Chad’s funeral was the following Tuesday at the Unitarian church in town. It was a typical, old, white, New England church. The pews divided the space into boxes, and each one closed with a little door. This was the first funeral I had ever been to, so I didn’t know what to expect, and I was nervous.
I rode to the funeral with my parents, gave them hugs, and went to sit with Henry, his family shifting a bit to make room for me. The church was packed full of people, a lot of them Chad’s classmates, but there were also friends of his parents and a lot of our classmates were there as well.
The printed bulletin said that there would be a time for Chad’s friends and family to share their memories of Chad. I went cold. I’m kinda shy in groups, and I certainly didn’t want to talk.
Leaning over to Henry, I pointed to the bulletin and whispered, “Do I have to talk?”
“No. It’s purely voluntary.”
As the service begin, I felt Henry take my hand, and I clutched his. The minister spoke at first. Chad’s mom read a favorite scripture and a psalm. Then there was a hymn, and the minister said a prayer.
When the time came, Chad’s dad spoke about him, and then it was Henry’s turn. I can’t remember everything he said, and he had difficulty controlling his tears, but I do sort of remember this part:
Chad and I were very different. Maybe that’s why we were such good friends. Chad was a tinkerer who took things apart to see how they worked. I have always thought that he was brilliant. When he was ten he built his own computer out of salvaged parts. He was constantly making things for the house—electric juicers, rebuilt TVs, a ham radio. If it was electric or had moving parts, Chad could make it, and he often did better than the professionals. He haunted junk shops and the dump. Taking things from the dump was not really legal, but nobody ever complained. He was in touch with inventers and other tinkerers all over the world, most of them much older and more experienced than he. His most recent invention was a tiny camera with a lens in a pendant that hung around his neck. Somehow, it was attached to the body of the camera which was in his pocket and not much bigger than a Sim card. He had had a great future and now that has been destroyed in an instant. I shall always miss him—his infectious smile, his wonderful laugh, the way he always hugged me when we were on our way to bed. Goodbye, Chad.
As he was speaking, I suddenly remembered what Chad had said for me to tell Henry ‒ “Check camera.” I had never seen or heard about the camera until Chad said that, and I wondered if Henry knew where it was.
As Henry folded his paper and walked back to his seat, I opened the little door for him and then put an arm around him as he leaned into me. Somehow we managed to get through the rest of the service and the burial.
There was to be a reception back at Henry’s house. I rode back to my house with my family and then we walked over. The house was crowded with both adults and teenagers. There was food and a lot of quiet chatter. I found Henry, who was with some of our classmates. All of us were feeling awkward and embarrassed, and none of us could think of a thing to say. I wanted to tell Henry about what Chad had said, but I knew that had to be in private.
Brad Whitridge, one of Chad’s classmates came up to Henry, put his hand on Henry’s arm, and said, “Henry, I am so, so sorry. I wish…I wish…” But he was unable to finish the thought and just walked away.
That was strange, I thought. I wonder what he wanted to say. I looked at Henry, who was looking at me with a befuddled expression. We both shrugged and turned back to our friends.
A while later, Henry told his mother that he needed to get away. “I can’t stand being told by people how sorry they are. I know they are, but that just doesn’t help. Can I go over to Max’s?”
When his mother agreed, he told me to wait, went upstairs, and changed his clothes. We walked silently to my house and up the stairs to my room, where I changed my clothes. It was a great relief for both of us to be out of our ties, white shirts, jackets, dress pants, and black shoes and back into shorts and T-shirts and sneakers.
It seemed natural for us to sit side by side on one of the beds. “Henry,” I said, “I have something to tell you.”
“I hope it’s not that you’re sorry. I already know that and I couldn’t bear to hear it again.”
“No, it’s not. Just before Chad died, he managed to say, ‘Tell Henry…check camera.’ I didn’t remember that until you mentioned the camera during the service. Do you know where it is?”
“No. I never even thought of it until I was writing what I was going to say. It wasn’t with his belongings that were returned to us, I’m very sure. So he wasn’t wearing it when he died. I wonder what he wanted me to see.”
“Would it be in his room?”
“I don’t know, but Mom doesn’t want me going in there. I’ll ask her and Dad if they know where it is.”
After a little silence, I asked, “What do you think Whitridge was trying to say?”
“I have no idea. Maybe he was just trying to say he wished it didn’t happen, but it seemed like there was something more on his mind.”
We talked off and on before Henry said, “I need to do something physical, to move.”
We went out to my driveway with tennis rackets and hit balls against the garage door. Henry began smashing them harder and harder and moving closer and closer to the garage until some of them were hitting him on the rebound. He panted and yelled loudly each time he hit the ball, but he never flinched as the rebounding balls pounded his body and even his face. His nose was bleeding and he was crying, so the blood and the tears mixed and dripped down onto his T-shirt, staining it orange.
Finally he stopped, went over to the grass and just collapsed, lying back with an arm across his face. I went and sat beside him.
“This so sucks, Max!!!” he shouted.
“I know,” I replied quietly.
“Why couldn’t it have been me? Then I wouldn’t be in this pain.”
“No, but Chad would have been and so would I. And it wouldn’t have been any easier on your parents.”
“I guess not.”
We were silent for a while. That was one of the things I liked about being with Henry. Neither of us felt like we had to talk all the time. We were communicating, I know, but in a different way. It was never an awkward silence.
At length we returned to my house, and I took him into the bathroom and gently cleaned his face. Then I lifted his shirt and saw that his chest and stomach were covered with bruises. “That’s gonna hurt by tomorrow,” I observed.
“It already does.” He smiled ruefully. “I’ve never done anything like that before, and I hope I never have a reason to do it again.”
We got some cookies and soda and sat on the couch. I asked him if he wanted to watch TV but he shook his head. Finally he got up, looked across the way at his house, and saw that nearly all of the cars were gone.
“I guess I’d better go home,” he said. We stood. He gave me a tremendous hug and I hugged him back, hard. And then he left.