When I went to sleep that
night I was full of the kind of happiness I never dreamed possible.
Little did I realize that tragedy was about to yank my happiness away
as fast as I had achieved it.
I awoke to Aiden out of bed, leaning over me and gently kissing me on the lips, then placing his finger over mine to keep me quiet. “Mom’s home”, he said as he handed me my underwear, “And she sounds like she’s on the warpath. Get dressed, quickly”. I did as he said, and once we were both dressed we went downstairs to the kitchen. Aiden’s mother was there glaring at us, and Richie was sitting there at the breakfast nook eating his cereal with a big shit eating grin on his face. I had never seen such a venomous look on her face – she was usually happy to see me, but not this morning. Had she somehow found out what we had done? I looked over at Aiden and it was clear he was thinking the same thing.
how was your evening?” She asked coldly.
“Fine”, Aiden said carefully.
Richie piped up: “That’s not all you did!”
The blood drained out of my body, and I could see Aiden had turned white as a sheet as well. Worse, his mother noticed it on both of us.
“Don’t you talk to your brother like that! He didn’t do anything wrong! You, on the other hand, are in big trouble. Now, I’m going to ask you again, What did you do last night?”
“I told you, we just watched movies!”
“Really. Well, would you mind explaining this?” she said, as she reached behind her and presented three empty beer bottles.
“...Or this?” she said, as she slammed a full ashtray down on the table, butts going everywhere.
Aiden and I glanced at each other, our relief palpable. Yes, getting caught smoking and drinking was bad. But if she had known what we really got up to it would have been certain death for both of us. She mistook our relieved expressions for smugness.
“You can wipe that smile off your faces, both of you. Richie told me that you guys huffed him off to bed as soon as the first movie was over, but he didn’t want to go to bed so he hid in the hallway and watched the other movie. He said he also watched you guys smoke about a half pack of cigarettes each and drink beer.”
Aiden shot Richie a dirty look, and he just grinned back. Richie was clearly enjoying this.
Mike's mom continued: “What were you thinking? That I wouldn’t notice the beer missing? Well, clearly you weren’t thinking at all, because you didn’t even bother cleaning up after yourselves. I found the beer bottles and cigarette butts all over the table when I got home from work”.
We both looked at each other, then at our feet. We really were that stupid.
“Well, you’re grounded, Mister”. She then rounded on me: “And I’ll be telling your parents about this too”.
Aiden’s mom’s anger at
us seemed to pale in comparison to Aiden’s anger at Richie. I was
kind of mad at him too, but it wasn’t his fault that we smoked and
Aiden drank, and we did leave the evidence lying around, so we’d
have been caught anyway. Aiden did not share this opinion and was
being particularly nasty. Each time he said something awful to Richie
his mother barked at him to leave him alone. It was very
uncomfortable for me there, so I left shortly after Aiden’s mom had
finished reaming us out one last time. I was relieved to be gone but
terrified about what my father would have to say about my smoking. I
wasn’t worried about the beer – Dad knew I couldn’t stand the
stuff – but he would kill me over the smoking. I slowly made my way
home and went inside. Everything was normal, so I figured Aiden’s
mom hadn’t told Dad yet. Relieved, I planted myself in front of the
TV set, with the phone right next to me, determined to be the one to
answer it when she called – no small task with a house full of
teenagers. Several hours passed, and while there were several calls
(Mom and Dad were going to be hosting a New Year’s Eve party that
night), Aiden’s mother was not one of them. I guessed she had
either calmed down or was going to call after she woke up after her
“Hi Carmen, have you seen Aiden or Richie?”
“Well he is, but after you left he and his brother got into a big fight. They were screaming at each other, and Richie ran out of the house crying. I tried calling him back but he disappeared, so I sent Aiden out after him. I haven’t seen either of them since. Let me know if you see either of them, OK?”
I had barely hung up the phone when Aiden knocked on the door.
“I know. Listen, I need your help. Richie took off and I can’t find him.”
“Sure. I’ll call the guys up, we’ll all look.”
“I feel so guilty,” Aiden said. He was clearly choking back tears. “I was really bad to him, and I said some really bad things. If anything happens to him I don’t know what I’ll do.”
It was probably 11:00AM by
the time I rounded up Ian, Danny, and Alex. We all went to the woods
by Aiden’s house, spread out, and started searching, looking for
any sign of Richie. We thoroughly searched those woods, then moved
out into the neighbourhood, calling out his name and looking anywhere
a kid might hide: Under tarps, in boats, in unlocked sheds, etc. We
searched until suppertime, when it started getting dark. We headed
back to Aiden’s place, and were shocked to discover several police
cars in front of his house. Ian, Danny and Alex split off to go
home, but I went inside with Aiden. His mother was there with a few
police officers. When we went inside the cops sat us down and told us
that not only was Richie missing, but so was a six year old girl who
lived just down the road. They asked us where we had searched and if
we had seen anything, and while they were asking I looked at Aiden’s
mother. The look she had on her face while we were talking to those
police officers will haunt me to my dying day. I had seen people who
were worried before, and had heard the expression “worried sick”
countless times without even thinking about it, but this woman was
literally and clearly worried sick. We answered their questions, and
the police told me I might as well go home, that we had done what we
could do and it was now up to them.
When I got home I told Mom & Dad what was going on, and they became worried also. Their guests started showing up for the party. Several had heard the news on the radio about two missing six year old children, but they hadn’t realized that it was somebody we had known. As the party progressed the mood got more sombre - It was the saddest New Year’s party ever. People were just standing around staring into their drinks, and on the rare occasion a conversation started it was about the two missing kids. Every time the phone rang everybody jumped and held their breaths while somebody answered it. Each time, it was something completely unrelated: Friends of my brothers and sister calling, party guests calling to say they were running late or couldn’t make it, stuff like that. Throughout the evening I tried calling Aiden a few times. Each time the phone was answered by a police officer, who told me there was no news but the search continued. Eventually they asked me not to call again because Richie might be trying to call. The cop assured me they’d call us and let us know as soon as there was any news.
The party went on (albeit subdued) and time passed very slowly. The phone calls dropped off as siblings’ friends were admonished not to call and all of the party guests were either already here or not coming at all. It was the most agonizing evening I ever went through. Then, shortly before midnight, the phone call came that would forever change things. When it rang the party screeched to a halt and everyone looked at me. I picked up the phone and said, “Hello?”
It was Aiden, and he was crying uncontrollably. He finally managed to stammer out: “They found him. They found him in the lake. He went through the ice”.
“What do you mean, in the lake?” I could see the blood draining from the faces of everyone at the party. A few people gasped.
Aiden continued crying, then screamed into the phone “HE’S DEAD! HE DROWNED! THEY FOUND THEM BOTH IN THE WATER!”
At those words I started to choke up. I didn’t know what to say or do.
I said “Aiden...”
He cut me off. Still crying, he said “I’ve got to go, they want to use the phone. I’ll talk to you later. He’s dead, Carmen. Gone.”
And then he hung up.
I stood there with the phone in my hand. I could not move. I looked around at the party guests, who were all staring at me. Tears were running down my cheeks, and I started hearing sobbing coming from the crowd. I couldn’t say anything. I just wanted to drop the phone and run to my room. My mother, sobbing, came over, took the phone out of my hand, and hugged me. I was still in shock, so I just stood there. I didn’t hug her back. I didn’t say a thing. I just stood there while my mother hugged me, and a whole party’s worth of people started crying. Mom stopped sobbing long enough to let go of me and say “Why don’t you go to bed, honey?”
I don’t remember
answering. I don’t remember walking to my room. I don’t remember
getting undressed and crawling into bed. All I can remember is lying
in that bed, staring at the ceiling, and picturing Richie’s face in
my mind with that big grin, the whole time thinking “I’m never
going to see him again. He’s gone. Forever”. I laid on my back
for a while, tears streaming from the corners of my eyes onto my
pillow, then turned and looked at the numbers on my clock radio.
11:59. That number seemed to hang there for an eternity, the longest
minute ever. It seemed like the whole 13 years and six days of my
existence had flashed by, but the world was stuck on 11:59. Finally
the red LED’s changed to 12:00. 1984 was gone, 1985 was here. It
dawned on me that there was no countdown at the party. Nobody felt
like celebrating. Everyone there, whether they knew Richie or not,
was a part of this tragedy, and they sat, talked, and cried while
1984 sneaked off into the history books.
The next morning the
reality started setting in. For one thing, the story was all over the
radio and TV, and the details of what had happened were starting to
emerge. The two children were found after the RCMP helicopter
discovered a hole in the ice about 40 feet from the shore. It was
difficult to find because the ice was thin and there was no snow on
it, so the hole in the ice was the same colour as the ice. New ice
had started to form over the hole, so it had been at least a few
hours. They sent some divers into the lake to search. First Lake was
still murky from the silt due to the construction of the subdivision,
but thankfully there were no currents – the lake was spring fed, so
there was no major rivers in or out. They found their bodies a just a
few feet apart, and only 20 feet or so from the hole. They had gone
through just beyond a drop off – had they gone through just ten
feet closer to shore they’d have been in knee deep water. None of
this matters, of course: They went through the ice, and they were
dead. Two six year old children, gone forever.
This was my first real experience with death, and I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. My grandparents had all died before I was two years old so I didn’t experience that loss. All of my aunts and uncles were all healthy and alive. Until now I had never even thought about death and what it meant. It had just not occurred to me at all. Now I was forced to face reality. All I could do was picture Richie and think about how I’d never see him again. And if this was bothering me this much, imagine how poor Aiden and his mother were taking it, not to mention the parents of that girl!