I CLOSE FOR NOW
Five years later…
It's weird how you can go on walking in life when one of the most important things in it has been suddenly snatched away. People expect you to crumble, and at times you do; but then you have to try to look at things in a different perspective, however painful it might be. Personally it made no sense for me to hold my head up high or do anything once my best friend in the entire world succumbed to leukemia five years ago. To this day I cannot believe I'm standing on my own. The year of 2013 is one I'd love to be able to forget, nothing good happened there. Nothing to remember. And the one thing I'd love to forget more than anything is the boldest image in my mind. Like a broken video, playing the same shit over and over again. Unfortunately there isn't anyone out there who can fix something that's been beaten like a jackhammer. And so the show must go on…
Honestly I didn't think Stan would actually fall victim to it. It was hard enough processing the fact he had the disease but no one ever sits and wonders what life would be like if their best friend or whoever died from it. You just buck up, move on, and be there to support them no matter what. And I did. I did what I could to help Stan and to show him he didn't have to worry. I set up the Smiles for Stan fund which collected money for his family each month to help pay for medical bills, rent, gas, and everything in-between. And Stan was reassured then he'd be okay. Sure I had the occasional nightmare that he died but again, never thought he would. There was such a determined little spirit trapped in that sick boy; he'd be okay. So when Stan's sister called me the afternoon of July 13th, I could not bring myself around to believe it.
Stan's funeral was the worst day of my life. I felt I was leaving behind a piece of me as I watched him being buried. It wasn't right. It was always the same: he'd get sick, be treated at the hospital, then go home. I only forced all sorts of cancer facts down his throat to prove to him he had a huge chance at making it. And there he was, under six feet of dirt, a testimony of how wrong I had been.
I'll never forget that day. I can remember not being able to fall asleep at all the night before which was weird. Unlike Stan I wasn't picky when it came to sleep and never had problems sleeping in a motel bed. But I was tossing all night long. Later when Stan was buried I found out from the others they had the same problem as well. It was Mrs. Marsh herself who couldn't sleep and ran to see Stan right after he died in the first place. But his father couldn't sleep. His sister was having troubles. Even his cat was acting funny and howling all night. Cartman told me he never slept either, nor did Butters. Kenny had gotten some sleep but it was difficult as well. It's kind of funny that when someone dies they somehow let their loved ones know. Maybe I shouldn't have been as shocked then when I did get the phone call. I don't know.
I didn't eat much or leave my bedroom for almost three months after. Once eight grade started I was in a sea of fog. I received my first C in all my life in social studies. Mom was worried for me but I told her I'd fix myself and didn't need help. Ike tried to make me laugh during those dark months. But he didn't know and still doesn't know what it feels like to lose someone you were so close to. How often does a best friend really die? The guys weren't much better off. Butters would erupt in tears randomly during lunch or as we sat around the basketball courts, not saying anything. Cartman seemed to be taking it surprisingly hard too. Now he has always been full of bullshit but for just once I felt he really was tearing apart inside. He went weeks without messing with us. Whenever someone asked him something he'd lash out. In fact, he was eating normal-portioned meals when I saw him! He might have lost a little weight but I never asked.
And Kenny… well, things were complicated. As sad as he was for the loss of Stan he was able to be normal, somewhat. He had spent fifty of the $282 Stan had left him on a pair of new shoes and thirty on a nice steak dinner for himself. He had saved the rest, not knowing what to do with it. He was tempted to buy himself beer for the first time when he was fourteen with the money but I had to remind him Stan specifically stated in his will that's not what he wanted him to do. Funny enough, after Stan had died Kenny himself seemed to die less and less each month. He seemed to be a tad more careful in life and not get himself involved in (many) stupid situations, although he did like to hang out with a few kids from school who spent their free-time smoking and drinking.
It had been six months since Stan had died and as we hung around the park after school I had to ask Kenny something.
"Do you- do you think you might be able to… I mean, have you, you know…?"
Kenny looked up from his beer (that thankfully wasn't purchased with Stan's money). "Seen Stan recently?"
I sighed. "Yeah, that."
Kenny took a while to answer. "I haven't actually seen him since I last died. But that was two months ago. It might be different now, I don't know."
Butters' eyes were wide. "But- but do you think you could? I mean what happens after you die anyway?"
Kenny frowned. "It's complicated. It's different for everyone. It isn't something I can easily describe."
"Maybe you should go kill yourself and find out," Cartman retorted, not looking at any of us.
It was a tall order really. We didn't think he'd actually go through with it. But seeing how desperate we all were to know of something, anything about Stan's afterlife, Kenny went for it. He finished his beer can and we followed him to his house where he took out his dad's gun from his drawer and faced us.
"I can't believe I'm going to do this but hell, I want to see Stan too. I'll try and see if I see anything. I won't come back until I know something okay?"
"Be careful Kenny," Butters said.
"I do this all the time. Don't worry. Well, here goes"- Kenny shot himself in the head and died instantly. And so we waited, all day and night to hear back from him. I didn't feel too confident; if Stan was easily accessible in the afterlife Kenny would have met him on a previous death.
I remember the next morning at school, waiting around with the others for Kenny to show up. When he did he gave us a heavy sigh. Not good.
"What?" I said, already frustrated.
"No dice. Sorry guys."
"Well what happened?" Butters had asked.
"I went to heaven; at least I think I did. But he wasn't there."
"No way is he down"-
"He's not," Kenny interrupted me. "Look, Stan was right years ago. There is no heaven and hell. And if there is it's different for each person. I think that's why I haven't been able to see him yet. My version of eternal happiness might be different than his. He may very well being living it up in his own version of forever after, but it's not mine. I have super hot chicks whenever I go. I don't really know how it works; it may not be feasible to ever see him when I die."
I was extremely disappointed by then. Kenny sensed this.
"But that doesn't mean it's legit. I can keep trying but, look guys… we all miss him terribly. Maybe it's best to not rush into it yet. I know Stan's happy wherever he is and maybe I'll see him next time. Maybe he wants me to tell you guys something. Like I said, it's complicated. We just have to wait and see."
Ever since then Kenny had tried to look for Stan whenever he died. But with that meant he had to keep on his toes and not do anything stupid for sometimes he'd go to his version of hell and again, no way was Stan there. Finally, after years of trying, something amazing happened. It was one year ago and Kenny had been hit by a car and died. He had been dead for two full days and when he returned, he gave us what we had been searching for.
"I saw him!" were his first words that cold winter morning.
We gathered around him, asking him twenty questions.
"…I think I did," he corrected. "I was wandering around forever trying to find him. But I think I saw him. I saw a very faint person in the distance. I can't tell you exactly what I saw. I tried running to it but I couldn't. All I heard were words inside me and I know it came from that figure."
"Wh-what were they?" I choked.
Kenny looked at us, seriousness written all over his face. "It said he was okay. And to not worry."
And that was that. The only time he really heard something from him. Four months ago though Kenny had died from being shot at on the wrong side of Denver and when he came back he told us something he saw different than the other time he tried reaching Stan. He explained how he saw the distant shape of a little boy in the clouds. There were lots and lots of clouds where he went. But that boy looked very peculiar. He had big eyes that he could have sworn were blue and had shaggy black hair. The boy smiled at Kenny for a moment before walking off and disappearing into the distance. It never said anything. I was instantly chilled at this when Kenny told us. Cartman on the other hand didn't believe him.
"It couldn't have been him though. I mean, he was older and bald when- when it happened. It can't be him."
"Do you know how hard it is to find people after you die? It was him," Kenny shot.
"You saw a little boy assmunch! He- he only looked like- like"-
"Maybe his soul exists in the way he wants to remember himself as," I had choked out. It made sense. I'm sure if I were Stan and I had free reign over my life after death I'd forever exist as I was before I had been diagnosed. But it seemed too much for Cartman to believe so I just let him think what he wanted. I believed Kenny had seen Stan that day.
Since then Kenny has not seen or heard anyone or anything when he has died. And like I said, he doesn't do it often anymore. It's comforting to think that he very well may have seen Stan but it's still frustrating knowing it was his only time. And apparently Kenny can't play our little messenger, going back and forth from the living world to the dead, giving Stan our messages and coming back with his own. And it makes it that much more painful, to know there really isn't a way to contact him.
But I had to believe he was okay otherwise I wouldn't be living myself. It took some time to get back to my old self, as much as I possibly could without thinking on Stan, but it did happen. When I did start to recover from the death I found myself burying my nose in all sorts of books and whatnot about cancer. I would be online researching it for hours and wrote down all I could about it. And funny enough, reading up about cancer was a way to deal with the pain and cope with the loss of my best friend. It's extremely interesting and now at the age of eighteen I know where I want to go in life.
I am going to go to Denver University and medical school and become a doctor. Stan told me a few times before how good I would be at it. I can use all my logic, science, math, and communication skills and help others. But I don't want to be any ordinary doctor, if I can; I'm going to eventually become a pediatric oncologist. I keep having doubts about it; I don't know if I'll be able to cope with such critically ill kids but Ike always tells me I will be able to do it. And I know I will. I have to do all I can to keep Stan's spirit alive and do what I know he'd be proud of me to do. Help others who were in the same situation as he was.
That's why the first order of business was what to do about the Smiles for Stan Foundation; originally set up to help Stan's family pay for his medical expenses and such, now useless. But I couldn't stop it. Instead I gave it a new purpose: all donations would be given to all families in Colorado who have children diagnosed with cancer and to this day it has received over $44,000 in donations. But that's not all; I was determined to do more for Stan since he needed it. Two years ago I set up the Happiness for Stan Fund which gives money to help animals who have been abused, starved, and money to help people cover the costs of veterinary bills. Stan's passion for animals would not die with him.
Somehow life had gotten a lot more dull and unexciting since July 2013. All those Stan knew changed in some way. Some in weird ways. Kenny like I mentioned didn't die as often, Butters stopped taking crap from people, even his parents. Cartman on the other hand...
I admit, I had always been annoyed at anything Cartman and Stan shared. I hated the fat boy but when my best friend laughed at what he did or took his side, it really did not do any favors. But when Stan did die Cartman changed. He did lessen his torment on people but when he did do something, he did it to the extreme. I can't possibly count all the times he was sent to the principal since eight grade. And forever I was in denial he actually cared about Stan or was sad to see him go.
"Think whatever the fuck you want Kahl but I don't need you getting in my face!" he had screamed at me a few years ago.
"You never liked Stan! Admit it! He was just there for you to pick on, just like the rest of us!"
"I did like him you fucking Jew! He was my best friend too!"
I gasped, eyes wide when he said this.
"I- I..." he stammered. He shook his head and glared. "We shared some great memories too you rat. So don't you fucking ever think I hated Stan. If I ever said it it was because you were with him and as usual, acted like a duo. When Stan was around me and laughed at what I did, it was special. We hardly fought and had fun. He was my best fucking friend and I miss him so much it makes my chest hurt every single day. Every fucking morning I wake and sit on my bed and do nothing but want him to be there. Not to call a pussy but to play a video game or talk about cats to. No one but us understood them. And there's not a moment I'm looking at his cat Chelsea and I see his face looking back. She's a constant living reminder of what I lost. All you have is some train he played with when he was five. So don't you dare say I never cared. I'd shut the fuck up if I were you Kahl."
I never did speak much to Cartman after that. I know it was in Stan's wishes to keep all four of us close but there was too much resentment to say anything to Cartman. He'd want me to apologize which I never did and even if I did nothing would change. Kenny, Butters, Cartman, and I all hung out regularly but I haven't said anything to the fat boy for weeks.
Since Stan had died I have been trying to keep in some form of contact with his doctors. Dr. Fohlkoly had been subdued to the fact Stan had died but he had recovered quickly enough. I managed to talk to him over the phone a few months after Stan's passing. He told me how horrible it felt whenever another child he was caring for died but he also said it was something anyone working in this field had to accept.
"He was a really smart, great kid. I'm sorry I couldn't do more," he told me heavily.
"No, don't be. You did all you could," was the only response I had. I had expressed my interest in becoming a pediatric oncologist during our second phone conversation and he has been filling me in on information and I even had a few hands-on experiences with him since then. Spending my allowance for a bus ride to Denver to work with the man and around children for a day is worth it. But it has been difficult to walk down the same floors Stan once did. I still have not had the guts to visit room 1312 yet. As of now there's another little boy who occupies it but from Dr. Fohkoly's word, he feels the kid has a very high prognosis of beating his cancer.
I have talked with Dr. Davies as well although it has not been as smoothly. He was only in his mid-twenties when Stan passed away and admitted he had never had any of his patients die yet. He has worked at the emergency department in Hell's Pass Hospital and has only lost two patients before, both old men. I guess it is different when it's a child. He's doing okay now, since, as Dr. Fohkoly's stated, a doctor has to pick up and move on even in the most dire of situations.
I have taken to heart Stan's wishes of following up on people and making sure they're okay. And more important than anyone, Sharon Marsh. But I'll get to her in a moment. I'm going to bring up Shelley first. I know she cares for her brother and all the things she said and did for him were out of love. We sort have been a team almost, checking in on her parents, again, meaning her mother, the past five years. Shelley went off to college as soon as she finished high school but decided to stay behind and go to Middle Park Community College for her associate's in photography since she knew it would damage Sharon if she decided to go to school in Boulder like she originally wanted. At the age of 22 Shelley is living in an apartment in South Park with her boyfriend Amir. She goes to school three days a week while the other days she's working at the South Park gym. She hopes to open her own gym and teach self-defense or boxing to women someday as well as her own photo studio. Amir is into art as well and paints for a living. They're really happy together and I admit it's kind of funny to see Shelley with someone even though she had been seeing Amir since she was thirteen.
Shelley overall has changed slightly. Since she was sort of forced into caring for Stan years ago she has gone slightly softer. Any time she sees any of us guys she doesn't call us turds or pick on us like she used to. I guess without Stan there there's little point. Shelley had gotten attractive after she turned fifteen or so and now at the age of 22 you'd never think she was the same horrible girl in headgear. She only uses a light layer of makeup each day and her hair is naturally long and thick so she really doesn't need to try. She's not girly in the slightest but she's grown into one of those young women with a tough attitude you sort of wish had a girly side. When Shelley turned 21 she went and got a tattoo on her shoulder: a special black cat she had designed herself with a curved tail with the words little brother written in a fancy font along the tail. The guys and I agreed we'd get matching tattoos in remembrance of Stan when we turn 21 as well although we are still working on a design. Funny how when someone dies there is no end to what you can do to honor their memory.
I'll mention Randy Marsh now. He had taken the death of his son as hard as any father would. He had his period of self-loathing and hatred after it happened. But he didn't have time to dwell on it much because of his wife. He was the only one who was able to continue living a relatively normal life with the thought of his son in the back of his mind.
But now I have to get to Mrs. Marsh. You see, ever since Stan died she has never been the same. There is nothing worse to a parent's mind than the death of their child. Sharon is the living example of the horrors such a thing can erupt in a person. And it pains me so much to see her the way she is now. It's as if she's living in a state of permanent shock, she can't function normally and has become unhealthy in several ways. Ever since Stan passed away his mother had not been able to focus long on any simple task, listen to what anyone says. To this day when you talk to her it takes her a few seconds to register you are there and answer. I'll never forget my first visit with Stan's parents after he had died. It was three months or so since the memorial service. I had to keep my promise I'd be there to see how they were. It was Shelley who actually called me and said maybe visiting her mother would make her feel slightly better. That did not happen.
I stood outside 2001 Bonanza Street, looking at the ground as I waited for someone to answer my knocking. The door opened to Shelley.
"Oh, thanks for coming. I- I hope you can do something for her," she had said softly.
"I don't know what I can do dude," I confessed. I was still trying to mourn myself.
Shelley led me in and turned to the kitchen. I didn't follow but I could hear her talking.
"Mom, Mom- someone's come to see you."
"Yeah. See how you're doing. It's Kyle."
I had to stop myself from breaking down as I stood in the Marsh living room as memories of past sleepovers in this very spot flooded my mind. Shelley had walked back out, this time holding the arm of her mother. Sharon was clutching her daughter and walking as if she were an old woman. I gasped at her appearance: her hair was a little longer, just around her shoulders and looked unkempt. Her skin was pale and she looked very thin. Her eyes had lost their shiny blue and now looked lifeless. I shuddered, remembering Stan's eyes looking just like this when he began going downhill. She even had a couple wrinkles on her face and looked as if she hadn't slept in weeks.
"Mom, you remember Kyle don't you? He was Stan's- he was Stan's best friend. He came to see how you were," Shelley nodded to me.
Mrs. Marsh looked at me with wide eyes as Shelley sat her mother on the couch.
"How- how are you… doing Mrs. Marsh?" I asked.
Tears instantly filled her eyes. "Stanley…"
"Yes Mom, this was Stanley's best friend. He came to visit," Shelley encouraged. "Remember Dad told Kyle he can come over whenever he wants? He has a house key? It's so he can check up on you and make sure you're doing okay. Getting outside. Things like that."
Shelley sighed and she went over and pulled me to the side so her mom couldn't hear, not like I think she listened in.
"What happened to her?" I choked out.
Shelley rubbed her eyes in frustration. "It's been a rough few months. Mom's done everything I feared she might if Stan were to ever die. She's tried drinking away her problems. Tried talking but that's no use as no one can get more than a sentence out of her. She's spent weeks on end crying and wailing and screaming. She still has horrible nightmares and has almost become partially deaf and blind. She just doesn't focus in on anything." Tears were in Shelley's eyes now. "She's tried committing suicide at least five times."
"What?" I shook my head, sick.
"Sad thing is, I don't think she's been aware of doing it. Since she's so out of it she won't watch what she's doing. She's on a few different medications for her anxiety and overall health. She tried OD-ing twice. Luckily Dad was there both times to stop it. Now someone is always there whenever she takes her daily medication. She… sprained her leg not long ago, falling into a six-foot hole in the snow. Wasn't aware of what she was doing, wasn't looking where she was walking. Won't call it a suicide attempt but it was dangerous," Shelley concluded.
I shook my head as tears spilled down my cheek. "No, no. Damnit what the fuck?"
"It's pretty bad Kyle. She's been losing weight and now more than anything has become lifeless. She hardly eats without being told to. She hasn't returned to work or- or returned the calls from my grandparents and all my family back in California. She… she goes around every day saying 'Stanley', almost as if- as if he were simply a lost cat or something."
I wiped at my face. I was so into my own mourning I never stopped to think how Stan's own mother was dealing with it. And it made me feel guilty at that moment I had not come sooner. Shelley told me blandly I would not have been able to help three months ago as everyone was in a mess. To put it short I did not feel very confident my presence would do much to help now.
"We have to show her life isn't over," Shelley emphasized. "She'll fall off the rocks if she has nothing to live for. And she sort of doesn't. The most important thing in her life has been taken away. But we have to show her we still care, okay?"
I sniffed. "I don't know if I can do that Shelley. I'm barely getting by myself. Maybe I should come back another time."
"Don't," Shelly grabbed my arm roughly. "I am not going to be the only one to be there for her damnit. My dad can't do it all himself either. He's still hurting too but Mom has been so bad he's had to put his own grieving on hold. C'mon, you said you'd be there for us now do it."
It had been a bad visit. I was crying a lot of the time and seeing how low Stan's mom became was horrible. At one point she had shot to her feet and looked up.
"Stanley. Stanley's upstairs. I have to go see Stanley." And she indeed went upstairs on her own and did not come back down.
I had to leave shortly after that. I gave myself another two months before I went back over again. I would not let Stan or Shelley down and do what I could to bring Sharon Marsh back to earth. I have been over the house many many times since then, each visit different yet the same. Mrs. Marsh never really made many improvements and several months after Stan died she began to hallucinate for lack of a better term. Shelley would tell me how her mother had begun acting as if she was seeing Stan or hearing him. She'd spend hours held up in Stan's bedroom as if she were watching him play. I can recall a rather uneasy visit to the house two years ago. I was talking with Shelley and Randy when Sharon had come out from the yard with a slight smile on her face.
"He was just out there," she told us as she joined us over coffee.
"Who was?" I asked.
"Stanley. He was just out there. Right outside there." It was the look on her face, that slight smile and ease to her tone that made it very weird.
"What do you mean Mom?" Shelley asked carefully.
"He was just out there. Playing. Had his favorite remote-controlled car there. Running around. He was so happy."
We had all gone stone-cold.
"Looking at me. Smiling. 'Hi Mom!' he said to me. Such a happy little boy he is."
It's unfortunate when she does have these odd moments for they are some of the only moments she's truly smiling. But she has been doing it a lot. A lot of it is the same to this day. Sharon wakes in a daze, is forced to eat, cannot focus for long periods of time on anything, is content to be in the house all hours of the day, spends eerie amounts of time in Stan's room, and walks around like a zombie. At least once a week she makes claims she sees or hears Stan. And it starts all over again.
And this is how life has been the past five years. It has taken time to get used to it all and some of it I still haven't been comfortable with. I have done all I could for Stan and I know there are still things left that will make him even happier. I hold onto the hope that some day Kenny will give us another report of seeing and or hearing Stan in the spirit world, whether it's his twelve-year-old self or that black-haired little boy he saw last time. And the hope I can help others is what gets me through the day as well. Stan has been right all along, I will make a great doctor. I wonder if I would have picked this same career path had Stan still been alive but Ike tells me all the time I would have. And maybe he's right. I can't see myself doing anything else. Perhaps I'd have picked a different course in the medical field; I don't think a pediatric oncologist is what would have been my first choice. But things happen for a reason I guess.
It is now August 2018 and at the moment I am looking around my room one last time. My bags and everything have all been packed. I am about to make the long four-hour drive to Denver University and take those first steps into becoming a doctor. I'll be sharing a dorm room with someone but I don't know who yet. School starts in days and I am really excited. The nerd in me is ready to pour over notes and books and research. Of course I can't help but wonder with a twinge of sadness just where Stan would be at this exact moment if he had hit remission. We had always talked how we'd go to the same schools and colleges our whole lives. But would he have chosen a university like me? Or the local college like his sister? What classes would he be taking? What would be his number one choice of study? He had all these different interests and talents. Would he had become a rock star or have a band? He had a good singing voice and was so interested in playing guitar. Or would he have become really good at a particular sport and gotten a scholarship? So many questions I wish could be answered but seeing how things happened the way they did, they aren't meant to be answered.
"Dude, are you coming down or not?" the voice of my thirteen-year-old brother breaks my thoughts.
"Dude, Mom wants to know if you're leaving now or not. You said at 10:30. It's almost eleven now. Hurry up."
"I'll be down in a minute"-
Ike rolls his eyes and goes downstairs. I take one last look at my bedroom before running a hand through my wavy red hair, take hold of my backpack, and shut the door. Mom already has her tissues ready.
"Do you have to leave right now bubbeleh?"
"Yeah. I want to get to know the area before school starts. It's best I leave today."
Mom nods and sniffs. Dad places a hand on my shoulder.
"I'll help you put the last of your things in the car son."
Mom and Ike look on as Dad helps me place my last few boxes into my used car. It's not that bad a car either; it's nice and white and made in 2009 so it's pretty okay. After closing the passenger's seat I turn to my parents and brother.
"Are you still going to the Marshes today?" Dad asks.
"Yeah," I sigh. "I have to say goodbye to them too before I go."
Mom has tears in her eyes and wipes her nose. "Poor Sharon. Oh Kyle please do what you can and tell her I'm thinking of her. I'm just a call away if she needs someone to talk to."
I nod. "I know Mom, I tell her that every time."
Mom nodded, still holding onto the hope one day Stan's mother would call her.
"Make sure they know we're thinking of them," Dad holds onto my arms.
"C'mon you guys, you're supposed to be upset I'm leaving, not how Stan's family is doing," I half-smile.
Mom shakes her head. "Of course we're sad you're leaving bubbe. What- what am I going to do with your room?"
"Well I would still like a place to sleep when I come down to visit," I grin.
"Not fair, you told me I could have his room for all the stuff that doesn't fit in my own room," Ike whines.
Unlike me Ike had ended up becoming a rather messy kid. His room is not some place you want to step into unless it's an emergency. I share a final hug with my parents and that's when Mom begins to sob. It's been hard convincing her I'll be okay and will visit every chance I get. I finally get into the car and with one last wave good-bye and calling out 'I'll miss you!' to my family, I begin my drive to 2001 Bonanza Street. Randy's car sits in the driveway so I know he is home with his wife. I take a moment to gain my composure in my car after I park on the curb. Sighing, I get to my feet and make my way to the door and walked in. Randy is sitting on the couch but looks up with a smile when I step through.
"Kyle! Hey, how are you doing?"
"Same." He studies me up and down and shakes his head. "Man, off to college already huh? Where has the time gone?"
I smile. "Had to see you guys before I headed off."
"Of course. Sharon's in the back, I'll go get her. Just a sec…"
I stand around in the living room as Randy goes to get his wife. This house has gotten a creepy feel to it years ago when Sharon began to talk of Stan as if he were still alive. I don't think his spirit is wandering around here but she seems so certain of the things she has seen. I know Stan is in his own personal afterlife with all the animals, sweets, and adventure he could want. Kenny saw him himself. Yet whenever I step foot into this house I can't help but look over my shoulder and feel, well, spooked. Nothing about this house has changed in the five years since it happened. Nothing of Stan's has been moved or thrown-out. The same pictures of a happy little boy still hang on the walls, if not a few more since he had died. Random ones too such as a small framed picture of Stan on his fifth birthday looking at the camera with a grumpy face on. Nothing special, not a moment to remember yet it sits on the kitchen counter in a nice wood frame. In fact at this moment I'm noticing a few more things have been taken out I can't recall from my last visit.
A small box labeled Stanley: 2003 is by the couch. What looks to be an old baby blanket is hanging from the couch as if there is still a baby living there. And on the dining room table is a photo album, opened. I go over and flip through the pages; they all seem to contain pictures taken from a vacation in California when Stan was around eight. What is interesting too is the dish of gummy worms on the table in the living room. Random. At that second the sliding door opens and Sharon walks over to me.
"Sharon! I- how are you?" I stammer.
It takes a moment for her to respond of course. "I'm doing good. How are you? Kyle?"
"I'm doing good too."
Sharon is now looking at me with the same distant eyes and nods before taking a seat on the couch.
"Kyle's come to see us before he went to college. Pretty nice huh?" Randy says to his wife.
Sharon blinks and nods slowly. "Nice." Her eyes go wide at that second as if she has suddenly remembered something. "Oh, Kyle, would you like one?" she indicates the gummy worms.
I have to grin. "Sorry, not much of a fan of sweets. You know that."
"Oh. Most kids like sweets. Stanley loves them."
Randy hesitantly places a hand on her shoulder. "Y-yes, Stanley did love sweets."
I take a seat across from them. "Have… you seen anything recently Sharon? Out of curiosity."
Sharon smiles. "Oh, it's anytime. I was down here by myself days ago. Late night. Was watching The Lion King. He joined me. Sure you don't want a gummy worm?"
This is what I'm talking about. Sharon has given this house a creepy feel to it. She would always complain about a few select movies Stan loved. The Lion King was one of them since he had played that movie over and over again since he was three. To watch it one random night and to say he was watching with her…
I rub my eyes. "I just want you to know Sharon; I'm going to be going off to Denver today. For University." No response. "I'm looking to become a doctor."
"Isn't that great Sharon?" Randy says, nudging her. "Kyle's going to be able to help all sorts of people. He'll be great at it."
I smile. Sharon however looks confused. "Where is Stanley's kindergarten book dear?" she asks her husband.
"I'm not sure Sharon. Let's not worry about that right now. Kyle's here and he might not be able to see us until Christmas."
"I have to know where it is. Shelley said she put it back but I have to see it." She tries to get to her feet but Randy sits her down gently.
There is a thick silence for a few minutes. Finally I try to talk to her again.
Her eyes travel to me in slow motion. "Yes?" she isn't really focused on me.
"I want you to understand that I'm going to Denver for school. I'm going to be a doctor. I won't be able to be here to visit as often as I used to. I don't want you to be upset about that."
Sharon smiles. "Why would I be upset silly? I'll be okay. You have fun."
I sigh. It is such a task getting her to listen or understand anything.
"I know you have Shelley and she's going to continue to look out for you. But she has school and a job and life of her own. And now I'll be gone for a little while. I don't want you to worry or be lonely. I could see if Butters will stop by. Maybe even Cartman. They'll both be staying here for a while."
"That's fine," she says shortly.
"Are you sure you'll be okay?" I squeeze her hand.
Sharon squeezes gently back, tears in her eyes. "Baby. My baby… my baby boy…"
I sigh and stand. "You make sure to call me if you need me okay? I'll see what I can do if I can't get to you right away. But I'm going to be calling every Saturday, okay? Just to see how you're doing."
Sharon nods, a tear spilling from an eye. She looks over to the dining room table. "I need to look through the pictures. Do you want to with me Kyle? They're of our summer vacation in California. Stanley was eight. Such nice pictures…"
"No, it's okay. I should be going soon." She has showed me countless photos of Stan all these years, each have a story attached to them.
Apparently it didn't matter if I was there or not, Sharon went over to the photo album and began looking through them.
"Randy! Randy come look! Stanley at the San Diego Zoo. Look at how happy he is with the tigers in the background," Sharon suddenly calls.
"I'll- I'll be there soon honey." He looks at me.
"Is it okay if… I…?" I point upstairs.
He nods. "Of course. Take your time. But try not to mess anything up, she'll know."
I nod back and go upstairs and make the familiar path to Stan's old bedroom. I crack the partly opened door wide. It looks exactly how it did five years ago. His bed is a little messed up, the sheets wrinkled and the covers pulled back a little. I hadn't been in this room many times but I can tell not much has changed. The same stuff is in here minus the things he gave to friends and family in his will. I admit it looks a little weird and empty without all the toys and games he passed onto me. I hadn't taken every little thing for they seemed too personal like this giant T-rex he used to play with all the time that his grandmother bought him. It still sits on his baseball themed toy box like it did many years ago. His bookshelf is still full of books. Two are on his bed however. They weren't there last time so I can only guess why Sharon had put them there. I walk around slowly, taking in the sights. I have to see this room one last time before I leave. I could see a small package of mini Oreo cookies on the floor. I picked it up and saw the expiration date was August 12th 2013. Sickened I put them back where they are on the floor. Stan's TV and computer are still hooked up although I'm not sure when or if they had been used since he died. There is defiantly a good layer of dust on them both.
I go over to the closet and open the door. All his jackets and his suit and other clothes are still hanging. I see strewn parts of old Halloween costumes inside. I smile as tears flood my vision as I pick up the little child-sized Devil horns he wore for Halloween when he was six. All his stuffed animals line the top shelf. There's a lot of useless junk inside, not that I'm surprised. He had been a little hoarder for as long as I can remember. I gently close the door again. That's when I trip over something- a medium gray box. I bend down and realize what I'm seeing; Stan's old nebulizer. I see the corner of the bag of its tubing and pieces poking out. With a heavy heart I sit on his bed and hold the items in my hands. So many memories of Stan's asthma attacks fill my mind. They were such scary moments and when I was younger I did not fully understand the disease. But I have seen these things since I was four. For some reason, on Stan's bed is his medicine bag where old inhalers sit. There was never much purpose for it as he only carried around one if he went somewhere. I look into the bag and at the inhalers and old attachments for his nebulizer as well as pills and his peak flow meter. I hold an inhaler in my hand.
"Oh dude…" I sigh, closing my hand around the blue canister.
I sit on his bed for close to ten minutes. Suddenly I get the feeling it's time to leave. I make sure to put all of Stan's asthma stuff back how they were as I stand up. I get ready to put the inhaler back but can't. I hold it in my hand and look it over. I shake it. Nothing inside, not like I expected there to be. I look on its side and see the expiration date for the Ventolin was March 2010. That month everything changed. I think fast before pocketing it. There are plenty of other old bits and bobs in the bag, I'm sure Sharon will hardly notice. I look behind me one last time before leaving the door partially open like it was and hurry downstairs. Sharon is still showing Randy pictures in the album.
"Well, I think I'm going to take off now," I announce.
They look at me.
"Let's walk Kyle out Shar," Randy helps his wife up. "C'mon, we can look at the pictures after."
We are at the door. I hug Sharon to me tight.
"I'll be checking in every week Sharon. Don't forget to eat and sleep and take care of yourself okay?"
"See me soon Kyle," she sobs.
"I will, promise. Take care."
Randy wraps his arms around me in a man-hug. He pats my back. "Thanks for everything Kyle. Have a good time in Denver. You're going to make a great doctor. You're going to change so many kids' lives for the better. I know it."
"Thanks, that means a lot to me Randy."
We break apart. I give them one final wave before reaching my car. I look over the roof before I get in.
"Take care of yourself, both of you," I say again. They stand there and wave with tears in their eyes. I get into the car and drive out the street until next time.
I look around the streets as I drive. Where I'm headed is a little way on the outskirts of South Park. That's when the daunting white gates reach up. SOUTH PARK CEMETARY reads. I drive up the gravely road and make a stop at the small Gift Shop. I make my purchase before driving a little ways away before I reach the curb of the lot I'm looking for. As I step out of my car I see the clouds begin to roll ahead of me and the cold breeze kick in. So much for summer weather here. I tighten my jacket a bit before I begin walking onto the grass, passing by several statues, big and small, simple placer's in the ground and fancier tombstones, a couple with an image of the deceased person who's buried under it. His is a bit of a way in the back of the lot. I then see a giant oak tree ahead and know I am near. Then it's there- a nice red granite headstone with the words etched in white, four graves to the left of the tree:
Stanley Quintin Marsh
Born: October 19th, 2001 Died July 13th, 2013
Precious son, brother, and friend. May you rest in eternal peace and suffer never more.
I stare at the words a minute before I bend down and place three red and three white tulips on top it. I sniff loudly as I get to my feet. I find my voice.
"H-hey dude. It's me." Pause. "I wonder what it is you're doing at the moment. You told me before you think you'd go to your own personal heaven. I hope it's true. (sniff) I hope you're having the time of your- your afterlife, ha, wherever you are. Do you get to ride giraffes where you are? I know it's always been a dream of yours. How- how fun is it to eat chocolate ice cream for breakfast, hm?" I shake my head knowing I might sound silly in front of the common stranger. I kneel now. "Hey, I saw your parents just now. Your dad's doing okay. But I'm afraid your mom's the same as she's always been." I sigh. "I try talking to her dude but she won't listen. I'm not going to give up but it's hard you know? She- she misses you so much Stan. She isn't the same woman I used to know and it's really hard seeing her like this. I don't know if you can do anything to show her life goes on but if you can…" I sigh. "I'm going to be going off to University here shortly but I had to see you before I left. I'm going to medical school; it's going to be great. What I know I'm meant to do. And someday, I really really hope I get to help some kids out who are suffering just like you were. Dr. Fohlkoly has been a great mentor for me so far dude."
I can hear the footsteps and voices of a couple walking not too far from me now.
"Look man, I should wrap. I'm sure the other guys will see you here soon too. But I'll be back around Christmas okay? I'll get you a real nice gift, promise. Not like that fake little tree like last year. I know you were embarrassed by it," I smiled as tears filled my eyes once more. "Okay, I'm going to take off right now Stan. See you soon then." I pause before I get to my feet. I touch his headstone. "I miss you dude, we all do," I say softly. I take one last look at the final resting place of my super best friend before making my way back to my car. I start up the engine and shudder in a painful breath as I leave, off to begin my own life.
I'll be back soon dude. Just like I always am. You know I will never forget you.
A/N: Well there you have it, the end. I have had the best time writing this story. As difficult as it was it was a fun challenge and I got some fascinating information along the way and can now add cancer onto my list of general interests. There are several songs I feel go with it. I will mention a few: My Chemical Romance- Cancer, Red-Nothing and Everything, and Evanescence October, and My Immortal. I would love to see what songs you guys come up with. Something I have planned is making a series with the letters Stan writes to his friends and family. I have written them for my own personal use, but if any reader would like to see them I will gladly post them. All I can say is thank-you so much to all who read and reviewed. This was another story I was uncertain about how it would be viewed. So a big thanks to each and every one of you. I promise I shall not write another character death again, I can say that much. I cannot believe this is the end as again, this has been a fascinating thing to write.
I have much planned for the rest of the year and in 2012 so stay tuned!
Lots of love to all: Rose, October 15, 2011