"Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America." -The Honorable John Lewis speaking atop the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 1, 2020
Natalie rushed across the room and fell into my arms. “Oh, my God, Parker,” she cried. I’ve been so worried about you. No one would tell me where you were until I got a call from your attorney.” She then turned and embraced Darius and held him tightly. She pulled away and asked, “Would you tell me what is going on? All I know is what I’m seeing on the news.”
I looked over at Darius. “Can we tell you later? We’re both still pretty upset over what happened.” I smiled and asked, “Did you bring us something to eat?”
“Yes,” she replied. “I almost forgot. It’s in the car.” We followed her outside to her car. She had three grocery bags of food in the trunk. “Mr. Abrams didn’t tell me much,” she said. “He said you were out of food, and he asked me to buy you some things.” She smiled and added, “I hope you like frozen dinners. I know Parker can’t cook, so I bought what was quick and easy.”
“Frozen dinners are fine,” replied Darius. “Dad and I eat them a lot when Mom is away for a few days.”
We took the groceries out of the bags and placed them on the counter. Natalie did a good job. Besides frozen dinners, she had bought a lot of snacks and sodas. “This should last us a few days,” I commented as we put the dinners in the freezer.
“How long are you staying here?” she asked as she looked around. “Nice place.”
I looked at Darius as he shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know,” I said. I sat down and opened a big bag of chips and began nibbling on them. Darius went to the refrigerator and pulled out three sodas and brought them to the counter. “We may be here a day or two.” Tears welled up in my eyes. “We’re having a difficult time dealing with Myles’ death.”
“I’m so sorry, Guys,” she cried as she hugged us again. “If the news accounts are right, I can see why you guys are having a hard time.”
I asked, “What is the news saying?”
“They arrested some big guy. They said he beat Myles to death.” She began to cry. “They said you guys were witnesses. It’s been on the news for two days.”
I emotionally asked, “Have you heard anything about Peter?”
“He called me,” she replied. “But he was so emotional, I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Then he hung up.”
“Do you have his number?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Why?”
“Call him and ask him if he can get away for a little while?”
“I want you go bring him here,” I replied. Natalie got up and walked into the living room. A few minutes later, she returned and told us she would see us in an hour.
I walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out two frozen dinners and held them up. “Chicken or meat loaf?”
“Meat loaf,” laughed Darius. Ten minutes later, we were eating.
“What’s going to happen now?” asked Darius as we ate.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “There’s a lot to do, and we can’t do it holed up here.”
“Yeah,” he responded sadly. “I should be with Myles’ family. I want to be involved in his funeral.” He then broke down and began crying uncontrollably. I scooted toward him and held him in my arms.
After a few minutes, he sat up and wiped his eyes dry. “I have to stop breaking down every time I think about him.”
“It’s going to hurt,” I said tearfully. “He was your best friend.”
“I know,” replied Darius as he sat up straight in his chair. “And right now, there are things that have to be done.”
We finished eating and went into the living room to sit together on the sofa. “Do you have any ideas what you have to do?”
“If his parents will let me,” he replied, “I would like to plan a memorial service. I know there will be a funeral, but that will probably be for close friends and family. Myles had a lot of friends. He was very popular in school. They won’t be able to attend the funeral, so I want to give them the opportunity to share in his life.”
“I think that is a good idea,” I said. “I’d like to help you.” He leaned over and kissed me.
“You better,” he said as tears welled up in his eyes. “I don’t think I could make it through this if you weren’t with me.” We cried and held each other tightly.
An hour later, Natalie knocked on the door. When I answered it, she entered followed by Peter. He looked distraught. He immediately pulled Darius into an embrace and began sobbing. “Why did it have to happen?” he kept asking as he continued to cry. “Myles was such a gentle person.”
I wished I had an answer, but I didn’t. I had been asking myself the same question since it happened. People always say that things happen for a reason. But what logical reason could there be for Myles’ violent death? Someone despised Myles, Darius, Peter and me for being gay. Their hate was so strong that they killed Myles. I couldn’t understand why. Then I thought back to what Darius, Pastor Moore and others said about racism. People harmed and killed others over the color of their skin. Myles and this assailant were both black. Race wasn’t a factor. He hated us for loving one another. For as long as I live, I will never be able to understand the root cause of someone developing such a hatred in their heart. We were harming no one. However, our presence evoked such a strong reaction that Myles’ assailant was willing to kill him for it.
I went into the kitchen to get some snacks and sodas. When I returned, Peter had calmed down. Natalie was holding his hand and comforting him. I sat down and said, “Darius wants to do something to remember Myles.”
“What?” asked Natalie.
“He is thinking of holding a memorial service for him,” I replied.
Darius explained, “Not everyone will be able to attend his funeral, so I want to do something that the public can attend.”
“That’s an excellent idea,” said Natalie. She looked over at Peter. “Peter and Dwayne are doing something tonight for Myles.”
I gave him a puzzled look, “What?”
Tears welled up in his eyes, but he didn’t become emotional. “I asked Charley if we can do a balloon launch in the parking lot tonight. He said we could.”
Dwayne is letting students at Rosemont know,” added Natalie. She looked hopefully at Darius and me. “Will you be there?” I looked over at Darius and he nodded his head.
We spent the next hour discussing how we wanted to memorialize Myles. Several times we were overcome with emotion, but we were determined to do it. The balloon launch had already been planned; but deciding when and where to have a memorial service was more challenging. We also didn’t know if others had been planning a similar service. Darius left the room and called his father.
“I talked to Dad,” he said as he returned and sat beside me. “Myles’ parents are meeting with the funeral home this afternoon to make arrangements. Dad’s going to call me back about a memorial service.”
“It’s got to be big,” cried Peter. “Myles deserves it.” He began to cry again. As I watched, I was confused why he was so emotional. He had only just met Myles. We weren’t even aware they were dating.
“Peter, can I ask you something?” He looked at me and nodded. “How close were you and Myles? You only knew him a few days.”
“We were in love,” he replied emotionally. “I know it sounds crazy, but Myles and I really cared for each other.” His face began to redden. “We only made love twice together…” He began to weep again. “I was in love with him.”
I could understand. I had fallen in love with Darius after only meeting him a few times. Myles came across as crazy and silly, but Darius said he had a heart of gold. I could understand how quickly Peter had fallen in love with him.
“Did his parents know you were dating,” asked Darius.
Peter nodded and replied, “Yes. I had dinner with them, and Myles told them we were going to be dating.” He started to cry again. “They said they were happy for us.”
I asked, “What about your parents?”
“They didn’t know I was gay,” he replied. “But they do now. I had to tell them what was wrong with me.”
“How did they take it?” asked Natalie.
“Better than I thought,” he said. “They went with me last night to see Myles’ parents. We did a lot of crying.” Tears welled up in his eyes, but he didn’t cry. “When I told them about my plans for a balloon launch, they thought it was a good idea. They’ll be there tonight.”
“Me, too,” I responded.
“Me, too,” said Darius as he gripped my hand tightly.
We spent the next half hour discussing the launch. Darius called Dwayne, and he told Darius what was going to happen. The group would assemble at seven o’clock at Charley’s. Charley had donated the balloons. He said that Pastor Moore and a few other people would speak before the launch. They were expecting a large turnout.
Around five, Natalie went into the kitchen to see if she could find something for dinner. She returned with some ground beef she had purchased earlier. “I hope you boys like hamburgers,” she said.
“I’ll help you,” volunteered Peter as he jumped up and headed into the kitchen. We could hear Natalie giving out orders to him.
“What do you think?” I sighed as I rested my head on Darius’ shoulder. “Are we going to be able to do this?”
He responded adamantly, “We have to. I owe it to Myles.” He gripped my hand and squeezed it. For the first time in two days, I finally felt that we might be able to get through it.
We left the condo at 6:15. Natalie said she timed herself when she visited. It took about thirty minutes from Somerset. We would arrive shortly before the launch would take place.
I was amazed by all the traffic when we arrived. The parking lot was filled, and cars were parked on both sides of the street. Natalie had driven, and she drove slowly up to Charley’s. A Rosemont police officer stopped us as we pulled into the lot. He bent down and looked into the car.
He looked at Darius and asked, “Are you Darius Moore?”
“Yes,” responded Darius. “Why?”
The officer pointed to an empty space in front of Charley’s entrance. “Young Lady,” he said, “You can park in that spot over there. We’ve reserved it for you.” Natalie politely thanked him and parked the car.
We were instantly surrounded when we exited the car. I was embraced by people I had never met. I looked over at Darius, and he was overcome with emotion. Most of the people were friends at school and church. He grabbed my hand and pulled me away. I stopped suddenly when I heard someone say that there were a few people across the street protesting the event. I looked over and there were only seven people. Dan was one of them. Our eyes met, and he turned and walked away.
“Don’t worry about that sick fuck,” remarked a girl standing nearby. “The superintendent expelled him today. We won’t have to worry about him again.” I looked across the street, but I didn’t see him.
I looked for Peter and Natalie. They were surrounded by friends from school. I pulled Darius in their direction and grabbed Natalie’s hand. She grabbed Peter’s arm, and we slowly made our way to the center of a field behind Charley’s where the launch would be. Hundreds of people were holding blue and white balloons. When I asked Darius about the colors, he told me they were the colors for Rosemont High School.
I was holding up until I saw my parents. I gripped Darius’ hand and made my way over to them. We embraced and cried for several minutes. It seemed like a hundred hands were rubbing my back to comfort me. Soon, we were joined by Darius’ and Peter’s mother and father. Everyone around us was sobbing emotionally. I could hear Darius’ father praying, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” blasted the sound system. “May I have your attention.” I looked over where Dwayne was standing on a makeshift stage. We dried our eyes and looked up at him. I was holding Darius’ hand, and my mother was pressed against my other side with her arm around my back. Darius’ mother was had her arm around his back. I was worried about Peter, but he seemed to be okay. He was being comforted by his parents and Natalie.
Suddenly, I noticed a large commotion, and the crowd began to part. A man and woman were approaching us. She was crying hysterically, and the man was trying to hold her up. Darius whispered in my ear, “That’s Myles mother and father.” They slowly made their way toward us. She collapsed in Darius’ arms, and they began to cry. After several moments, he introduced them to me and my parents. They embraced me, and then they noticed Peter standing nearby. They went over to him, and the same scene occurred.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” shouted Dwayne. “Your attention, please.” I would like to start the program.” He looked down at Dwayne’s father. “Pastor Moore will lead us in prayer.” There was a hush as he prayed for Myles. People all around me were crying.
When Pastor Moore finished, Dwayne looked around the crowd. “Where is Charley and Natalie? Would you join me?” We made way for Natalie to approach the stage. I hadn’t seen Charley, but suddenly he joined them.
Dwayne began to speak. “We’re here tonight to honor a dear friend, Myles Crawford. As you know, Myles’ life was cut short two night ago by a man filled with hate in his heart. Myles was only seventeen. He was one of the gentlest souls God ever put on this earth.” People around me began crying. “Myles lit up a room by just walking into it. He called everyone friend.” Darius turned and buried his head into my chest and wept. I held him tightly as I cried. Dwayne shouted angrily, “Myles didn’t deserve to die! He was a victim of hate! Hate has pervaded our society.” Several people shouted, “Amen!”
When Dwayne began to cry, Charley took the microphone from him. “I’m not much of a public speaker,” he began, “but I’m going to do this for Myles.” He cleared his throat and looked around at the crowd. “As most of you know who come into the restaurant, I give all the young people a hard time.” People laughed and agreed with Charley. “But I give them a hard time because they are my children.” He became emotional and had to stop for a minute. “Myles, God rest his soul, gave me so much grief since he was a young boy. But I loved him, as if he was my son.” People began to cry again. “I still can’t believe what happened to him. Myles never would hurt anyone or anything. I never heard him say anything bad about anyone.” He paused before continuing. “So tonight, we are going to launch these here balloons to the memory of Myles. As they fly away, let them take all the hate, racist attitudes and violence with them.” He handed the microphone back to Dwayne.
“One of the organizers tonight is Natalie Adams,” he stated. “She only knew Myles a short time, but she has done so much in trying to unite Rosemont and Somerset.” He looked at Natalie and smiled. “If Myles were here tonight, he would say, ‘You go, Girl.” He handed the microphone to a tearful Natalie.
“I’m not going to say much,” she said. “Tonight, we are here for a balloon launch for our friend, Myles Crawford. There will be a memorial service later where we will honor his life.” She looked down at the crowd and asked, “Does everyone have a balloon.” The crowd shouted that they did. “Alright, then. I want each of you to grab the hand of the person standing beside you.” She paused while people did as she asked. “When I count to three, release your balloon into the air. As it goes into the sky, I want you to remember Myles anyway you wish. You can say a prayer or think a fond thought. Let us fill this evening sky with love, hope and understanding.”
“One… two… three.” Hundreds of balloons filled the sky. People cried as the balloons drifted into the air. We watched until the last one slowly disappeared. People continued to cry and embrace each other. I was overcome by the emotion that filled the crowd. Students of Somerset were hugging the students of Rosemont. Many adults, white and black, were embracing each other. I fell to the ground and sobbed hysterically. I wasn’t crying because I was filled with grief, I was crying because I was filled with anger.
Why did Myles have to die to bring people together?
Darius and I had decided that it would be best if we returned to our homes to be with our families. I went home and headed straight to bed. I talked to Darius for about an hour on the phone, but other than that I wanted to be left alone. The past couple of weeks had sent my emotions into overdrive, and I wasn’t sure how much more I could handle.
I had met Darius, but that was the only positive thing that had happened. I just wasn’t prepared for all the negative reactions I had to face. It seems like everyone turned against me after I posted Darius’ arrest on Facebook. Nettleman suspended me from school because of it. I was arrested and spat on at a protest rally. Then, a brick was tossed through my car window. At school, Dan accused me of calling the police, and he knocked me into a locker and gave me a concussion. And just when I thought things were getting back to normal, Myles had to die.
I’m only seventeen. I shouldn’t be facing these situations. Before the rally at school, I was concerned about the prom and graduation. Being a senior in high school is a major achievement. I was focusing on keeping my grades up and getting into a good university. Now, with all the time I’ve missed, I don’t even know if a community college will accept me. Most of my teachers have been understanding, but there are still assignments I will never be able to make up. My counselor at the beginning of the school year told me I was fifth in my class. Now, I’m sure that no longer stands.
I rolled myself into a ball in my bed and covered my head. I didn’t want to think anymore. I certainly didn’t want to feel anything. I had cried so many tears over the past couple of days, I wasn’t sure I could force anymore out. But for one night, I just want to shut down. I want to forget about everything that has happened. I know I’ll wake up tomorrow with the same problems, but for now I’m going to sleep.
Next: Final Chapter
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