(That 70's Show)
Eric Foreman was in the basement of his parents split level home, sprawled on the couch watching TV and feeling depressed. He'd planned on going out with Donna tonight, but her parents had decided to visit relatives out of town over the weekend and dragged her off with them. So here he was, stuck home alone on a Friday night. All the other guys had dates lined up, and none of them was willing to give up a chance at making out to hang out with him. Hyde had summed it up with his usual pithy "Dream on, Foreman!", and that had been that.
"Hey Eric! C'mon up here. I've got something I need you to do." His father's voice broke his reverie, and he climbed reluctantly to he feet and wandered upstairs to see what his dad wanted.
Thirty minutes later, he found himself on his way home from dropping off his mother at the church for evening services. Dusk fell quickly in Wisconsin at this time of year, and he had turned on his low beams before leaving the church lot.
Long after, when he tried to recall what happened, he could pick out scattered impressions from those moments, but the order always escaped him. He had been driving along the familiar stretch of Route 6, fighting off sleepiness from the lateness of the hour and the boredom of the drive. Wish Donna was here now. It was never boring when he had her with him. Or even the guys.
Seconds later, if he had had time to think about it, he would have been incredibly grateful for their absence. The other car came around the blind curve ahead, it's headlights blazing directly into his eyes. He barely had a split second to register the horrible thought Oh my God, he's on my side! even as he twisted the station wagon's wheel in a hopeless effort to escape the oncoming vehicle. It seemed to last forever, but really was over quickly. Then a flash of incredibly white light merged with a sharp stabbing pain, horrendous noise, then darkness.
A crowd gathered, passing motorists stopping to gawk or offer aid. The police arrived, called by one of the good Samaritans present. They shook their heads over the broken liquor bottles which had spilled from the survivor's car, and the condition of the unlucky driver. Tape was stretched across the area to keep out the curious, and the remains searched gingerly for identification. The police ran a search on the tags and license and a tentative ID was made.
At the Foreman house, the phone began to ring.
"This way, sir. Watch your step."
Red approached the mangled station wagon numbly, struggling to keep his balance and walk steadily as he followed the policeman's bobbing light down the embankment to where it lay tilted like a beached whale at low tide. He was aware of everything around him with startling clarity. The grass was stiff with frost and crunched under his feet. The equally cold night air sent his breath pluming away from his mouth and nose. The flash of the beam off the wagon's near hubcap drew his eye, much easier to look at that than at the crumpled hood or the shattered, webbed glass of the windshield. (Italics here) Should put the snow tires on soon, getting to be that time of year. He recognized that thought for the inanity that it was, and braced himself as the policeman turned a sympathetic face to him and indicated the paramedic standing by the crushed driver side door. The man respectfully gestured him forward as he drew back the yellow tarp that was draped over the front seat.
Oh God, no. This can't be happening.
His son lay crumpled in the front seat, slumped sideways towards the passenger side, held there by the taut lap seat belt. One arm was flung loosely behind his back. The other dangled limply over the edge of the seat. Red's gaze jumped spasmodically from point to point as his brain tried to process the terrible sight. Blood was everywhere. It glistened in the windshield cracks, and pooled on the broken dash. Eric's hair was caked with it.
His eyes were still open.
Red couldn't recall later what he said then, or did. The next thing he felt were hands guiding him away, as the stained tarp was laid back over the quiet form. He barely noticed the well meant commiseration's offered as he was herded away from his son's body, back up to the strobe-lit police cars.
He looked dully in that direction, and saw the stranger standing by the nearest car, his wrists in cuffs. For a moment it meant nothing, then understanding rushed in. The other driver, the drunk they said had hit Eric's car. Who had murdered his son, and now stood there with hardly a mark on him to show what he had done.
"You bastard! You killed my boy! You killed my boy!" He never remembered moving, but seconds later found his hands wrapped around the son of a bitch's neck, squeezing as hard as he could. He'd never wanted to kill a man so much as he did this man. Hands pulled him back, but he broke free and leapt onto his son's killer, punching him over and over.
They'd had to drag him off.
In the dark hours that followed, words like 'died upon impact' and 'he didn't suffer' were spoken by well meaning doctors. The words had helped comfort Katie and their daughter and Eric's girlfriend. They held no such healing for him. He had looked into his son's eyes, and seen his face, and knew the truth. Eric had known what was happening, and he had felt pain as he died.
Much later, he sat alone in his den, staring at the snowy television screen and downing can after can of beer. He took another swallow, barely tasting the cold draft as it slid down his throat smoothly. When it was empty, he crumpled it in his left hand, threw it at the TV, then popped another. A growing pile of silver by the console was silent testament to his effort to get thoroughly and completely smashed. Katie was upstairs, sleeping the deep sleep granted by the disciples of Valium. He almost envied her for that release, one which he couldn't, wouldn't grant himself. Not yet.
What he had seen earlier that night would always be with him, until the day he died. He knew that. He also knew that he was grateful that his wife hadn't had to see it. He found that he didn't really want to forget, himself, for it was his last link to Eric, the last thing on this earth that he could share with his son. Except for his funeral in a couple days, don't forget that. He threw the next can at the pile still half full, and watched the foam spread out over the carpet.
No one should outlive their children. No one.
Eric would never go to college, never get married, never have children that Red could bounce on his knee and secretly spoil.
There was talk that the drunk driver would be going up on manslaughter charges. It didn't matter, not really. Whatever the punishment was, it wouldn't be enough. It could never be enough. Nothing would bring Eric back, or even give him just one minute's more time with him, to tell him the things that he had never said aloud. Like, I love you, Eric. I'm proud of you. Don't ever go too far away, because I would miss you so much.
Can you hear me, Eric? I miss you so much already. I keep thinking of all the things I didn't take time for. Playing more one on one basketball, listening to your problems, coming home earlier and being there for you instead of all those late hours working at the plant when you were young.
It was too late. There wasn't going to be a second chance to make up for past oversights. And while Katie clung to her faith in God and he was glad for her, deep inside he raged against the unfairness of it, that a drunk walked away and his son was dead.
Alone in the dark living room, lit only by the white glare from the television, Red began to shake, beer sloshing out of the can as deep shudders began running through his body. He dropped it, ignoring the liquid gurgling out onto the rug as he put his face in his hands and started to cry.
The blackness gave way to an incandescent, beautiful light which met Eric, enfolded him, so he forgot all about the pain and what had led to it. The love that surrounded him was pure and real, emanating from the figure that was reaching for his hand. There was no doubt in Eric's mind, he knew instantly who He was. Jesus smiled as he drew him to Him, into Heaven. Eric felt the last of his fears melt away in the glory of His Love. For a moment, he looked back and saw his parents, and Donna, and all his friends. They were standing on a green grassy hill in bright sunlight, with their heads bowed in grief. Looking at them was like looking through a mirror, at a picture that had happened long ago. He felt strongly that they would be all right, and that he would see them again very soon, as time ran on this side. He took one last look at Donna, fixing the sight of her red hair blazing in the sunlight. Oddly, he wasn't sad at leaving her. It was as if that emotion no longer existed for him. Instead he felt a deep peace and a calm feeling of acceptance. When her time came, he knew that he would be there to meet her. In only a little while they would be together forever.
Turning away, he looked at Jesus and grinned shyly. The Lord smiled, and laid His arm across Eric's back with easy familiarity. Together, they walked off slowly, Eric filled with delight as he saw the glories of Heaven for the first time. The path they followed wound along the banks of a crystal clear river, through beautiful gardens and towards a glowing city that rose in the distance. The animals they passed, grazing or drinking the sweet waters or simply resting in the wonderful peace, were unafraid. Some wandered along with them for a ways. People who were picnicking nearby waved as children shrieked with laughter under a waterfall. Eric took a deep breath of the perfumed air, and smiled, feeling the last of his earthly cares slip away. There was nothing to worry about or to fear anymore, and so much to learn and discover ahead of him. He sniffed suddenly, then turned a disbelieving grin on Jesus. He smiled and pointed at a small, pretty home that lay nestled just ahead on the bank of the river. A riot of colorful flowers grew all about it, and the breeze wafted the scent of hot peach pie from the open windows. Eric's heart began to beat faster.
And then he was running to where his Grandma waited, her arms outstretched to welcome him home.
Two years later, when the pretty redhead was diagnosed with a rare, virulent form of cancer, her friends rallied round. She took it well, people said, when the doctors told her that it was incurable. So strong for one so young, so brave and composed, the talk went. Privately, she confided to only a few about her inner feelings. She was afraid, but there was one hope that eased the fear which she kept deep in her heart. She kept a diary, and wrote her thoughts in her neat round hand that gradually grew less legible, as the treatments sapped her strength and coordination.
To distract herself from the pain, she spent endless hours poring over her photo albums, remembering happier times. When she grew too weak to sit up and turn the pages, her mother took over, propping her against the pillows and patiently turning them for her. She kept her favorite picture in a silver frame on her bedstand, and it traveled to and from the hospital with her. It had been taken at a party just a week before the accident, and showed Eric with his arms around her. Red and Katie Foreman, who had stayed close, visited her every day until finally the time came that she grew too sick to stay at home and had to remain in the hospital.
With her time fast approaching she had been dozing more and more often, the drugs they gave her to dull the pain making it hard to stay awake. Her mother had been quietly talking with the Foremans as they visited one afternoon, when Donna suddenly opened her eyes wide and lifted her head from the pillow. She looked past those gathered at her bedside, at something only she could see. She smiled once, blindingly, before speaking the last words she would ever say.
"...hey Eric...long time no see..."
Then she closed her eyes, the smile still on her lips. Years later, when they looked back at that moment, they agreed that for those few seconds her old spirit had shown through. For an instant, the lively, spirited teenager she had been looked out from her eyes, and she was happy again.
She died quietly that night, slipping away between breaths so easily that they hardly could believe that she had gone.
They buried her beside him on a brilliant sunny day, much like the one before. The stone they chose was simple, just names and dates, and a short inscription:
Think of our loved ones as living above
No farther away than our undying love
And now they are happy and free once more
And they are waiting for us at eternity's door.
And though they couldn't know it... they were right.