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  • This is for Dennis Guminski, who died before he could graduate high school. In my senior yearbook, there's a picture of him alongside John Donne's "Death Be Not Proud."

    When we were little, he was my best friend; his favorite color was blue and mine was purple.

    It's a Jewish custom to place a stone on someone’s grave to show others you’ve been there. I don’t get back to Philadelphia much, so I’m leaving this.

    Whoever reads this will know I was here, Denny, and that I was thinking of you.

    I still look at your picture sometimes.

    (Ball hits wall. Ball hits glove.)

    We’re in third grade and my mom answers the phone. It’s Mrs. Naylor, who tells her to sit down.

    (Ball hits wall. Ball hits glove.)

    We’re at your mother’s viewing. She always, always wore her seatbelt, but this time she was in a hurry.

    Every once in a while, someone mentions that most fatal auto accidents occur close to home.

    An old woman asks which of us is Rosemary’s son and we tell her it’s me. She spends the next five minutes trying to comfort me. We’re still young enough to think that’s really funny.

    (Ball hits wall. Ball hits glove.)

    It’s Halloween and your sister comes running to my house in a panic. Your mom had made her an Indian princess costume, but no one can figure out where she put it. My mom does such a good job on the makeshift outfit that none of our neighbors recognize her.

    (Ball hits wall. Ball hits glove.)

    You’re a shy kid and you deal with pain your own way. Day after day I come to your house and it’s the same picture: you throw a rubber-coated baseball against the side of the garage.

    Throw, bounce, catch.

    Throw, bounce, catch.

    Your brand new Vida Blue mitt breaks in quickly.

    (Ball hits wall. Ball hits glove.)

    Your mom was never sure about that operation to pin your ears back, even though kids made fun of you. God does things for a reason, she said. Soon after her death, your dad has it done.

    (Ball hits wall. Ball hits glove.)

    All you do is throw that ball. All I do is read comic books. One day I’m walking home from the 7-Eleven and I stop to talk to you, showing you the new comics I’ve bought.

    You stare at the comics; I stare at your mitt. We don’t know each other anymore.

    (Ball hits wall. Ball hits glove.)

    My mom thinks your dad won’t let you be my friend because I’m Jewish. We know better, don’t we?

    (Ball hits wall. Ball hits glove.)

    We’re eight years old and in my dream we’re running around your back yard, fleeing whatever my mind sees as a terrifying monster at that age.

    I wake up and hear rustling in the leaves under my window. I’m sure it’s our monster, come to tell me some dreams aren’t make-believe. I stay quiet until I hear whatever it is go back into the woods behind my house.

    They say God needed you so he called you to be with him. I don’t believe that. I think something came out of the woods, remembered what it set out to do and paid a visit to your house instead of mine.

    (Ball hits wall. Ball hits glove.)

    My mom says that at 17, you’re only the third person in the U.S. to die from this particular heart virus.

    (Ball hits wall. Ball hits glove.)

    There’s an open casket at your funeral but I stay at the back of the service. I don’t want to remember you like that.

    All the priest talks about is how much you loved Jesus. He doesn’t talk about who loved you. He doesn’t say anything about you.

    I see people from school I didn’t know were friendly with you. I see teachers I didn’t know you had.

    I wonder if I’m a coward for not going up to say goodbye.

    (Ball hits wall. Ball hits glove.)

    My parents are talking about selling and moving. I won’t be back.

    Your father and I stand in your front yard, looking across the street and down the hill.

    It’s taken me a while to feel comfortable with him. I keep thinking I remind him of you and how I look older while your picture doesn’t change.

    He points out that we can hear traffic on the turnpike since they put up that new development because there are no longer enough trees to block the sound.

    He marks changes in the neighborhood.

    We listen to the cars in the distance a while.

    (Ball hits wall. Ball hits glove.)

    I’ve never seen your grave.

    I visit the cemetery where you’re buried one time to see the grave of another friend, who died in an accident at 19.

    The dead I know show up in my writing quite a bit. Sometimes I think that’s how they talk to me.

    I roll the poems I’ve written about Chris around a rose and place it on her marker. I wonder if she likes them.

    I won’t go to your grave. I don’t know why.

    (Ball hits wall. Ball hits glove.)

    In a poem called "Men at Forty," Donald Justice writes of men who "learn to close softly/The doors to rooms they will not be/Coming back to."

    Someone slammed ours.

    (Ball hits wall. Ball hits glove.)

    Am I angry?

    The camera zooms in on the guy from the Bud Light commercials, who, speaking for me, gives a bitter grin and spits it out darkly:

    "Yes, I am."

    (Ball hits wall.)

    (Wall hits boy.)

    I still miss you.

    And I have not forgotten.
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