Kyle were in hearing range of a teacher on duty. He curled his little fists into balls.
“I heard you. Don’t talk about Miller that way. It’s not nice to call someone dead.” Jake really meant it, too. For wasn’t dead a very bad, negative thing to be?
“But he is dead. He died.” Kyle kept trying to explain, but Jake ran toward him with a stampeding force that shut him up. Jake’s eyes were welling up with more rage than sadness and his teeth were clenched. The boys were almost nose to nose, Jake growing more furious and Kyle growing more afraid. He hadn’t known that the news of Miller’s death would do the opposite of what he wished. Instead of being let in to Jake’s now missing best friend slot, he was becoming the opposite. Kyle feared that the look Jake was giving him was permanent. It was that mean.
To both their surprise, Jake never managed to speak a word that day. He backed off from Kyle, gave him one last quizzical glance, and ran away to the other end of the playground. He sat alone and hid behind a giant oak tree, the very place where he and Miller used to go for their secret fort. No girls allowed. Certainly no Kyles allowed. No one but Jake and Miller. And now Jake was all alone.
Jake grew out of it, though. Once he was older he found some old adventure lists he and Miller had made.
“Go to a foreign country… like New York.”
“Eat something crazy gross… like brussel sprouts.”
“Become professional ninjas.”
Those were just three of the fifteen items on their list. As Jake grew he tried his best to do what Miller and he had set out to do as seven-year-olds. He did go to a foreign country on a college exchange. (He went to New York, too.) He learned to love Brussel’s sprouts. He took karate and rock climbed professionally and decided that was as close to becoming a ninja as was necessary. The list said something about always sticking together and never letting girls come between them. Jake did get married, but he made sure to stick to the rest of the list to show that his wife couldn’t take Miller from him. Nothing could. Not even death.
You see, Miller’s death had everything to do with Jake’s story. Especially after he died.
Now Miller’s mom and dad had only wanted one child. They were not the kind of people who lived life expecting disasters to happen. They had a low insurance plan, they often drove without seat belts on, and they had only had one child, despite people telling them that really, it’s smarter to have more than one, you know, in case one of them dies. They only laughed and went on with life as usual… expecting only good things to happen. And only good things had happened. Until Miller’s death.
Upon discovering their son dead, Miller’s mother, Wendy, fell into a stupor and froze. Hugh, Miller’s father, wasn’t quite sure what to do. They’d spent seven long years taking care of the boy.
“I’ll miss reading to him at night,” Wendy said quietly.
Hugh held onto her shoulders and sighed. “I’ll miss singing him those songs from the seventies.”
“Should we notify his soccer coach? Oh, basketball and swimming, too…”
“They probably already know, dear.” This was true. Just like Ms. Pimsley, most adults in Miller’s life already had heard the news.
“After all we did… and still, he dies.” Wendy was beside herself. She couldn’t see straight. She looked through their cupboards, wanting to throw all the healthy food onto the ground. She wanted to smash the organic fruit against the walls, along with the brown rice and sweet potatoes. All that hadn’t kept him alive. It wouldn’t have mattered if she’d allowed him to eat fried chicken every single day. Maybe she should have. Hugh wondered if he shouldn’t have pushed his son so hard on the sports. He could still hear himself, shouting through the cage the last time he took him to hit baseballs. Keep your eye on it, son. Come on, come on… good job, Miller! Any son of mine will do great. Any son of mine…
Wendy and Hugh had tried their hardest. Yet still, Miller had passed away at the age of seven. They’d loved him more than they loved each other. He was the center of everything.
So you can only imagine how their lives may have changed.
“Darling, you must get up. Let’s go on a walk. Let’s do something. And please, consider stepping outside of Miller’s room…”
“I don’t want to leave,” she told her husband. Wendy sat on Miller’s bed and held onto the blanket she had knitted for him during her pregnancy.
Hugh knew before asking that it was no use. Wendy was not to be consoled. He couldn’t console himself any better than he could his wife. They began arguing more. And then less. And then more again… and then less, because after a spout of arguing they simply would not speak to one another. Wendy stopped eating healthy, herself. Hugh stopped running and going to the gym. If those things hadn’t worked for Miller, why should they work for them? They grew old before their time. They grew apart when they could have grown closer. The ghost of Miller was everywhere they went. Often times, when Hugh came home, he’d find Wendy sitting on Miller’s bed, which had the same sheets still tucked into it. The thing that kept them this way was simply not knowing how he had died.
They’d lie, say it was sickness. They’d lie again and tell another couple that he’d been murdered, brutally, and found in the backyard. The truth was this: They didn’t know how he had died.
Not knowing is worse than knowing. But if Miller hadn’t died, they may not have even existed at all.
You see, Miller had everything to do with their story. Especially after he died.
Sally, Jake, Hugh and Wendy all should give me a big thanks, for letting them exist. Even if it was at the expense of poor Miller. Because who else would it be?
The answer is quite simple.
I killed Miller. I am a narrator, after all.