When I see hearts I’m reminded of one I’ll cherish always.
I walked into the Charter School site with my two youngest. They ran off to join their peers as my eyes searched the room for a place to busy myself in volunteerism. I scanned the room and our eyes met. There he was, a smile as bright as the sun, eyes that twinkled with mischievous excitement, and a face that lit up the room, It was love at first sight.
Nevermind I was in my early 4o’s, and he was a 13-year-old gay kid. He walked right up to me and started touching my long hair. At the time it was down to the top of my thighs. We became fast friends and from that day forward whenever we saw each other his hands were in my hair. He would tie it in knots, tie it to chairs, ladder rungs, cabinet doors, and drawer handles. He tied pencils into it, and bangle bracelets, feathers, pipe cleaners, legos, ribbon, (yes tied my hair around ribbon, not ribbon around my hair) and a plethora of other small items. Some days I looked like a voodoo wind chime.
He asked me for a ride home the first day we met, and I said fine as long as it was okay with his mother. It became a regular occurrence. Once when Michael was home from working away he decided to drive the kids to and from the site. We were going down a back road discussing which bills were paid, and which still needed to be, when Jeremiah and I spotted the runaway horse heading right for the road. There was a very worried cowboy on a quad-runner trying to catch up before it made past the gate. Mike’s reaction was to speed up to try to beat the horse to the crossing point. (He has issues.) The rest of the family including Jeremiah didn’t think that was a good idea. We were right. As I screamed obscenities while in solemn prayer, Mike hit the brakes hard to avoid crashing into the horse. It ran in front of our van with only inches to spare. Jeremiah’s body lunged painfully forward, his head instantly appeared in between the front seats. In a split second, he looked me in the eye and asked calmly, “did you say the car insurance is paid?”. And plop, just as fast he was thrown back into his seat. Just like that what could have gotten very ugly, (I was ready to tear into Michael) became nothing more than a hilarious memory. That was my Jeremiah.
On one of our rides home without Michael, he told me he’d been taken from his mom at some point and put into a hospital. He showed me his arms and said he’d fallen into a window while jumping on his bed and cut them both. I turned my arm over and showed him what it looks like when your arm actually does go through a window accidentally. We were both silent as I placed my arm next to his to compare the jagged scar on mine to the neat uniform cut marks on both of his.
I told him how much I loved him and how much I would suffer if anything at all were to ever happen to him. I held his hand for a few seconds. We drove the rest of the way home in silence.
He tried so hard not to be gay. It almost made me angry. He’d been convinced by his grandmother (who by the way loved him very much and thought she was doing the right thing), and her church, that gay people are evil and are all bound for hell. He was a very good boy, and wanted to please God and did every good deed imaginable to show it. If only he’d been given faith to match his works.
Once during an election year, the assignment was to make campaign posters concerning issues the kids felt strongly about. I walked into the room to see the posters laid out everywhere. One was on adoption rights for gays. I was so proud of Jeremiah. I thought he had come out. Not to the world, we already knew. I was happy he had come out to himself and stopped trying to hide who he was. I went to look for him to offer my support and to tell him how brave he was, but he was gone. The poster had offended him and so had the girls who invited him into their poster making team. I wanted to find him, track him down, let him know it would all be okay. I had to deal with my own kids though and never got around to it that day.
He always had a comment about my shoes or my bag, and he would grab my hands and carefully examine them to see the mani, and polish. He called me Karen after the character on “Will and Grace”. I was bent over him helping him on his computer, our faces were inches from each other. Something I said made him giggle and call me Karen Walker. Our eyes met and held. “Who does that make you then, my dear,” I said solemnly. I could see him thinking, I hugged his back and we continued his assignment.
My best friend works in the system and for whatever reason felt compelled to report to me on each suicide that year. By March 22nd our small community had been plagued by them. We were hearing of them on average of about one per week. It was unheard of. That morning she called to report another tragedy. “Why are you telling me this?” I asked her, annoyed that she felt it necessary.
“Well, I think this one . . . is one of yours.”
Of course, she didn’t mean a child I had birthed, she meant one of my many non-biological children that I treated as if they were my own. I couldn’t find my breath. I whispered into the phone for her to tell me who. She said Zackary Duff was his name and he was a senior from the same charter school I took my kids to. Relieved I told her no, that I didn’t know him, although I was unusually and deeply touched with sadness. Much more than if it were someone I hadn’t known. Twelve suicides in as many weeks in our small town, it was starting to get to me.
That’s when the hearts started coming from everywhere. Stones, clouds, puddles, ice chips, potato chips, they were everywhere! Once we were playing with a balloon and it popped. When I went to pick it up, we saw it landed in the shape of a heart. I took this picture.
The family would laugh at how many hearts would be thrown into my path in the next few days. Then the laughter ended.
I found out he had changed his name. He’d been going by his middle name and his father’s last name. He had come out, and in the process reinvented himself. He’d gone and met his father and it changed his entire way of looking at life. The kid I knew as Jeremiah Green had been calling himself Zachary Duff.
Jan Pickens ( she has since changed her name twice) called me to tell me about the funeral, that was when I found out it was Jeremiah. The neighbors could hear me wailing from down the road. I couldn’t stop, it just kept coming out of me. I was on my knees begging God, asking why, why my baby, why my good boy. He was the one who rushed to help little old ladies with their groceries, he was the one who was always there when you needed a hand, to help with any burden, he was a good one. . . why?
I had heard Jan Pickens make racial as well as gender biased slurs, which was one of the reasons she was no longer my children’s Educational Facilitator. That and the fact she was an emotionally unstable pill-poppin’ nut bag. However, she was still involved in Jeremiah’s life through the charter. He had met with her on Monday, March 21st, 2007, and during the one-hour meeting asked her which bridge would she jump from if she were going to do such a thing. The response given to this child by someone I call a “whore of Satan’s harem” was to direct him to Pioneer Bridge. She is a child murderer in my opinion. She knew exactly what she was doing.
Jeremiah jumped from Pioneer on Thursday, March 22nd, 2007. He was only 18. My Mother in an effort to console me days after the funeral said, “he was too good for this world”. It is the truth. He was. Far too good for the likes of Jan Pickens and other horrible cold-hearted monsters like her. I miss him so much. There will never be another ‘Miah. Me, oh, ‘Miah . . . I miss you more than words can say. It’s been 5 years and I still can’t listen to “Girls Just Wanna’ Have Fun” (any version) without tears. Not what you want as you stroll through the produce aisle at the local supermarket.
His funeral was packed. Standing room only. People were overflowing into the parking lot. One of the most touching eulogies was given by an elderly woman with a walker and an oxygen tank. She was one of many older folks in attendance. She struggled and puffed to get up and into the aisle. Gathering her strength through her emotions she simply said, “Jeremiah, was my friend”. I was trembling with sorrow.
In the way of the traditional people, I cut my hair in mourning. I went to my hairdresser who had done it for me before. In silence, she braided it tightly and sheared it to right above my elbows. This time I didn’t wrap it in red cloth with sage sprigs, I didn’t bury it or burn it in a fire. I gave it to Jeremiah’s Mother and told her to send it with him to his resting place. It seemed like the right thing to do considering how much he enjoyed it while he was here.