Disclaimer: The original Titans belong to themselves and the fictitious characters from the film Remember the Titans belong to Disney. The title of this story is a line from Hamlet by William Shakespeare. Superman belongs to DC Comics. Only Tamsin belongs to me.
Technical Notes: Yes, I know Emma didn't appear in the burial scene in the movie (at least she wasn't front and center). So what? Alan was there and he didn't really exist, either. :-P Also, the first test-tube baby was born in the United Kingdom in 1978, so the procedure would definitely have been possible in 1981.
Author's Notes: And yes, I know I owe y'all an epilogue for "You Ought to Be With Me." That's coming soon. You can read this in the meantime, as this story kind of bridges the gap between the existing "You Ought to Be With Me" story and what's coming in the epilogue :) Enjoy!
GOOD NIGHT, SWEET PRINCE
"Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!" — Horatio in Hamlet, Act V.ii
I thought I had lost him once, but it didn't truly happen until ten years later.
I remember that roller-coaster night in 1971, praying in the hospital barely an hour after partying in the streets. The waiting room had been filled with Titans, all of them wanting to be there for Gerry when he woke up, to joke about how he had faced down death the way he did opponents on the field. To let him know that even after what had happened, he was still their teammate, leader, and friend.
There were less Titans the second time around, but the pay phones were tied up with calls to and from all over the world as those who were far away checked in on Gerry and gave messages for him when he woke up. It reassured Mama Jean, as Gerry's mother asked me to call her, and I to know that so many people cared for him. And when the news came that Gerry had lost the battle for his life this time, it was reassuring for us to know that so many people shared our pain.
Coach Yoast and Rev Harris led us in prayer right there in the waiting room. Coach Boone and Big Julius Campbell saw to the release of the body and began making arrangements for the funeral. Alan Bosley and Blue Stanton took it upon themselves to call the absent Titans who had not been on the phone when the doctor had made the announcement.
People pledged to be there first thing in the morning. The Titans were coming together again.
If only, I thought as I closed my burning eyes and turned in toward the emptiness in my heart, they didn't have to.
* * *
They came from all over. Some were returning to Alexandria for the first time since graduating from high school. Reunions between friends being what they are, the Titans couldn't help laughing and joking with each other even as they mourned Gerry's passing.
Sheryl Yoast and Nikki Boone, now beautiful young women, came home from college and were greeted with big-brotherly grumblings about the boyfriends they had probably left behind at school. "Don't tell me they ain't all walkin' hormones," Petey Jones had warned. "I know what boys are like at that age." (Of course he did.)
Ronnie and Tamsin Bass cut their honeymoon short and caught a red-eye flight back from Morocco to be with us. They had to put up with jokes about how she had led him on a merry dance, insisting on going to graduate school and then finding a job and saving up some money, before he had finally persuaded her to marry him.
And Lewie Lastik, although he was based in nearby Tennessee, could only come for the funeral. His wife had given birth to their first son, Lewis Gerald Lastik, earlier that week. He had brought photos of the newborn (little Lewie was the spitting image of his daddy) and cigars for his friends, even one for Gerry.
* * *
The cigar is going to be buried with Gerry this sunny autumn day.
I am standing between Tamsin and Mama Jean, saying goodbye to the only man I have ever loved. Big Julius is standing on Mama Jean's other side. She is squeezing our hands so hard (at least I hope she's squeezing his hand as hard as she is mine) that my wedding ring is digging into my fingers.
Gerry hadn't wanted me to marry him. He was supremely self-confident, even brash sometimes, but like every Superman, he had his vulnerabilities. I suppose he thought that his accident had closed off some things to him forever. He probably thought that he wasn't entitled to marriage and a family.
Anyway, Gerry said I deserved someone "whole." This from a man who rose above his physical handicap to win a gold medal at the Special Olympics and inspire others — whether or not handicapped — to do great things.
Well, I told him he was more "whole" than any other man I knew, and then I asked him to marry me. I had to ask him twice before he finally said yes.
It wasn't the most conventional of proposals, but after that we had a big wedding with all the trimmings and two blissful years together. I did not regret a single moment.
The only thing I do regret is that I wasn't pregnant. Gerry did not even leave me with a baby to remember him by. We had been reading up on test-tube babies, but sadly, he was gone before we could decide on whether to try the procedure.
I'm sure he would have gone for the idea and he would have been a great father. Maybe we would have had a little boy who would have grown up to play for the Titans. Or a little girl who, well, given her father, would have also grown up to play for the Titans.
So many would-have-beens.
Tamsin passes me her handkerchief and I dab my eyes, not realizing that I had been crying. She steps closer to me in a silent gesture of support and I lean my cheek against the scratchy wool of her black beret.
Tamsin knew what it was like to lose a loved one, having lost her mother to cancer several years ago. If there is one thing about Gerry's death that I was thankful for, it was that I didn't have to watch him weaken and waste away before finally dying. God took him from me quickly. But that didn't lessen the pain of being left behind.
One by one, the Titans start to file past Gerry's casket. Tamsin gives my hand a little pat when her and Ronnie's turn comes. The coaches nod courteously to Mama Jean and myself before turning to pay their final respects.
Soon, it will be my turn.
My hand, the one Mama Jean is not holding, tightens around the single red rose I am carrying. Mama Jean has a white one. Titan colors, someone had joked, but for me they are a symbol of the love we have for Gerry. Gerry's mother loved him in the purest of ways, with a parent's selfless love, while I loved him with all the passion of my girlhood, and then my womanhood.
The rose I am carrying is as red as blood. As red as the blood that bound Gerry to his mother, the blood that gave him life and then took it away. As red as the blood that continues to burn through our veins, keeping us all alive and bound to this earth. As red as the blood that seems to be leaking slowly, painfully, from my heart, which feels as though it will never be whole again.
* * *
When Gerry died, Mama Jean told me that she understood if I ever decided to remarry someday. But I told her I never would.
Because there was no other man who would ever be as perfect for me as my Gerry.