When I got your voice mail messages this afternoon, dated March 11 and May 19, requesting work for that damn Dior kid who must have spent more time in detention with you than she did with any of her regular teachers, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I wasn’t expecting to hear your voice. You startled me. I’m glad I was sitting down, because the bones suddenly left my legs, and I actually felt the blood drain from my face. I smiled, though, smiled without even realizing it at first. I’ve missed your voice. Right after you left us I heard you all the time, but lately I’ve just sensed you on the periphery of the whirlwind that is our school. You’ve invaded my thoughts, kids have mentioned you, a vocabulary word I was teaching described you to a tee. But you hadn’t spoken to me in a while. Until today.
I’m sure you wondered why the hell I never sent you that detention work, why I made you walk all the way down to my room just to get a novel and a few worksheets. If you must know, I didn’t know how to check my voice mail until today, and when I finally got in I had 18 new messages. I kept hoping there would be a way to delete them all at once without having to listen to them, but there isn’t, and now I’m glad. I might have missed you. I know what you must be thinking–fat lot of good it does me now. Maybe so, but it did me a lot of good to hear from you today.
Do you know that I don’t really think of you as dead? In my mind you are just elsewhere, and you are dealing out wry jokes and a hard time to anyone whose path you cross. In my mind you are carrying on in some realm where there are teenagers and football and cats and beer and hot wings and plenty of flat screen TVs, and you are happy. Some might call this denial, but it isn’t. I’m not expecting you to show up at work or pull up next to me in the grocery store parking lot or anything of the sort, but there are times when the lines of my horizon blur and I can almost see you off in the distance, strolling down some hallway, whistling, waving, smiling with your eyes. Or hear you, like today. I know you left those messages for me months ago, but there’s no denying you spoke to me today.
Thinking of you is like–I know you’ll love this–visiting Gettysburg Battlefield, or walking the smooth streets of Pompeii. As far as the eye can see–nothing. The only sounds are birds, rain, distant traffic. But in between all of that is a life force so powerful it seems to seep into my skin and flow through my bones like electricity. There, under the thin veil that is time, is every soldier who fell, every citizen who worked and lived and died in the shadow of the volcano. And there is you, Charlie. The spaces you inhabited appear empty, but you’re there somewhere; I can feel it in my bones. There is no fuller emptiness.
I know I haven’t heard the last of you, Charlie Griffin. I know it, and I’m glad. Until next time, turn up the volume on that Notre Dame game and drink a cold one for me.