The big black garbage bag, shiny and ominous sat in the middle of my living room floor. I looked at my best friend, despair emanating from eyes; a little moist and red, a little blank, a little begging for release. I was surprised at the immensity of the job before me. How had the simple offer of help turn into this big black lump of death's leftovers? I started toward the bag, and Shirley put her hand up. "No, not yet!"
I stood there on the brink of suspense, waiting for her next move. She walked into the kitchen, turned her back, and said, "Okay, now!"
I felt so bad for her. How would I feel if my son had walked into a train? I wouldn't be as brave as Shirley, fetching his clothing from his closet a thousand miles away while his wife stood by weeping. I thought I should never have made the offer of a "remembrance quilt". It was obviously too soon. But, she told me Marissa was getting rid of her son's belongings, had called the Goodwill to haul them away, even his racing bike, they found at the top of the canyon where he had climbed down to put himself on the track at the most convenient time. I had mentioned making the quilt without thinking there would be an urgency about it. Long after my Grandfather died, I'd made one of his shirts, blue and white, a simple patchwork, a comforting summer quilt, that lost it's way after his wife died. I often wondered who slept under it not knowing the story beneath my hand stitching.
As I opened the bag, I began pulling out the jumble of men's suits and ties, winter sweaters, and jackets. This was going to be challenging, and depressing to say the least. How could I make a sweet remembrance for my best friend out of all these dark colors, this heavy fabric that would suppress her to lie beneath?
Eventually, Shirley slowly entered the living room and sat down on the sofa, dragging the bag over to her. We folded the clothes in silence. As the bag emptied, I was so relieved to discover summer khakis, many different colored shorts, light weight hawaiian print shirts. I was so grateful I could have kissed Wayne's ghost. Then Shirley spoke, "I discovered these in the back of the armoir, hidden in shoe boxes. I didn't understand why he would go to such trouble to hide them away, until the police came to the door. They had found his suicide note. He killed himself because he was troubled about his feelings toward other men and long term knowledge that he was bi-sexual. I couldn't believe it. Wayne has never shown any signs. Marissa and he always seemed so compatible. But, he wrote that he couldn't pretend anymore to be a good Christian. They belonged to that strict church, you know. They never would have approved of these short sleeve shirts, these bright colors. He said he couldn't live with himself, had been planning this a long time."
I swallowed. I couldn't think of anything to say, nothing that would comfort her, nothing that would make any sense, nothing that would undo the damage on top of the pain she already suffered learning her son was dead, committing suicide in a most gruesome way, leaving his body unrecognizable. And now knowing how tortured he had been, not just depressed but living his own kind of private hell.
"If only I would have known. If only he would have told me. He knows I am open minded. Maybe I could have helped him. Maybe I could have... " But, I could see her shaking her head back and forth in realization that there was nothing she could do.