Dr. Matthew Conn
25 Jan. 2003
Happy Birthday, Sean
As I sat in the stern wooden pew, my mind wandered back to the previous autumn. It had been Sean’s nineteenth birthday. Sean was the best friend of my boyfriend, Troy. Sean was also the boyfriend of my best friend, Lisa. The four of us, needless to say, had spent a lot of time together having fun. We played softball, went to dances, drank a few beers, acted silly. But I know now that what we did wasn’t always fun; it was sometimes dangerous stupidity.
It had been a perfect, early fall day. The sky had been clear blue, and a slight breeze had been in the air. Dry leaves were bustling hurriedly down the street as others were falling listlessly from the trees. It was the type of day when it was impossible to stay indoors. The four of us had played Frisbee at Oakland Park and cooked hamburgers on the grill.
Later that evening, Sean and Troy went out to the bars to have a “birthday drink.” This was traditional for young people on their nineteenth birthday in Thief River Falls. Lisa and I, too young for bars, were to wait for them at Troy’s apartment. They said that they would only be gone an hour or so.
One hour dragged into several as Lisa and I sat watching the old black-and-white television that flickered aimlessly on and off. The old television had the most humorous
way of stretching the tops of people’s heads, turning them into coneheads. However,
even this distortion had lost its humor by the time that Sean and Troy rolled in shortly after one o’clock the next morning.
Troy staggered in with an assortment of excuses: everyone had been buying them drinks, they had to pay people back with other drinks, last call came without a drink, and on and on. After all, it was Sean’s birthday, and he had a right to party hearty. While Troy slurred out their story, Sean was rolling around the yard laughing at anything and everything. To Sean, it was even hilarious that he had vomited all over his car. Lisa and I laughed at the two of them because they were both so drunk.
Leaving Sean rolling around in the yard clutching his “birthday glass,” Lisa and I drove home in Sean’s car. Lisa had wanted to stay, but I was tired. Besides, it was not fun being around two drunks while we were stone sober.
As the funeral began, the organ music brought me quickly back to reality. I was sitting there surrounded by Sean’s many friends and relatives who stared in disbelief as Sean was rolled down the aisle in his dark-blue casket. Everywhere I looked I saw wild flowers in various shades of yellow; yellow was Sean’s favorite color.
Sean had been killed in a drinking and driving accident a couple of days earlier. Sean’s behavior at his birthday party was replicated several times over the next months. He would go out, drink himself silly, and drive. Finally, it happened. Sean and a friend had been out drinking early one Saturday morning and had driven off the road into an embankment. Although his friend survived, Sean wasn’t as lucky. Because of several internal injuries, he died at the hospital the next afternoon. It was a beautiful summer day on the day that Sean died. Everyone was getting ready to have fun.
Most of the funeral was a blur to me. I do remember clearly, however, watching as Lisa read a letter saying goodbye to Sean. In her letter, Lisa thanked Sean for all the good times and fun they had shared together. She cried as she said goodbye, and most of the rest of us cried as well.
Soon the funeral was over, and the pallbearers came down the aisle with Sean. His family followed slowly after. As the rest of us stood to leave, a sad realization came to me. I knew that nothing would change. That very night at one o’clock the bars would close and drunken people would stumble out, the majority of them with keys jingling in their pockets. They would have fun tonight. Or would they?
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