From elementary school through college one of my closest friends was a boy named William (1). We met through our local Christian Science Church — we both regularly attended Sunday School, and, for a time our younger sisters were Best Friends. One summer while William was visiting extended family, he had a nasty bicycle accident — head first into a brick wall. William wasn’t wearing a helmet.
I was never told the details of the accident, except that William had been taken to a hospital, and he was in a coma for a while. The lasting effects were a scar — hardly visible under a thick head of hair, and occasional seizures for which he may or may not have regularly taken medication (his father was not a Christian Scientist).
As the years passed, we never really talked about the accident, or the seizures. We were two carefree teens, we argued about politics — we were both incredibly politically conservative, we talked about movies — he was a huge Star Wars fan, we discussed school — we both had an interest in computers, we talked about travel — he desperately wanted to tour Europe and I’d already been there. We talked about the future, did we have one together? Probably not, but if no one else was interested, what about a back-up-plan at 30?
We dated for a few months, we liked each other, but never really made the “romantic” part work. We were friends, we cared deeply about each other, he was like a brother, and you don’t go around kissing your brother. He jokingly proposed marriage, I turned him down, I was fourteen, not ready for that kind of commitment.
Part way through high school William had a seizure. A friend told me he’d started shaking and had to be wheeled out on a stretcher. It seemed pretty serious.
We didn’t really talk about it. It was a chink in his armor, the armor of God, like the scaly hide of a crocodile — we learned about that in Sunday School. William carried on, to him it was just a flesh wound (2). Some other friends joined our group, we were the Grand Triumvirate, the Gruesome Threesome, until one of us had a car we hung out at Wendy’s, the park. Later, it was the local bookstore and $1 Cinema.
Towards the end of high school William had a second seizure. His moods changed a bit, they got darker, he got a bit meaner towards several mutual friends.
William and I didn’t really talk about it. He graduated, lived at home, working and attending community college. We talked about Harry Potter instead. We discussed the new Lord of the Rings movie that had just come out. We debated the finer points of the Matrix. We went to my senior prom. He jokingly proposed marriage again, I turned him down, telling him to be careful what he wished for.
During this time I started dating “Philip,” he also happened to be one of Williams’ co-workers (it was a small suburb, there was a lot of overlap in social circles). Philip started complaining to William that I was “no fun” because I “refused to put out.” William told me about this and my relationship with Philip was short-lived. William dated a series of petite girls with curly/frizzy blond hair and similar sounding names. We didn’t date again, although he did nickname me “Kat the Great, Goddess of the Universe” and on at least one occasion worshiped me — for context this was after we’d been stopped by some well meaning Mormon Missionaries and they very quickly let us continue on our way.
A year later, I graduated high school and went on to Principia College. He turned 21 and started experimenting with the very forbidden alcohol. I wasn’t thrilled by his occasional drinking, but I saw the appeal — something that was so forbidden by our religion was now “legal” because of an arbitrary age change. I was at Principia, and only home on breaks. He started dating someone, I started dating someone, and we kept in touch, seeing each other when I was home from college — usually at church. Work kept him busy, he was climbing the ladder of success at a major grocery store chain, attending school nearly full time, and taking martial arts.
The last time I saw him, was Winter Break my sophomore year. He was transferring to the local university, he had so many ideas about what he wanted to do, and he wanted to share them with me. We made plans for Spring Break, I’d be home for two weeks with not much else going on. We exchanged a very awkward hug — our parents were watching — and promised to keep in touch.
It was a Sunday morning in February when I got the phone call from my sister, she was in tears. “William is dead.” I didn’t believe it. “He had a seizure and suffocated in his pillow. Do you have our Sunday School Teacher’s phone number? His sister wants to talk to her.” I found the phone number in question, rather incredulous that my mother didn’t have it on one of her many phone lists.
When I got off the phone with my sister, I called our mutual best friend “Marie” to share the news. Marie was in shock, she too was away at college and hadn’t seen William in months. I also called “Beth” — a friend with whom William had a falling out after his second seizure — who was the only one of us who managed to make it to the memorial service. When I got home for Spring Break the three of us wept together over our shared loss. Marie and I visited his small grave marker and left yellow roses, then went to Wendy’s and the local park where we all used to hangout.
Attending the local Christian Science church became nearly unbearable. His mother did her best to carry on as if nothing had happened, but something had, you could see it written across the faces of his younger siblings. It was open knowledge that William and I had been friends (and in a relationship, although the congregation had speculated it was more than it had been, in the end we were friends), one member of the congregation took it upon himself to “inform” me in the most casual way: “did you hear that William passed on?” accompanied by flushing and giggling.
I met up with my then-boyfriend (3) over that Spring Break as well, as he drove around looking for places to make out he pulled up at the park William and I had often visited. I was too emotionally wrecked to make out in the same place William and I had picnicked and competed to see who could swing higher, so I dissolved into tears. My boyfriend was quite confused and asked what was wrong, out poured the story of my relationship with William, his death, how it never worked out, how he was still one of my best and closest friends.
My boyfriend then asked if William was still alive, would I leave him for William. I really should’ve seen this as a sign and dumped him on the spot, but our relationship held on for nearly a year. The following Summer Break Marie and I visited Williams’ grave again. As we were walking back to her car, it hit me, William treated me better than my boyfriend ever had, and we were friends. William never had to write memos (joking or not) to himself to be nice to me, he just was. Even after his seizures which clearly altered his moods, he was still nice to me. As soon as we got back to Marie’s house I called my boyfriend and dumped him.
I miss William and think about him often. I make sure my husband and children always wear their bike helmets. I randomly tear up when I hear Spice Girls songs, and have to watch Star Wars with a box of kleenx near by. I keep in touch with Beth. Marie and I had a nasty falling out (yes, Christian Science played a role). Williams’ mother remains “in Science” but his siblings have left.
I often wonder what would’ve been different if he hadn’t been in Christian Science, if he hadn’t died so young. He had so much potential.
- Names have been changed
- This was also a favorite T-shirt of his, he loved Monty Python
- This boyfriend https://kindism.org/2013/12/01/agape/
- http://youtu.be/9wfpXI5PKlw – Spice up your Life
Images via Facebook
3 thoughts on “Kung fu fighting, Dancing queen Tribal spaceman and all that’s in between”
Wow…so touching. So often now, I wonder “what if”…how life would be without Christian Science (absent the fact my parents met in Sunday School, so without it at least back in the late 1940s, I wouldn’t exist). So many young tragedies. Too many…
The “what ifs” loom large in my world too. I met my husband at Prin, and it seems unlikely we would’ve met any other way.
W’s death was probably the first “young” CS that I knew personally who passed on, it is one thing to lose an older Sunday School teacher, church member, or hear about someone you didn’t know personally, and quite another to lose someone much closer to your own age.
Thank you for the wonderful and moving story about your friend! It is challenging as an ex-cs to NOT think about the what-ifs. My greatest gift to my children as been to raise them to think for themselves and not be defined by any religion.
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