A moment of Reflection….[for Peter]
Sitting there at the funeral of Peter Williams I was astonished at the quietness of it all. I fully expected people to go over the top. I expected people to wail and moan about the life taken by his own hand. I think that like me, we were all questioning why things like this happen. Why people don’t get to explain why they take their own lives. Considering the end-result of suicides, it’s a question that those left behind will never get answered.
As the funeral progressed, a man stands and says that they were going to have reflections. The air hung for a few seconds. I asked my friend Shelia sitting next to me, whether anyone was allowed to speak? We both looked around. No one in the sanctuary moved. My heart quickened at the thought of no one saying anything on Peter’s behalf. I grabbed the pew in front of me and looked at Shelia, with every intention of standing.
“Sit your ass down”, she turns and tells me discreetly.
She hates funerals and didn’t want any undue attention. I come back with a reasonable response: “Well someone should speak for Peter.” Again, I look around and the church is quiet. “Someone should say something”, I repeat adamantly. I take a deep breath, deciding that I am going to speak, I have memories of Peter that are worth sharing. Not very many of them, but the memories I have are good ones. I owe at least that. Then his mother’s husband stands quickly to speak. Shelia looks over at me and rolls her eyes; she knows I would have done it had he not gotten up.
Following him was family friend and then reflections were given by his loving mother. All three spoke about Peter’s heart. About the fact that he may not have been perfect, some say he was unruly, un-controlled even, but that he loved. He did things for people just because it was in his heart to do those things. I don’t know if the invitation for reflections was extended to everyone attending the services that day; I don’t know if I should have simply stood up and announced that I had something to say, but had I gotten the chance to reflect on what I knew about the heart of the young man lying in that gray casket, this is what I’d say:
I’m probably the last person to be standing here reflecting on who Peter was. To be honest, I didn’t know him very well at all. I can’t call him a homie or friend, really; I just knew him. He was a dude from ‘round tha way’. The both of us grew up in the schools of Dorchester County and somewhere in those years he had been a student of my mother at one point. Just some bad little boy who was in her class at Knightsville Elementary. But I cannot say that in all the years I’d known of him, we were any more than just acquaintances, Peter was just someone I knew. A dude that was always around.
My memories of Peter through the years were infrequent and often scattered. See, we knew some of the same people, the two of us never hung out or anything, but I do have a season we shared, the beginning of all my fond memories of Peter. A time that takes the cake; a memory all my own.
It was my senior year of high school and everyone I knew was getting ready for prom. They had planned for weeks. Decisions being made about dress colors, dress types, hairstyles, shoes being worn, etc. We were sitting in Mrs. Tolliver’s office one day during lunch talking about prom plans and all the excitement that was building when one of my homegirls asked me if I was going.
“No,” I replied simply. “No, I’m not going.”
The imposing round of “why nots” went around the room. Everyone trippin’ on the fact that Krystal of all people would miss her Senior Prom. Truth be told that where we are from it’s kind of like an un-written rule: YOU DON’T MISS PROM! You could skip out on Junior Prom or go with a group of friends when you’re in the eleventh grade and just hang out, but you only get one senior prom. You only get (1) SENIOR PROM NIGHT! When one is a senior you live for prom and graduation. Those are pivotal moments in a young woman’s life. The moments she’ll never forget!
With faces aghast, including Mrs. Tolliver’s, I reply: “well, for me, [prom] is not that serious”.
A lie if there ever was one. I breathe deeply and then the truth comes out: “And anyway, if I went, I’d be going by myself.”
And no girl in her right mind wants to go to prom alone when all of her friends have dates. You go stag when your girlfriends are going stag too, but in my case every last one of my homegirls was going to have a man on her arm. I, on the other hand, would be crazy to walk in there all by my lonesome. It just wasn’t happening. I refused to do it.
Truth of the matter was that nobody had asked me. Of all the guys I knew in high school not one of them had asked me whether I was interested in going. Not one. And far be it from me to play the pathetically desperate chick and ask a dude: God Forbid! I wouldn’t dare! It’s those kind of faux-pas that cause the earth to slip from it’s axis! Seriously! (okay, okay,that really isn’t true, but you understand how detrimental it can be for a girl to ask a guy to prom, it’s just not the right order of things.)
Anyway, the moment passed. With attentions shifted, conversations continued and the lunch period came to an end. On my way out of the guidance office headed to Mr. Kaple’s English Honors Class, Peter, who had been amongst the crew having “lunch” in Mrs. Tolliver’s office, slapped the side of my bookbag, getting my attention.
He looks down at me. “Whats up?,” I ask him quickly, I’ve gotta go, I’m thinking.
Bodies are shifting, people are moving thru the halls because we all have to get to class.
He says, very simply: “Ay, if you need somebody to take you to prom, let me know.”
“Yeah, right Peter,” I laughingly respond. He must be joking! He’s gotta be.
Not that it mattered because I wasn’t going anyway, but I look at him like he’s crazy.
“I’m dead-ass. Let me know.” He’s walking backwards, away from me. “I got you”, he adds quickly.
I shake my head as I walk away smiling. He’s too funny I think to myself as I head to class. What would I look like going to prom with Peter.
Me?, Go to prom with an underclassman? Highly unlikely. Highly unlikely indeed.
Weeks go by. My life is routine. Its school, then work, and hanging out with my girlfriends when possible. They talk of prom and guys and how crazy things are going to be if they don’t get the right shoes, but I keep quiet. I don’t have prom plans. I don’t talk about it unless someone mentions it first. Why would I anyway, the guy I would go to prom with was more than a few states away in USAF technical school. No way was he coming home just to take me, so prom was definitely a No-Go.
It’s the final week and with undue pressure from my mother about the regret I’d surely face if I skipped my one and only Senior Prom, I begrudgingly buy a ticket. Prom was Saturday night, and here I was the day before finally buying a ticket. Another factor confirming the sheer desperation of my lonely situation. Everybody else had bought their ticket weeks ago. So okay It is what it is, I’m going. No prom date. No prospects either, but I’m going. That same afternoon, Detra and I go to Citadel Mall. I settle on a $9.99 dress off the rack. All the formal wear had been marked down since most neighboring high school’s proms had already taken place. Shit, even the Dilliards sales lady asked why I waited so late to shop—in her opinion all the nice dresses were already gone. Who cares. I simply needed a dress. Prom was tomorrow for goodness sake! I schedule a Saturday morning appointment to get my hair braided and styled. Friday night rolls into Saturday morning and the whole day I’m pissed. Worried. Salty because here I am going to my senior prom all alone. Something I swore I wasn’t ever going to do! All day I’m thinking: I just need to get this over with.
I’m dressed and running late. Prom night has officially begun. I take pictures at my mom’s house with my sister and mother. I head over to Daddy’s house in Jedburg to take some with him. After calling around to see where my friends are with their undoubtedly handsome dates, I get back in the car to catch up with them at Red Lobster in Charleston.
See, this is why you don’t go to prom all alone, I think to myself as I turn around in daddy’s lane, because then you have to be the lonesome chick who is driving all around town trying to catch up with everybody else that has a date.
By the time I pull onto Old Orangeburg Road, my mom is calling my cellphone.
“Hey Ma,” I answer quickly. “I just left Daddy’s house. I’m about to go meet Detra those at Red Lobster”.
“Come back by here,” she demands.
“Ma, I don’t have time.” I fuss, trying to rush her off the phone. She knows I’m already late. I was late when I first left her house after taking pictures. The whole day was blurry from me rushing, frantic at having to endure this whole ordeal at the last-minute.
“They are on their way to dinner and I’m trying to catch them before they get to the fairgrounds” (knowing full well that at least if I meet them before they get to prom, I don’t have to walk in by myself). Pitiful truth, but true nonetheless.
“Krystal, your date is here.” Momma says thru my Sprint phone.
“Huh?” I ask, turning onto Greyback Road, thinking I should probably just jump on I-26 and head to Red Lobster. “Ma, I didn’t hear you.”
“Your date. He’s here waiting on you.” She says quietly.
She takes a deep breath. “Just get back over here” all I hear before she hangs up the phone.
I suck my teeth. Momma would decide to be a pain-in-the-neck when I’m rushing. From Jedburg to N. Charleston is no quick trip when you’re already 20 minutes late . There was no time to go back to Oakbrook and still catch the crew at Red Lobster. There was just no way. But I make a quick right onto Hwy 78 to go back to momma’s house. I hate taking the shortcut past Pigeon Bay Rd to get to Oakbrook, all the turns involved don’t really make it a short-cut, but I head back anyway knowing I’ll probably miss dinner with everyone else.
“Tonight is totally gonna suck” I grumble to myself as I speed down Trolley Road. I’ve got the windows down and my little pin-up of microbraids is suffering in the wind, but whatever, it doesn’t matter. None of it does. Even if I go in late and all alone, I already know I’m not staying very long. Get this prom night craziness over with as quickly as possible.
I turn into Oakbrook Commons, where we had been living. My parents separated the summer before my senior year and it was just me and Momma who moved to Oakbrook. My older siblings had already left home. One in the military and the other in college, and after the next 3 months of summer, I’d be moving out too. Momma is trippin’, I think to myself, she knows I don’t have time for this.
Words cannot describe the relief I felt when I turned onto Hardee Avenue. Driving toward Steward Place, the road that our duplex was on, I realized she wasn’t kidding, someone was at the house, and apparently they were waiting on me!
An all white Ford Explorer was sitting in Momma’s drive way. I knew the truck, I had seen it before a couple times, but since I’m a nervous wreck, I have no idea who it could be.
I pull up beside the Explorer and do a quick check before I get out. I’m sweating now because of all the ripping and running. “This is crazy” I’m thinking as I check my face in my rearview mirror. Just crazy. I wipe my forehead and make sure I have enough lip gloss on. No sooner than I think to myself how late I’m going to be meeting Detra, the front door opens and Peter walks out. He’s not really smiling, but looking at me quizzically, almost hard-faced, serious to boot.
I get out of my ’89 Pontiac Grand Prix and straighten my dress. I walk towards the porch, watching him, shaking my head in disbelief. He is standing on my Momma’s porch in a tux. A dude I’ve only ever seen in an all white t-shirt with jeans, and sneakers. That was Peter’s typical school outfit: A plain white t-shirt all the time, everyday. The kind you’d wear as an undershirt. Never, ever in all the years did he come to school in anything other than that. But here he is, suited and booted, on my prom night—Clean. He looks down at me when I reach the doorway. He sorta, kinda smiles. I shake my head again, still not believing that he’s standing there. I’m smiling when I look up at him.
He speaks first.
“Well, you said you didn’t want to go by yourself, right?”
I smile big now, my eyes beaming. “Um hum” is all I can muster.
“Okay then, let’s go,” he states plainly.
He turns, steps off the porch, and walks towards the truck. I can’t believe this dude! I turn around and look at momma who is standing in the doorway smiling quietly, watching this unfold. She lifts her eyebrows, questioning what I’ll do, but leaving it up to me.
I turn around to see Peter getting in the truck. He’s serious as a heart attack. I’m shocked, and rarely do people ever shock me. I’m flattered too, and flattery can make any woman take a chance she’d never saw coming.
I look back at my Momma. She’s chuckling now. “Good night Ma, I guess I’ll see you in the morning.” I shrug and walk toward the passenger side door.
“Krystal….,” she begins, but I don’t let her finish.
“Ma, it’s Prom night,” I call out without looking back.
I get in the truck. I exhale a breath that I don’t even know I’m holding. My thoughts running wild. I cannot believe its Peter of all people. Could have been anybody tonight, but Peter showed up. How did we get here? Me and Peter going to My Senior Prom? We weren’t even that close. Not even friends really. Little Peter from my momma’s first- or second-grade class! The same Peter that was always popping up; the Peter who I knew of, but didn’t really know. Yeah, he mentioned prom almost 2 months ago, but I didn’t take it seriously. Is he even a Junior this year? He goes to class, sometimes I guess, because I see him around at school, but what English is he taking? How did he know that I had actually bought a ticket? There was no way he could have known. My thoughts are everywhere. I have no idea what made him come, but there he was. Ready. Sitting in a tux–bowtie, vest, fresh haircut, smelling good–the works! I shake my head in disbelief, knowing that I’ll have to adjust my after-prom plans now that I have a bona fide “date” for the evening. 🙂 I laugh out loud at the thought.
Tonight is going to be crazy, I think to myself.
Peter leans over, smiles at me and says, “You look nice”.
I watch him as he backs the truck out of the driveway and surprise myself when I reply,
“Mr. Williams, so do you.”