By: Jim Bates
Early in June that summer I took two weeks off work and my friend Bobby and I hitched-hiked to Denver to a concert at Mile High Stadium. We saw Jimi Hendrix and had an unforgettable time. It was there I met Freddie, a willowy blond from a small town in southeastern Wyoming. Something clicked between us and we spent every moment together. She was the only person I ever loved. She was also the only person I ever knew who committed suicide.
I’d been back in Minneapolis for about two months and just gotten home from my ten hour shift at Jorgenson’s Sheet Metal. I was sitting on the front step of the duplex Bobby and I rented smoking a joint. Freddie and I wrote back and forth often, and I was reading a letter I’d just received posted marked nearly a week earlier.
‘Ben, I miss you so much,’ she’d written, ‘I was wondering if I could come out and visit. This town is really boring. Plus there’s something I need to tell you. In person. It’s good news, I think. There’s also something else. I got accepted at Montana State. I’m going to major in art. Remember I told you how much I liked to draw? I’ve enclosed a little picture I drew of you…’
It was a long letter and I had just finished reading it and was looking at the picture she’d drawn of me when Bobby drove up, slammed on the brakes, jumped out of the car and ran over to me.
“Ben! I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
I took a hit of the weed, “What’s up?
“You’ll never guess who called. Freddie’s mom.”
“What’d she want?”
Bobby sat down next to me and put his arm around my shoulder, “Sorry to have to tell you this, man, but Freddie’s dead. She committed suicide. She hung herself in her closet at home.”
What? I’d just seen her a couple of months ago! I was holding a letter she’d just written in my hand!! I felt my heart shattering, breaking in two. I couldn’t help myself, I broke down, fell into Bobby’s arms and started crying, bawling like a baby. I’ve never forgotten that moment, just like I’ve never forgotten her.
Freddie’s letter was so loving and affectionate. I had been mentally composing a reply to tell her that of course she was welcome. She could come anytime she wanted and stay forever as far as I was concerned. I was imagining us living together in the duplex with Bobby until she and I could find a place of our own. She could go to art school in Minneapolis. We’d share our life together, create a future. Now this. Not only was she dead, but she’d died by her own hand. What could have caused her to do that? If I’d have known what she was upset about, could I have done something to prevent her death? Being young and naive, I certainly hoped so.
After I got myself somewhat composed, I realized I wanted to do something, anything, to show how much I cared for her. Suddenly I had an idea.
“Bobby, I’m going to the funeral.”
“Are you nuts? You hardly knew her.”
I loved her, but he didn’t know that. “I don’t care. I’m going.”
And I did.
Later that summer, after I’d returned, Bobby hitch-hiked to a three day concert in Woodstock, New York. I stayed home and worked and saved my money. I’d told Freddie’s mom at the funeral that I’d help pay for her tombstone. It was the least I could do for the young woman I hadn’t known meant so much to me until she was gone. Her mother told me something else, too. That “Something” Freddie wanted to tell me? It was huge news. She was pregnant. We were going to have a baby. That news, along with Freddie’s death set the course of my life.
What would have happened if she had lived? I never have stopped thinking about that possibility. She would have come out to visit and we would have had a long talk and she would have told me that she was pregnant. We were young. We were in love. I always wanted to have a family, so I’d like to think we would have stayed together and raised our child. We probably would have gotten married because that’s what you did back then. We might even have had other children. We would have built a life together, of that much I was certain.
But we never got the chance. Never. And I think that’s what’s bothered me the most for all these years. Even though we were just beginning to get to know each other, there was something between us I’d never felt with anyone else, either before or since. I felt it then and I think she did, too. In fact, it still bothers me to this day. Sure we were young, but…
But what? Nothing else has mattered. I loved her then and I still love her now.
Have I wasted my life mourning the loss of Freddie and my son? Lots of people think so. In the months following her death, I was in pretty bad shape. I started doing more drugs, messing up pretty bad. Finally, some friends intervened and I cut way back on the weed and other stuff, eventually quitting drugs altogether. My parents lent me money to go to a psychologist for most of that first year, but it didn’t help. I was told I could only change if I wanted to, and, truth be told, I didn’t want to. I was happy imaging Freddie with me all the time.
I kept my job at Jorgenson’s Sheet Metal, though. In fact, I’m still there now, all these years later, in the fabrication department. They sent me to school to learn computer aided design, and I work making those fancy light fixtures that cities use nowadays in their remodeling projects. I’ve been there over forty years, and I have to say, time has kind of flown by.
I live by myself in an efficiency apartment in northeast Minneapolis. I can ride my bicycle to work. I still see Bobby and his wife on a fairly regular basis and occasionally even their kids and grandkids. I have a cat and I’m thinking about getting another one. I’m by myself, but I’m not lonely. I’ve learned to accept my life for what it is, one of remembering Freddie and the love we had and the life that we might have had together. All in all, it’s not been a bad way to go.
In looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Well, of course, I’d have changed one thing. I’d have changed the beginning. In the beginning, Freddie wouldn’t have hung herself in her bedroom closet. She’d have come out to live with me and we’d have had a life together with our child. And it wouldn’t have been one of my imagination, either. She’d have been alive, living right here beside me. For all of these years.
Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared online in CafeLit, The Writers’ Cafe Magazine, Cabinet of Heed, Paragraph Planet, Nailpolish Stories, Ariel Chart, Potato Soup Journal, Literary Yard, Spillwords and The Drabble, and in print publications: A Million Ways, Mused Literary Journal, Gleam Flash Fiction Anthology #2, The Best of CafeLit 8, Nativity Anthology by Bridge House Publishing and Gold Dust Magazine.