I used to have a “book buddy.” He was my husband’s nephew, Jesse. Jesse was born with a congenital heart condition. He was around 12 when I first met him, and I was in my early 20’s. Jesse and I both read similar genres of fiction – science fiction, horror, psychological thrillers, etc. Some scary, some that just makes you think. So when I’d finish a book, I’d bring it over to him and give it to him to read if he hadn’t already read it.
Jesse seemed to epitomize the term “old soul.” For all his youth, when you met him, when you talked to him, he seemed to have a wisdom and a peace that was well beyond his years. And it wasn’t even really anything specific – not the way he talked or the things he said…there was just an “air” about him that made you feel “good” somehow. It’s kind of hard to put into words. He was quiet and studious; because of his lifelong heart condition, he couldn’t play the way normal kids did – he’d never ridden a bike, never played a sport – and so he lost himself in books and his imagination, something that we had in common.
I don’t remember exactly when, probably when he was around 15 or 16, but he once told me a story he was working on in his imagination. He told me the plot, gave me the gist of how the story would go, and that someday he intended to write it all down. Unfortunately, if he did write it down, it’s surely lost now.
Jesse died the week before his high school graduation and three months before he would have turned 18; two months before my marriage; and three weeks before his winning entry in the local logo contest would grace commemorative buttons and posters for Bristol, RI’s Fourth of July parade (the longest-running parade in the country). Things were a little surreal when he died. The night before, he’d called his grandparents (my in-laws) and asked if he could come spend the night, something he’d not done in several years. My husband said when he stopped by his parents house that weekend, when he was leaving Jesse said, “Goodbye, Chris” and for some reason, it stuck in my husband’s head. He’d turned and looked at Jesse and said goodbye and said a strange feeling had come over him that he couldn’t put his finger on. That was Jesse. The next day, his father picked him up at his mother’s house. Half an hour later, she received a call from her ex-husband that Jesse had collapsed when he walked through the front door, and he was gone.
After his death, we learned that in the weeks leading up to that day, Jesse had quietly been disposing of his personal belongings – giving his things away to his friends, his sisters. When his mother went to see his art teacher to gather his last paintings, among them was a beautiful canvas depicting a pathway in the woods in gorgeous pastel colors. The pathway forked into two directions, and laying on the fork in the path were Jesse’s favorite leather jacket and boots. The teacher explained that the assignment had been to paint an abstract self-portrait in bright, vibrant colors.
It was almost as if he knew he was leaving this world. At his memorial service, his mother had a bowl of blue stone heart beads. I wore one at my wedding two months later as my “something blue.”
A few years ago, I started writing a story called Haven. That story was the one Jesse had told me, although I have no idea what his title would have been. Haven seemed to fit. I’ve only written a couple of chapters so far, but I do someday intend to finish it. And it will be for Jesse. Maybe telling me that story was his way of “giving” it to me.
And we all shine on
Like the moon…
and the stars…
and the sun…
John Lennon | Instant Karma
Miss you, my friend. <3