This past summer, I wrote a novella. It was, nominally, about the summer I spent working at a theatre company called Unto These Hills. Parts of it were funny, and parts of it were mundane, but the thing it ended up circling around, unsurprisingly, was the death of a friend. This an excerpt from that novella, which I wrote as a series of vignettes.
We had become, in the moment of confirmation, when Josh pronounced the verdict in his broken voice, a sort of improbable ground zero; we knew Peyton, and we knew her friends, and we knew who needed to be told. We were one of the first branches in a horrible phone tree, tasked to spread the news that one of ours was gone. We wouldn’t let Josh make any of the calls, though he offered, gasped through his tears that he needed to call Ashley, her best friend, tell her. Chris told him no, Renee told him she’d take care of it. That was for the best. Josh was wreck, and Renee hadn’t known Peyton very well, but she was basically Ashley’s second mom, so she could hold it together enough to tell Ashley and Ashley knew her well enough that it would be comforting. There were a lot of ‘Oh God’ moments that night. ‘Oh God she’s dead’, ‘Oh God we need to tell…’, ‘Oh God why’. I said I’d call the stage managers from our department, the ones we’d both been friends with, people who needed to know, who I didn’t want hearing the news from Facebook. Someone, I’m pretty sure Renee, whose mom instincts were working hard that night, asked if I was sure I could do it, if I’d be ok. I said yeah, that I needed to do something, that I would be fine. I didn’t realize, then, how hard it would be. I called Tripp first, I’m pretty sure. Parts of that night blur together until I’m no longer sure of the timeline, but the individual moments stand out in vivid detail. Tripp was my good friend, one of our fellow stage managers, who’d worked under Peyton and grown to be her friend. We used to invite Peyton to our weekly lunch dates if we saw her in the lobby, and if she wasn’t meeting Josh, she’d join us and we’d talk and laugh and eat together. I don’t know why I chose to call him first that night, if it was even a conscious choice. Maybe because I knew him, and he knew me, and so I had a better idea what to say. Maybe because Tripp is the kind of person you can call at 3 A.M. to bail you out of jail, and he’ll come. Maybe because I just needed someone who I knew would share my grief in a similar way, and Tripp, too, is a person who fixes things. Whatever the reason, I called, he picked up, and I asked him where he was, what he was doing, just in case. I don’t remember what he told me, but he wasn’t at work, or driving, or somewhere a shock could get him hurt. So I told him, gave him what little we knew of the details. There were a lot of monosyllables and silence in that conversation, neither of us sure what to say, trying to read each other over the crackling phone. He thanked me for telling him, and we hung up. It was odd being thanked for calling about a dead friend. I breathed in deep and dialed another number.