B. J.

B. J.

From Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul

B. J.

You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die. Or when. You can decide how you’re going to live now.

Joan Baez

“Phhhhhh.” The whistle blew, and everybody started tackling each other. It was football practice, on a cool August evening.

Bam! I hit somebody. I looked down into the face of one of my best friends, B. J.

“You were just lucky that time, Nate,” he teased.

“Yeah, right! It’s just that I’m good at football,” I joked back.

I had met my friend B. J. when we ended up on the same football team in sixth grade. Although everyone on our team liked B. J., he grew to be someone special to me. When we had to pick partners for things like tackling, it would always be B. J. and me. He was funny and fun— everything was always “Cool!” to him.

B. J. got back up and tackled me. We laughed, and then we heard our coach calling us.

“Come here, guys.” We all went over to him. “At our game tomorrow, I want you to play as hard as you can.”

“Okay,” we said in unison.

“That’s it for tonight. Don’t forget to finish your homework,” our coach hollered as we left the field.

“See you at the game tomorrow,” I screamed to B. J. He was going to his church youth group meeting. B. J. walked away with his dad, who was our assistant coach, as my mom pulled into the parking lot.

“Mom, after the game tomorrow, can B. J. come over?” I asked, hopping into the front seat.

“I don’t know. We’ll see,” she replied.

The next day, I went to the game, pads on, ready to go. We reviewed the plays that we had learned the night before. Then we stretched out. B. J. was late, and I was starting to wonder where he was. It was always easy to spot him right away because he was taller than anyone else on the team. I said to myself, B. J. would never miss a game. That was when I realized his dad wasn’t there either. He had never missed a game since he had started coaching us.

Something is wrong, I thought. Our coach called us over. Now I was really wondering what was going on.

“Guys, we need to win this game today.” Then he stopped talking. Everything was silent. “I’ve got some bad news. B. J. had an accident last night,” he told us.

I shut my eyes and started to cry to myself. I knew it was going to be really bad. My coach kept on talking.

“He was on his way back from his church youth group with a bunch of other kids. B. J. was swinging a nylon rope outside the car window when the rope got caught on the wheel axle. The rope jerked out of his hands, and he must have stuck his head outside the window to see what had happened. The rope whipped up and wrapped around his neck. It strangled him to death. And after the . . . ” My coach’s voice started to drift off. I couldn’t even concentrate on what he was saying anymore. All I could think about was how I had just seen him last night.

All the kids on our team were standing with their helmets in their hands, crying. “Let’s win this game for B. J.,” my coach shouted.

Through the whole game, I kept thinking about B. J. and looking into the sky. I wondered if he could see us playing our hearts out for him. We played our best game ever, and we won.

At our next practice, we took the blue stripe off our helmets and replaced it with a black stripe. We all put the number eighty, B. J.’s jersey number, on the backs of our helmets.

B. J.’s father came back to help coach our games again. He would have his hat on crooked, like he just didn’t care anymore. I felt really sad for him—he never looked happy and I never saw him smile again, even when we won. I know it was extra terrible for both B. J.’s mom and dad because he was their only child.

We wore our helmets with B. J.’s number to our next four games. We won every single game, and we played them for him. We made it to the championships, and there we tied for first place.

I know we couldn’t have done it without B. J. I feel as if he was with us. Sometimes I would look around, expecting at any moment to see him—in his favorite red T-shirt, with that blond buzzed hair sticking up every which way, his face with that great smile on it.

Although B. J.’s death hasn’t made me stop doing the things that I love, like football, in-line skating and snow skiing, I’m not the daredevil I used to be. I stop and think about what I am doing before I do it—not only about the fun I will have, but also about the dangers that could be involved. I used to stick my hand out the car window when my dad or mom was driving, to catch leaves or something. Now I don’t.

I couldn’t go to B. J.’s funeral. It was too hard for me. All of us took it really hard, but I just couldn’t stop thinking about him. I really miss him.

Nate Barker, age 12

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