I am a graveyard. I bear the names of those who I have lost, the ones I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I carry my memories of the two most amazing young men I have ever known, both born on the same day and displaying remarkably similar traits. Husky but slender, well-mannered but facetious, both were mirror images of the other at times, even though one lived in Southern California, and the other, in Newton, Massachusetts, 2,974 miles apart from the other. They did not die (because I carry their memory), but they did die. I carry their names on wristbands, so they are alive. I bear their names on me every day, carrying their memory, as a tombstone and urn. They are dead. When I lie in bed, reminiscing on the good times of the past, I turn into an urn. I turn into a red, iridescent urn that reads: “In Loving Memory of Casey Strale (November 18, 1996 - June 24, 2013). May he rest in eternal peace.” When I lie in bed, reminiscing on the good times of the past, I turn into a tombstone. I turn into a tombstone that reads. “Roee Grutman (November 18, 1996 - February 6, 2014). Rest in Peace.” Ben looks sad, my fellow classmates think. They don’t know half my story. They haven’t turned into a graveyard or an urn, yet.
My twenty-two year old brother, Adam, born on November 18 (the same birthday as my two deceased friends that I carry), drove to our home in Newton from his apartment in Philadelphia to visit me when both my friends died and I turned into an urn and a tombstone. He came to hug me. He came to comfort me. He came for Mama’s fifty year-old chicken soup family recipe that he can’t seem to replicate in his cramped kitchen in his apartment on South Street in Philly.
“Casey was such a great person. I can’t believe this happened. I thought his health was improving. Fuck cancer, bro. Fuck cancer,” Adam said on an otherwise beautiful summer day on June 24th, just prior to the end of my school year when everyone’s moods typically elevate to a level of exaltation and wait for the end of the marathon that kids age five to eighteen run from Labor Day in September that ends on an alluring day in mid-June.
On a frigid, dark winter’s day on February 6th, I turned into a tombstone and began to carry my best friend, Roee Grutman. “He was such a nice person and such a great friend of yours. I’m going to miss Roee so much,” Adam said. He came to hug me. He came to comfort me. He came for Mama’s fifty year-old chicken soup family recipe that he can’t seem to replicate in his cramped kitchen in his apartment on South Street in Philly.
Eating two cheeseburgers at Five Guys Burgers and Fries on June 24th and February 6th was enough to fill the void in my stomach, but not the void in my heart.
My sister sobbed uncontrollably on the night of the 24th of June of 2013 and of the 6th of February, 2014, upon the news of the death of both of my friends. She was never the same. None of us were ever the same. The sun was silent. The hallways were silent. The world stopped spinning.
I carry Casey Strale. Cancer took Casey’s Strale’s life, and just like that, he was gone for all of eternity, never to see the light of day again. His beaming personality, his effervescent smile helped my world keep spinning when I thought it couldn’t any longer. He carried the sun, the beautiful weather of Southern California, he carried gravity. He was my moon, pulling me toward him when I was sad or upset, keeping me grounded.
I carry Roee Grutman, my best friend, who decided to make a permanent solution to solve his temporary problems. Just like that, he was gone for all of eternity, never to see the light of day again.
Each and every night, they visit me. Both Roee and Casey have now become best friends. “Join us, Ben,” they say. I can’t seem to make out their appearances in the white, cloudy abyss. Their voices keep shouting at me, begging me to hang out with them again. I reach out as far as I can to the ceiling of my bedroom until I lose feeling in both my arms. “Please come down. I can’t reach that far,” I howl. They refuse. They begin to fade away until the only sound I hear is the beat of my broken heart, the only thing keeping me alive right now. Casey and Roee left indelible marks left on my life. Now, they leave indelible marks on my real dream life. Sadly, real dream life isn’t nearly as close to satisfying my real real life. I wake up the next morning after another night of little sleep and have to accept that they are gone for eternity. I trudge on to the kitchen to eat my breakfast and begin just another day.