Note: I apologize again about the timeline jumping around so much. It's just how everything evolved at different times. This last chapter was actually the first one that I started, but it's been the one that was edited the most.
The passing of time is a strange phenomenon. It's all about perception. It doesn't actually get slower or faster. The minutes, months, and years are all the same measurements. But the awareness of the individual is what generates the feeling of pace, rhythm, and stages.
A year came and went. A lot happened, and a lot did not happen. It was all about perception.
Doug hadn't been back to the cemetery since the funeral. He didn't believe in visiting graves anymore. Maybe it made some people feel better, and helped them feel closer to those they'd lost. But he didn't want to be closer. He had lost too many people. He was already close, and any more closeness would just be more painful, right?
He hadn't seen Judy in almost a month. They were still devoted friends, but since he'd transferred back to Intelligence, they just didn't see each other on a daily basis anymore. And because life always gets busy, there just hadn't been time lately. Or they hadn't made the time. Was that the same thing?
But Doug had specifically asked her if she would meet him at the cemetery that afternoon. He couldn't articulate why, but it just seemed like the only place to meet where they could really talk; really talk about things they'd both avoided ever saying out loud.
Judy walked across the quiet field. She knew exactly where he would be waiting for her. She was slightly late, but she also knew he wouldn't mind. As she approached, she could see him from behind on the nearest bench, staring towards the tree on the hill. Her feet made no sound through the grass, so she purposely crunched on several leaves to let him know she was there.
Her hand rested lightly on his shoulder as she rounded the bench and took a seat beside him.
Her mouth was about to let out a "hi," but when she glanced over at his face, she reached for his hand instead, and squeezed. That was hi enough.
They sat for a few moments without saying anything. It wasn't awkward. Judy had let go of his hand but her shoulder was pressed up against his.
After a while, Doug's voice seemed to materialize out of thin air. His eyes were still focused somewhere off in the distance. Being there in the cemetery, somehow allowed Doug to release things he'd been holding in for a long time. Whenever he and Judy had spent time together during the past year, they didn't bring up their feelings about the loss of their friend. If their conversation happened to accidentally stray into anything surrounding it, their comments were very matter-of-fact, almost completely devoid of emotion. But not now. It was ok right now, in this moment.
"I know they say it's supposed to get easier." His voice was barely above a whisper. "Time heals, all that stuff…but it's not. At least for me. It's still just as hard. And the worst part about it is that everyone just expects things to be fine now. Like some bell went off somewhere to say it's been long enough, so…everything's normal…and if it's not, then what the hell is wrong with you?" He let his head fall back as he stared up and beyond. He swallowed hard. "And people like to throw around that word, closure, like it's supposed to mean something. But it's just bullshit. It's some made-up idea. Some unattainable thing..." His voice had an edge to it now. He was holding back tears and his hands were trembling ever so slightly.
Judy reached out and touched his arm to try and still his resentment.
"I just…" He shook his head in tired exasperation. "There's so much time left, without…" His voice finally broke, and even though she was still staring at his arm and couldn't bring herself to look over at his face again, she knew the tears were there. "There's so much time. It's too much…"
As if he were dreaming, he could visualize a long lonely dusty road out in the desert. It stretched out as far as he could see until it touched the horizon, and then presumably kept going. The imagined heat rising from the pavement made the air waffle. The road was like the decades spread out before him, stacked end upon end. How could he look out at all that, and accept the coming years so readily?
Judy didn't know what to say. There was nothing to say.
When she finally spoke, her voice was full of apprehension. "Doug, have you…"
He knew exactly what she was asking. "Yeah," he cut in quickly and bitterly. "Yeah, I saw the department shrink a few times." He sighed again. "I didn't feel better after talking to him though. It's not for me. I know it helps some people. I just didn't get much out of it."
Judy nodded. It had helped her a bit, but yeah, it wasn't for everyone. Or at least, there was no point in telling him he should still go.
Her eyes looked down to their hands again and she watched as he reached for something in his pocket. He produced what appeared to be a crumpled envelope.
"What's that?" She asked after yet another long silence.
Doug attempted to smooth out the creases along the edges. "A letter," he whispered hoarsely.
She didn't understand. Her brain quickly went through all the people she could imagine that might have written a letter about…
"Who's it from?"
Doug puffed out his cheeks and exhaled loudly, trying to suppress the emotion that was threatening to overcome him again. He waited a moment to regain his composure.
Judy crinkled her nose in confusion. "What? I don't…I don't get it…"
Another loud breath.
"Fuller gave it to me right after…it was a letter that Hanson'd given him a while back. Maybe a year or so before…He had asked Fuller to keep it and give it to me if…" he gestured with his hand, "…all of this ever happened…"
"Oh God," Judy gasped involuntarily. She hadn't meant to say it like that, but it just slipped out. Her hand flew to cover her mouth.
She stared at the paper. Doug turned it over in his hands, and she could see now that his name was written on the other side. But it hadn't been opened. It was still sealed. He had that letter all this time?
Judy was in shock that he could go so long without reading it. If it had been a letter to her, from her deceased best friend, it would have been ripped open the moment it was given to her. She tried not to feel envious that there hadn't been any way there were some last words for her. But this wasn't about her. Keeping the focus solely on Doug was the only way she was managing not to break down. She quickly refocused.
"Why haven't you read it?" She asked, cutting the silence that once again had fallen between them.
Doug fumbled with the paper again. He shrugged.
"Doug," her voice came out angrier than she meant it to be. "Read it. Now. Here. You need this."
He shot up and away from the bench, which just made Judy regret her sudden outburst. But it had to be said.
He stood with his back to her, several paces away.
Judy's momentary anger softened quickly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean…" she paused. "Doug, what are you afraid of?"
It hadn't ever occurred to him that he was afraid of the letter, but her words struck a chord. Was it fear?
She slowly stood and approached her friend. She reached out and touched his back lightly and then came parallel with his line of sight. "If he wanted you to have that letter, you owe it to him to read it."
Dammit. That wasn't fair, he thought. But then again, nothing ever was.
In the back of his mind, he finally admitted to himself he'd wanted to come to the cemetery in order to read it. He knew he should. He knew he had to. But now that the moment was upon him, he truly was afraid. He was afraid that it would feel like losing his friend all over again, afraid it would add to the already intolerable burden.
Judy waited for him to move or say something, but he seemed to be paralyzed in thought.
"I'm going to go for a walk. Come find me in a while, if you want." She squeezed his arm, trying to compel him to look at her. But he didn't.
So she turned and walked away.
Judy took her time, deliberately meandering in a non-linear fashion, to the area where she knew some very distant relatives had their final resting places. She hadn't been close to them at all, but it was just an excuse to give Doug some time alone.
As she walked, she thought back over the past year, and then back further, and back some more, and back and across the expanse of time.
She remembered being at the school bus stop in sixth grade. Two older boys were arguing and then began shoving each other. She recalled for the first time, seeing true uncontrolled rage, and how frightening it was up close. And just when she began to panic, a police car came out of nowhere and pulled over to the curb. A male officer was driving, but his partner, a woman, leaned out the passenger window and diffused the situation.
She remembered the day she told her parents she intended to become a police officer. Her father had been furious. He thought his daughter deserved more and that she was settling for a dangerous blue-collar profession that was beneath her. He thought someone had talked her into it, lured her astray from the typical things that her college friends were heading off to do. By the time she'd almost graduated from the Academy and he'd seen how serious she was, he'd gotten over it. For the most part.
She remembered the day she first walked into the Jump Street chapel and got a load of Captain Jenko. He was so outrageous. He was also immensely kind and protective. His death was the first real loss she'd encountered as an adult.
She remembered meeting the boys, Ioki and Penhall, for the first time. Boys, for sure. Being men would come later.
She remembered Tom Hanson being the new kid. He was so uptight and nervous and self-righteous. He changed a lot in that first year at Jump Street, more so than any of them.
She remembered making Detective and the rape. Those two events would always be intertwined; yet another one of those curve balls life throws at you.
She remembered the night before Tom died.
Judy had been lost in thought. She glanced at her watch and realized almost an hour had passed. She hadn't actually made it to her relatives' graves, but instead had wandered aimlessly. Doug hadn't come to look for her.
She audibly sighed. There wasn't anything else she could do today.
She trudged up a slight incline and just then, a distant figure came into view. Doug, head down, was walking in her direction.
He didn't look up until he was only about 15 feet away. Judy could tell that he'd been crying, although at the moment, his eyes were dry. The two friends silently walked towards each other and Judy led the embrace as they met.
When they eventually broke away from each other, Judy put her hand on the side of Doug's face and forced him to look at her.
"Did you read it?"
"Do you want talk about it?"
"Did it help…anything?"
"I dunno. Maybe."
"Will you walk with me?"
Judy could tell Doug still had things he wanted to say, but he wasn't ready yet. And ready could take minutes, months, even years.
As she'd been walking by herself, she had slowly summoned the courage to ask the one question that had haunted her for so long. She never felt like there had ever been a time when it was acceptable to ask, but now, when the table was clear and waiting for all the cards to be placed upon it, why not? The weight of the question pressed down upon her chest now more than ever. The only way to alleviate the discomfort was to finally know.
"I'm not sure why I want to know. But I think about it a lot. More than I should." She began, already feeling her nerves tingling. "So, I guess knowing would at least take away the 'maybes.' Maybe."
She had to pause. Asking the question wasn't going to be nearly as hard as having the answer. And it was already testing her resolve. She gulped down a shard of air.
"What happened in those last few minutes?" She turned to look at Penhall's reaction, but his face was blank.
Judy was fairly certain she knew the answer. She was a cop for Christ's sake. She'd been there plenty of times when it was someone else, but that was just it. They were other people; people that were basically acquaintances, suspects, strangers.
Her question rattled him. Doug had forgotten that Judy didn't know. She hadn't been there. And he'd relived it so many times in his head that it was unfathomable that someone so close didn't know, but yeah, how could she? And she had never asked until just now, although, he'd never implied that they could talk about any of this until now either. She'd been waiting all this time, just for him to be ready. Ready wasn't the right word. Strong enough? That wasn't right either.
If someone else were asking, if it were Mrs. Hanson, he'd start lying right about now. He'd make up details that glossed over the bad, and he'd twist the vagueness until it was almost comforting. But this wasn't Mrs. Hanson. Judy was asking in earnest, and if she really wanted to know, then she deserved the truth.
He steeled himself as he allowed the all-too vivid memory to wash over him again. The images that he'd tried to purge from his memory so many times were still so damn close to the surface. They were always right there, waiting to ambush him. He didn't know where to start, but his gravelly voice began even before his brain decided what it was going to reveal and not reveal.
"Someone had already called for back-up. We just had to figure out where everyone scattered to. The kids were so flighty, we shoulda seen that coming…" He had to pause for air. It hurt to breathe.
"Harry said the last time he saw Hanson was over near the side of the maintenance shed during the last volley of shots. As soon as it was clear, I ran over there, along the side of the building."
Doug was fidgeting now.
"I came around the corner…" The words were lodged in his throat and he literally felt like he could choke. "I…I could see blood on the concrete. It was dark, but I could tell that's what it was. I could tell where he'd fallen and the way the marks were on the ground, he dragged himself a ways…"
Judy shut her eyes and her stomach vaulted. This is what she wanted, she reminded herself. She wanted the whole truth, no matter how hard it was to hear.
"I found him next to the generator."
It wasn't like in the movies at all. In the movies, there is always enough time for the revelation of a secret, or a declaration of love, or a heartfelt good-bye. In the movies, the dying person can still speak, and the clarity of the moment is so profound. In the movies, you aren't attacked with all the visceral stimuli: the smell of the blood, the sound of the sirens, the taste of dread, the panic screaming through your veins, the warmth of life, the coldness of death.
Reality is so much messier and nastier. Reality doesn't play by those rules. Real death is unflinching and graphic. Real death is so quick.
"He…He didn't even look like himself. His face was different. He couldn't talk and his eyes were lost somewhere else, he couldn't focus." Doug's voice cracked. "I don't even know if he knew I was there or if he heard anything I said. I'd like to believe he did, but I really have no idea…I wish I could be sure he knew he wasn't alone…"
Recalling all the little details made his heart race and his head pound.
"He was still conscious for a minute or two. Or, I think it was minutes, I'm not sure. And then…his eyes closed. And I couldn't find a pulse…" He quickly wiped at this face with the back of his hand. "They told me later that I'd been doing CPR, but honestly, I don't remember that part. I remember my arms hurt afterwards. They ached for days. But I can't remember. I remember all the rest, but not that."
The words descended into Judy's skin, thick and viscous. Now she knew. Now, whenever she thought about it, there would be images she couldn't remove. And even though the images were unpleasant, in a way, it was comforting to know they were so much closer to the truth. In her mind, she'd made up things that weren't nearly as bad, but she'd also made up scenarios that were much worse. The truth, however objectionable, was far better than the unknown.
She didn't know when she had started to cry, but her face was wet now. For the first time in months, she was shedding tears. And once she realized it, the levee broke and she was sobbing uncontrollably. It felt good and bad at the same time. In a way, all of this was a relief.
Judy felt Doug's warm arms envelop her as she shook with emotion. She hadn't ever cried this freely in front of him for fear it would upset him even more. She had held back. She had hidden her own distress to allow room for his. That sacrifice had been corrosive. But that was gone now. It was ok for her to be upset too.
Time without, indeed. There would be a lot of that. But there was also time, just plain time. They could do whatever they wanted with it. They could make it count. Maybe the point wasn't to accept the bad and move on. There had been too much focus on acceptance. Acceptance implied a willingness, an approval, a stamp of certification. Maybe the point was just to learn to live with the grief, somehow. The pain would never really leave. It was going to ebb and flow, surge and retreat, in a continuous flow out across that empty desert. Figuring out how to get through the days, how to make a difference, how to still find enjoyment and purpose despite the darkness, maybe that's all there would ever be. That was the challenge of life itself. Just keep going. Rise up, when you can.