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Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010
Blogs | Sociology of Sheena
Vintage SLY: James F. Pyles, the Obituary I never wanted to read
Originally written on the 24th of June in 2004 moments after hearing of James Franklin Pyles death in one of my handwritten journals..
24 June 2004
James Franklin Plyes, at the age of 21 years old, died in a car accident in Israel. Is it possible that Iâ€™m writing such a thing? Is it possible that my best friend and boyfriend from college is no longer alive.
A part of me is disconnected from reality. How do I register any of this in my mind without having a complete breakdown?
Relief. I thought, thank goodness we arenâ€™t dating anymore and that we arenâ€™t as close as we used to beâ€¦otherwiseâ€¦well, we know otherwise. Yes, relief.
Selfish. Is it possible that yet another thingâ€¦. another blow could hit me. Aunt Minnie. Uncle Henry. Uncle James. Brian. Paul. Daniel. Pastor Gary. Now James. But then I realized how selfish that was of me. How dare you turn this into your own tragedy? How dare you think this is about you? Well, whoâ€™s it about then?
Sadness. Franklin, Gay, Chris, NaTasha and Timothy Plyes. My heart just broke for his family. Five years ago, they lost their daughter/sister in a car accident. She wasnâ€™t wearing a seatbelt. He was drunk. She died. Now, James died in a car accident. Now what? And Tim and James were very close. He loved his older brother. Now what?
Disgust. Once I get things sorted out, this will make a good storyâ€¦maybe I can add this to a play. Iâ€™ll change the names so itâ€™s not so personal.
How would Tennessee Williams use this? How would he fictionalize it? How would he deal? I need to read another chapter in his biography. Am I thinking this? Are you kidding me? James is dead and Iâ€™m trying to come up with a plot and characters. But thatâ€™s how I deal. Uncle James died and I wrote two poems. I was suicidal, so I wrote a play. Its how I deal but somehow Iâ€™m disgusted with myself.
Guilt. Where do I start with this? We were best friends. Then we dated. Then he was more serious. He was falling harder than I was. I stopped giving. I started acting weird. I forgot how much he meant to me just as a friend and I hurt him. One of the last conversations we had before the niceties set in, he looked me in the eye, choked back tears and said, â€śSheena, you hurt me. What you said really really hurt me.â€ť At the time I didnâ€™t care. I was only there out of obligation and Jasonâ€™s prodding.
And still he hugged me and said he still wanted to be friends and hang out. I laughed, â€śHow is that going to happen?â€ť And it didnâ€™t, although he tried. It would be raining and he would call me. â€śWanna go for a walk?â€ť â€śI canâ€™t. Iâ€™m busy.â€ť Iâ€™d say each time. Eventually he stopped calling. Eventually he stopped speaking to me. It was my fault. I had hurt him.
And I wonâ€™t be a hypocrite. Everyone knew we werenâ€™t friends anymore. So did that give Friede a right to cry more? Was I not allowed to hurt to? I considered this because I hate those people. I wrote this in a letter to Paulâ€¦about those people who never call but when tragedy hits they appear out of nowhere. But Iâ€™m not one of those people. Sophomore year I cut it off with Plyes and Lola and Pete and so many others. I was living in a world of darkness and these were my closest of friends.
I couldnâ€™t let them see me like that. I had warned them. And then I cut them off. Junior year I got better. I wrestled my demons. I even called Lola, she never picked up. I say all this to say that I had every intention to reconcile. Lola sent me any apologetic email. Iâ€™ve already started formulating my apology and response.
And Plyes. Well Friede, calls for me to be a better person in subtle ways. And three nights ago I had a dream about him. I told Friede I had a dream but I didnâ€™t tell her it was about him. The dream was me apologizing. I had every intention of apologizing. Iâ€™ve grown up some. Iâ€™ve gotten over my issues. Iâ€™d been to Europe. The world was bigger than me. I had things to tell him. And then I found out he was dead. Do I have a right to cry? Yes, the guilt has set in.
Heaven. James believed. He had even started going to church. He was working his faith out. Heâ€™s probably a strong person than I by now. So that means, he has seen God. Heâ€™s in his glory. I curled in the bed crying and fighting every emotion. Is he watching me now? Or maybe thatâ€™s not how it works. If I were in heaven, I wouldnâ€™t be watching earth; I would be before Godâ€¦all your questions can be answered now James. All those silly things we said weâ€™d ask God and all those big things too. You beat me to the punch. Maybe you can even ask God, why Daniel?
Do you see your sister? Do you even know sheâ€™s your sister up there or maybe those things donâ€™t matter much anymore. I remember you telling me how her body was crushed. But rejoice, she is whole now. And you. Remember your wrist problem from playing the violin all those yearsâ€¦ you donâ€™t have to worry about that anymore. Although it did cross my mind, you died a virgin. Was I the last girl you kissed? If yes, it was outside my room in Fisher. You were getting ready to leave for Oâ€™Hare. And you lightly kissed me. â€śSee you in three months,â€ť you said. So youâ€™re in heaven now. Iâ€™m not sure how it all worksâ€¦but you see God and now you are complete.
Blame. Fury. Anger. Did you have a seatbelt on? You yelled at me that one time in the car with Tim and Kate. It was the beginning of a huge fight. â€śWeâ€™re not going anywhere until you put your seatbelt on,â€ť you said. I gave you a challenging look. You reached over and put it on for me and I refused to talk to you for the rest of the night. The next day you pulled me aside. You were almost crying. â€śSheena, I lost my sister. Iâ€™ve told you before how much that affected me. I was crushed. I loved her. But she didnâ€™t have her seatbelt on. It was a stupid thing to forget. I need you to wear a seatbelt every time youâ€™re in a car. Promise me that. I donâ€™t ask you for much, but Iâ€™m asking this.â€ť
I remember wiping your tears off your cheek. â€śIâ€™m sorry. I was being stupid,â€ť I said. â€śPromise me,â€ť you said forcefully. â€śOk, I promise.â€ť â€¦So were you, Plyes? Were you wearing a seatbelt? And Israel. What were you thinking? With the state of the world? With the way things are. Did you think things would be ok? All of us exhausted our energies worrying about French Philip. Ariel. Stef. Michael. Me. We forgot about you. So what were you thinking? But you knew the risk. Itâ€™s been your dream. Just why now?
Obituaries. You were the first person I told about my slightly dark hobby. At first you thought it was weird but that was normal for us. I read them religiously. I collect them and put them in files. Mark asked why. â€śIâ€™m intrigued by death. And I feel bad. These people die and beside their family and circle of friends, no one knows. Here was a human being. A person with a life, a story, a past, dreams and now they are just dead. Someone ought to remember and so I read them. At least one person knows and thinks about them occasionally.â€ť
And now I want to yell at you. How dare you leave me with the task of reading your obituary? Am I supposed to add it to my pile? Now they seem insignificant. They seem distant compared to you. You used to be concerned that I would die first because of my sicknessâ€”it was a secret I only shared with you. â€śWhat happens if we were to marry and have children? And then you died. How am I supposed to live with that?â€ť you asked. Well Plyes, it was you who left me with an obituaryâ€¦now I have to figure out how this all works. Deathâ€¦yes it still intrigues me.
And I know that weâ€™re crying now. And next semester is going to be awkward. And there will be a memorial. But what about three years from now? Whoâ€™s going to remember? Whoâ€™s going to think of you then? Now do you understand my infatuation with death and the New York Times obituaries.
And Iâ€™m frustrated because how do I keep this from being just like everything else. We live our lives haphazardly. Some tragedy hits. We realize how fragile we are. We make promises to do betterâ€¦and for a while we love each other without judgment but as alwaysâ€¦always we fall back into the same cycles. We repeat our sins. We forget. How do we remember and live our lives at the same times. How do we stay better?
Because I need that. I need that answer so that I donâ€™t lose touch with reality. I need the answer so that I donâ€™t fall into disillusionment. I refuse to let your death be a lesson to live. We never let those words be true and it would make your death be in vain and you deserve better than that. Plyesâ€¦you are dead and at one oâ€™clock, Iâ€™m supposed to go on a bike ride to Dairy Queen, how do I make sense of that.
And all these images and bits of conversation keep flooding through my memory. We were best friends that year. Thatâ€™s why you didnâ€™t want to date because we were such good friends. You didnâ€™t want to lose that. My freshman year of college is dripping with you and Lola. How am I supposed to make sense of that? And we shared so much. There are things no one else besides the two of us know about each other. And there were the late night talks until six in the morning. Remember?
And I thought about putting together a scrapbook of all the videos we made for your family. I realize that these last three years of your lifeâ€¦well your parents didnâ€™t really know. Your life was college and they were in Canada. So the least I could do was send them thatâ€¦so they could get a glimpse of the man you were.
â€śI donâ€™t want you to believe that Iâ€™m perfect,â€ť you wrote, â€śI make mistakes. But our friendship is without judgment. I can be fully seen. And I think thatâ€™s how it should always be.â€ť For the moment, thatâ€™s how Iâ€™m going to remember you. And for the record, damn you and God and Israel and whoever else for making me have to write any of this.