the phone rings.
i check the clock to find it is 2:13 am, then check the caller id to see who would have the audacity to call me at this ungodly hour.
my heart stops.
"sam. it's been a long time."
he's been crying, and his words still come out choked and twisted.
"i dreamt about her, dave. in the middle of the night, i went over all of it in dreams. oh, fuck, dave." he loses his sentence in a new volley of tears.
"i still think about it all the time, man."
"did it really all happen, dave? it feels so unreal, and yet so hyperreal at the same time."
my throat tightens, but i was always the strong one, the one that could be counted on to keep a cool head in a tight spot. maybe that's why they wanted me to come along in the first place. that, and that i loved her, too.
"sam, i wish i could just tell you that it was a bad dream. but that wouldn't be fair. it all happened, man. we were there."
there is a long silence punctuated by barely audible sobs.
then: "do you think we are the only ones who remember, dave? and don't lie to me, you know i'll see through it."
i am torn. i want to tell him that she had lots of friends and family who miss her on a daily basis, that a small army of mourners must have shown up for the wake.
but i know. and i know he knows.
"the important thing is, we remember man. her memory lives on in the two of us."
he says thanks, and hangs up after an awkward apology and an even more awkward good-bye.
i never quite understood how a gay man could've fallen in love with her in the first place, but sam had. he'd always loved her more than anyone, in her life or his to date.
and i loved her too, though i was always the friend, the guy she came to when she needed to get something off her chest. except that time. and i guess i was always a little jealous and resented sam a little for that one thing.
he was the one who came to me. laid it all out. spilled the beans, so to speak. then asked if i could come up with some cash to help, and drive them there. i gave them more than i could spare, really, and went hungry for a few weeks after.
we fought our way through the throngs of do-gooders. got called names. i can vividly remember the faces of the protesters, they seemed more evil than any of the demons' faces in all those goya pieces i studied.
sam and i didn't talk much in the waiting room. when she came out, she looked drained of blood.
we drove home in silence.
things went back to normal after a few days. on the surface. to this day, sam and i can only imagine
what she was going through. but she laughed, went to the movies with us, got burgers, just like old times.
until sam went to pick her up one night so we could catch the playhouse's production of fiddler on the roof
we never made it.
sam could never tell me what he had seen, and i never really got to even say goodbye, since a family she had never talked about took her body back east to be interred in the family plot.
my throat burns, and i have a need to shed, finally, the tears that i have been holding back for so many years. i think about calling sam back, i know he'll still be up, but i don't want to do this in front of him. or in front of anyone, for that matter.
my wife mumbles something at me from deep sleep, and i tell her it's ok, that the call was nothing, that i am hungry.
i sit at the table in the dark, a rock glass and the maker's mark in front of me. in the shadows of a suburban twilight, i can almost see her. she looks drained of blood, and tired, and hunched a little like she did when we fought back through the crowd and they called us babykillers and whore and slut and other things that true christians shouldn't say. i can't remember what her smile looks like, or how her eyes shone with life.
i tilt the glass at a deep angle, the whiskey disappears in a gulp.
then i realize, i can't remember why i loved her.
i lay my head against the table as the sobs break free and the tears puddle on the treated wood.forgive me.