52: Remembering Brian

52: Remembering Brian

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Remembering Brian

There are things that we don’t want to happen but have to accept, things we don’t want to know but have to learn, and people we can’t live without but have to let go.

~Author Unknown

I liked Brian. Not in the typical “I’m a girl, you’re a boy” way, but just as friends. We were both in the same fourth grade class at Municipal Elementary, but the only time that our worlds really collided was at recess.

I didn’t like to play with the other girls at recess, mostly because they didn’t do much playing. I’m not that into drama and gossip, and the swings got old pretty fast. That left soccer. I’d never played soccer before, so I sat on the hill above the soccer field with my knees tucked under my chin, studying the game. I watched as I always did — on the outside looking in — until I had the basics figured out.

I didn’t have to know much about soccer to recognize talent when I saw it. Brian was really, really good at it. His blond hair, left a little long in back, flew behind him as he ran and ran and ran. He never seemed to get tired. The other boys watched Brian, too — watched the way he ran with the ball somehow magically attached to his foot. He played soccer outside of school and wore that fact with distinction on the field.

I knew that if I wanted to play, I’d have to ask Brian. I waited until I’d practiced kicking some in the backyard and was pretty sure I wouldn’t embarrass myself if he said yes.

“Hey Brian,” I said one day. “Can I play soccer with you guys at recess?”

He looked at me with his blue eyes, shrugged and nodded. And that was that. After all the agonizing, I was in. Brian let me in.

I quickly settled into my new role of designated goalie. I think I earned my position by having no regard for my pants. My mom complained about all the grass stains, but I thought it was a small price to pay to have a spot on the team. I threw myself into soccer with abandon — lunging, kicking and hollering. I came in from recess every day dripping sweat, but triumphant. Save by save I was gaining respect and friends, and I liked that feeling.

I wish I could remember the last day we played, the last time my screams of “go Brian, go” echoed from the far end of the grass. What I do remember is Mr. Henry saying the four most horrible words in the English language — “There’s been an accident.” I’d heard Katie whispering about an accident before class started and I had passed groups of teachers whispering in the hallway. I knew something was up and I was waiting for Mr. Henry to give us details. My stomach hurt, but all I was hungry for was details, facts to reassure me that everything was okay and the scary “what ifs” in my head weren’t coming true.

I didn’t get them. Instead we got information like which hospital Brian was at and that his mother had been in the car too. At the very end, my teacher added in a casual voice, “Brian hurt his head.” It was that statement that brought the chaotic events together for me. The phrase I’d heard as I passed a cluster of teachers in the hallway was “brain dead.” And I knew. I knew that Brian was not okay, and my teacher just hadn’t figured out how to break it to us yet.

Mr. Henry passed out construction paper and told us to make get well cards. I stared at my paper for a long time coming to grips with the powerful feeling I had that Brian wasn’t coming back. How could I write a get well card to someone I knew wouldn’t? What could I say to Brian so he’d know how much his friendship meant to me? In the end, confused and a little angry, I wrote something like, “I hope you can come back to school soon.”

He didn’t. He died.

My dad took me to Brian’s funeral. I needed the chance to say goodbye. I shuffled along behind my dad in the receiving line tracing the outline of the roses on my skirt and brushing the suede patches on the elbows of my dad’s jacket — anything to avoid looking at Brian. I only glanced once when Casey reached out to touch Brian’s hand. “He’s cold,” he said, turning to all of us standing in line. I looked to my dad — waited to see if he’d comment on the wrongness of it, but instead I heard him murmuring words to a woman in a dress.

I looked up into the kind, blue eyes of Brian’s mother. She took my hand in hers and asked, “Now who are you, honey?” She searched my face as if it were the most important thing to know. The ice that had built up around my heart and stomach for those past awful days thawed and I found the words that I had wanted when I’d stared at a blank piece of construction paper, numb with hurt.

“I’m Jill,” I said, “and I played soccer with Brian at school.”

The tears came then, and Dad led me away to find seats for the service.

It’s been years now since Brian died. When I close my eyes, I can still see him running, always running, chasing a soccer ball a few inches in front of his feet. In my mind, I see a smile stretching across his broad, freckled face. No one needed to tell me about the strength of his heart, how it had continued to beat for minutes after life support had been removed. I had experienced it already firsthand. Thank you, Brian, for letting me in. I will always remember you.

~Jill Hansen Fisher

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