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There are friends, I think, we can't imagine living without. People who are sisters to us, or brothers. Jimmy was one of those. I never thought I might have to go through life without him. I never thought he might be killed by a drunken driver or anything else. Who thinks about things like that when you're seventeen? If I had known ahead of time what was going to happen to him, I would have gone crazy. I guess I did go a little crazy. My Aunt Lo, who's a hospital psychiatrist, says grief travels a certain route--that if you could plot it out on a map you'd have a line that twists and weaves and eventually ends up near the point of departure. I say "near" because although you may survive the grief, you won't ever be exactly the same. It took me a long time to learn that, and sometimes the whole experience comes back on me and I have to learn it all over again.
"Hey, Morgan," I remember Jimmy saying. "Watch!" It was the summer we were ten. The summer he discovered Fred Astaire and fell in love with dancing. (In fact, by the time we were fifteen he was as tall and lanky as Astaire and was dancing professionally at the local dinner theater.)
"Come on," he'd say. "Dance with me."
"I'm reading." I'd be sitting on the Woolfs' porch swing, and Jimmy would take the book from me and grab my hands and pull me to my feet. "But I can't dance," I'd say.
"You have to," Jimmy would answer. "Somebody has to be Ginger Rogers . . . ." He would have memorized one of their routines from an old movie on TV, and while he did all the actual dancing, I remember whirling around and around the porch those hot summer days so longago and never wanting to stop.
When I think about it now, I realize that Jimmy and I started out our lives as friends. Our mothers had been high school friends who happened to reacquaint in the maternity wing of Geneva Hospital the week we were born. Because of our mothers, who were a bit fanatical about recording the history of our childhood with pictures, there are lots of photographs of Jimmy and me. The last time Jimmy and I looked through the album was an end-of-summer day, a day hot enough to melt rock, and we were in the kitchen trying to cool down with iced coffee. The rest of the house was jumping with music and noise and postadolescent energy. Besides friends and neighbors, Jimmy's folks and my aunt were there. I was feeling sentimental that day, so I dragged out the album and made him look through it.
"Ah, just what I've always wanted to do," he said. "Trip down memory lane."
But I made him look anyway. One of the first pictures in the album was taken of Jimmy and me when we were just a few days old.
"You were pretty cute," he said. "But I had more hair."
"Big deal. Two strands more."
"Two more's a lot more, Hackett."
Other pictures, carefully labeled by our mothers, show the evolution of our friendship: Jimmy and Morgan's third-birthday party (Jimmy smearing cake into Morgan's hair, very touching), Jimmy and Morgan's first day of school (I wouldn't go into the classroom unless he was holding my hand), the last day of summer camp, Jimmy and Morgan's graduation from junior high (he graduated with honors, I flunked gym), Jimmy and Morgan in his secondhand MG, Jimmy and Morgan turn seventeen. This last picture, one of my favorites, was taken in Jimmy's backyard. In it we have our arms casually draped around each other's shoulders, which pretty much shows what our relationship was like. We never looked at each other as the objects of romantic love. I liked it that way. So did Jimmy. "What we have is better," he said once. "Lovers come and go, but friends go on and on."
"Hey, Hackett, " Jimmy said. "You're out of coffee."
I looked at him. He was holding the coffeepot, and I realized he hadn't even bothered with the last few pages of the album.
"Make some more then!" I said.
"Now, now . . . don't look at me like that, Morgan. You know what those pictures do to me. It's all I can do to hold back the tears." I knew part of him was kidding, but part of what he had said was true. Of the two of us, I would classify him as more open with his feelings and more sentimental.
"Oh, make your coffee," I said. "But that's the last time I go down memory lane or anyplace else with you."
"We're going into the Loop tomorrow, aren't we? As usual?"
"I guess so," I said. Three times a week after school Jimmy and I caught the 3:25 into the city. Jimmy went to a dance class in the Loop, and I went to an acting workshop at Second City, which is an improvisational theater in the Old Town section of Chicago.
"Have you seen your aunt yet?" Jimmy asked. "She looks exceptionally entrancing today."
"I think she's in love again." I slammed the album shut and stood up and looked at my reflection in the window. "You know what I'm going to have her do this afternoon? Pierce my ears."
"Yeah. What do you think?"
"You hate needles. You hate blood. You even get squeamish watching Bactine commercials."
"I just wanted to know what you thought, okay? Spare me the diatribe."
"You want to know what I think? I don't think you'll go through with it."