— Chapter Thirteen: Grief —
Comedy of Errors may also be purchased from Main Point Books in Wayne.
Stewart awoke early the next morning and headed out to Sharon’s house. He thought of how amazed his new colleague, Jules, would be when he read the synopsis and Sharon’s descriptive prose about each of the characters in the photos.
But when he arrived at Sharon’s house at 7:45, there were police cars stationed at the curb and in her driveway with their lights whirling. Sharon’s mother and father were on the stoop outside the kitchen door. Her mother’s head was in her hands, and her father’s arm held her tightly to his body. Stewart stopped in the middle of the street, left his Plymouth running, and began to run towards Sharon’s parents. A policeman stopped him before he reached them, and he struggled briefly while being restrained.
“What happened?“ he cried,
“There’s been an accident,”said the patrolman, trying best as he could to calm the young man, but also to keep him from running to the distraught parents.
“The car she was in was hit by a young female who blew through a stop sign.”
“How is she?” called out Stewart. “Sharon, my friend?”
“She wasn’t wearing a seat belt, but that may not have mattered. Her head struck the door post... hard. It must have been a bad concussion, or an aneurysm... She didn’t make it.”
“She’s dead?”asked Stewart, not really grasping the words of the policeman.
“Apparently, almost instantaneously. She most likely never felt a thing.”
“Was Brian driving?”
“Yes. He was a bit bruised and, of course, shaken, but the EMTs took him directly to Delco Memorial, where was treated and released into his mother’s care.”
“What about the girl who hit her?”
“She’s fine, but also devastated. She just got her license, and said that she didn’t see the stop sign. By all accounts she might be right. A tree blocks most of it from sight.”
“May I speak with Sharon’s parents? I just had dinner with them last night, before she and Brian left for the theater.”
The patrolman walked him towards the doorway, and Sharon’s mother, after seeing him, turned towards him with her arms out. Stewart ran to her calling, “I’m so sorry, Mrs.MacArthur. This is horrible...”
Sharon’s mother hugged him and held him close, as he began blubbering, with only parts of his words making any sense. “She was my best friend... I can’t believe this. If I could have only... I don’t know. I just heard what happened.”
“She loved you too, Stewart. She has for a long time.”
“But she’s been with Brian...”
“She knew you cared for her, Stewart. But she also knew that neither of you were right for each other...and she was only 19.”
“She talked to you about me?” asked Stewart.
“She confided... She knew you weren’t her type, and that your friendship was more important to both of you than...”
Sharon’s mother then burst into tears, and once again held Stewart tightly.
It was at that moment that Stewart remembered the Dark Shadows photos he’d given Sharon the night before. They’re not important, he thought, as he and Sharon’s mother sobbed together.
But he couldn’t stop thinking about the pictures. They probably weren’t in the car, he thought, as another detective came up to Sharon’s parents to ask some questions. Before leaving, Stewart asked Sharon’s father if he could use the bathroom. Her dad calmly opened the door and ushered him inside. Once alone, he hurried to Sharon‘s bedroom, and saw the envelope with the photos on the edge of her bureau, picked it up and put it under his jacket.
He looked around the room and remembered the paint party when he’d helped Sharon paint the room purple, a task made difficult by the popcorn texture of the wall that defied any attempts at using a roller. The white-framed mirror above Sharon’s bureau was bordered by photos, many of which included him –– at the beach, at a Fellowship meeting, and standing by his Plymouth. Her bed was made up perfectly and was covered by a lacy white coverlet upon which she had placed stuffed animals from childhood, well-worn “huggy bunny,” a one-eyed bear, and a patchwork-patterned dachshund. A purple heart-shaped pillow rested against the bed pillows.
He left the room, stopping at the bathroom on his way out of the house.
The plainclothes policeman was still talking with Sharon’s parents, but Stewart managed to squeeze past and give her mother a final hug. She touched his cheek and forced the slightest smile onto her face, and then resumed the conversation with the three policemen.
Stewart left the scene and hurried to work, realizing that he would be somewhat late. It was only his second day, and he had already failed to find answers for Jules, and would now have to deal with his boss. He knew that his excuse for his tardiness was valid, and he hadn’t failed to retrieve the photos, so he was comfortable with his reason for being late.
During his twenty-minute drive to work he focused on Sharon and what her mother had said to him about her daughter’s relationship with him. He and Sharon had never spoken about their love for each other. It was awkward, and really served no purpose. She wasn’t physically his type, and he wasn’t intellectually hers. Though he may have begun a crusade to improve his intelligence for her, she had no way to change her appearance and become a willowy girl with a perfect figure, as he hoped to find one day. He knew that his prejudice proved him shallow, but he rationalized his fault by the fact that he also couldn’t change his height and his own physical and mental deficits to become what she wanted or needed.
Now she was gone. And there would never be any way to resolve the conflicts they had faced in a relationship only slightly soured by regret, but one that set a high bar for Stewart to reach in the future.
Stewart arrived 15 minutes late for work. The team members were already at their boards working, and Stewart avoided their looks as he walked to his boss’s desk and quietly explained what had happened. Seiler patted him on the back and then Stewart proceeded to Jules’ desk with the photos.
“Jules, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get you any information, but there was a car accident last night, and the girl I took the photos to was killed in the crash before she had a chance to help me.”
“What?” exclaimed Jules, as he looked at Stewart and tried to assess Stewart’s reasoning for providing an improbable excuse for his failure. What kind of a psychopath am I dealing with? he thought.
The next moment Stewart burst into tears, and Jules realized that Stewart was neither kidding nor lying.
“What happened, Stewart?” Jules asked with true compassion in his voice.
Everyone in the office was focused on the two as Stewart explained the situation. He even told about how he had asked Sharon’s father if he could use the bathroom so he could look for the photos in her room, as he again burst into sobs while thinking how heartless he’d been.
Jules softened towards Stewart, as did the other three artists who had left their boards to hear his story. After his sobbing had ceased, Stewart told Jules that on his way from Sharon’s house to work he had thought of a backup plan for the Dark Shadows series of cards, and a way of making them collectible with very little research. In between gasps of sorrow, Stewart suggested that the cards might have only the signature of the primary character handwritten in the same color ink as would be used on the border.
“Many of the girls that I know watch Dark Shadows,” said Stewart, “and I’m sure they know the names of all the characters in the cast. Since the characters are fictional, it will only be necessary for people in this office, or the plant, to write out the characters’ names for placement on the cards, eliminating the need for any more research.”
Stewart explained that the back side of the card could be printed in black or the border color, and that a number could be applied on the front side of each card that would give collectors a clue to the season and date the card was issued.
The team was astonished that Stewart had come up with this idea while grieving over the death of his friend. Jeff, always the cynic, asked “And when did you come up with this idea, Stewart?”
Stewart replied as honestly as he could. “I knew that I’d failed Jules, and although I knew it wasn’t my fault, I needed a way to make things right, so as I was driving here, I came up with this idea I thought might work. If it sounds crazy or stupid, I’m sorry, but it’s the best I could do under the circumstances.”
“No, Stewart,” said Jules. “I like it. It makes a lot of sense, and solves a lot of my problem. It’s easier to implement than any idea I could come up with. It’s just hard to believe that you’d think of this under the weight of the death of your friend.”
“I shouldn’t have spent my time thinking about this job, but as I got closer to work, I wanted to be sure that I could be useful in some way, even if I couldn’t save Sharon.”
Seiler, who had been listening from his desk, thought it was time for him to speak up for Stewart, since he had gone through a similar experience and had come out of it on the right side.
“Grief plays a part in most everyone’s life, Stewart,” said Seiler. “We can only learn from it, or succumb to it. And each of us grieves in his or her own way.”
Seiler sat down, but continued to address his staff. “I lost my daughter some years back. She was only seven when she died of leukemia. I think about her almost every day, but at the time I had to get up each morning and go to work. I had to care for my wife who was hurting, and my son, who was feeling neglected and lonely. I had to make choices, but none of them could include giving up. I went to meetings and became a coach for my son’s basketball team, and I nursed my wife through her sadness to a recovery. I also learned what prayer was about. It’s not about asking for the impossible.... but for the strength to go on, and continue to be a good husband, father and friend.
“I made it through, and after a while, I no longer grieved over my daughter’s passing. It was is if we had gotten through the process together, and it was she who helped me take care of her mother and be a good dad for her brother. And, it was because of her that I didn’t feel abandoned.”
What followed was silence, except for the shuffling of papers and the movement of feet across the floor as the staff members returned to their boards. Stewart found a stack of photos on his board of athletes that needed friskets cut, and the others resumed their duties with a bit more commitment than when they arrived.
Stewart no longer was ignored by his fellow workers, and was included in the patter of the day. If he needed help, they all tried to assist him, and he was now a member of a new group.
While driving home, he felt Sharon’s presence next to him, and smiled to think how she had already helped him through his day. Though he would miss their talks together, Stewart knew that Sharon would always live within him, voice her concerns when he’d stumble, and cheer him on past any hurdles he might face.
Now he would have to go home and speak to his own parents about his grief, his friend and his loss, whether they understood it or not. In realizing that he was far from perfect, he would have to once again try to forgive them for their flaws.