This is my last letter to you.

June 11th, 2010

Dear Dad,

School’s over. This is my last letter to you.

Donnie and Rhett are in the other room waiting for me. After I finish this letter, I’ll mail it on our way to the marina. They both assume I’m gonna jump. Off the marina, I mean.

We start from the shore. We swim about a hundred feet out to a ladder. You’ve got to wear shoes, says Rhett, or when you jump, hitting the water hurts your feet. And climbing the ladder does, too. The ladder goes all the way up from the water. The bottom part —the part that dips below high tide—is all covered with seaweed and barnacles, like wood on a shipwreck. The ladder gets cleaner as it goes up. The top rungs are bleached and cracked by the sun.

We climb the rungs all the way to the top. Then we just stand close to the edge of the roof and jump.

Rhett says there’s nothing to it. You just step off and fall.

I suppose I should say goodbye Dad, but I think you’re beyond goodbyes now. Beyond letters. Beyond words.

All that’s left is for me to step into air.

So that’s what I’ll do.

Your son,

Trevor

I just wanted to say hi and tell her about some stuff.

June 10th, 2010

Dear Dad,

You’re really gone, aren’t you? You’re never gonna write me back.

Just to let you know, I’ll probably keep checking the mailbox for a while to make sure.

I went in to Mrs. Henry’s class at lunch today to talk to her about you. She was writing in a notebook with a pencil, but stopped when I came in. She looked up and smiled at me with all her wrinkles. I sure like those wrinkles.

“What can I do for you, Trevor?” I just stood there. Mrs. Henry is one of my favorite adults, but it’s still hard for me to talk to her. Then again, all adults are hard for me to talk to. Even Mom. Sometime in the future, I need to write letters to Mom and apologize for not talking much.

I told Mrs. Henry I didn’t really need anything. I just wanted to say hi and tell her about some stuff. She set down her pencil, then picked it up again and tapped the desk with it.

“What kind of stuff?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“Other stuff?” She smiled again. I knew what she meant. I nodded, but I didn’t say anything. We sat there like that for 20 seconds. Then she said, “You know, Trevor, you don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to. Some things aren’t meant to be shared. Maybe this is one of those things you just want to keep. For yourself.”

“Yeah, maybe.” I might have sighed a little right then, either in relief or disappointment.

She said, “Can I ask one question? Did things turn out—OK?”

“I think so.”

“You think so? You’re not sure? Well then, Trevor, I guess you’ll just have to get used to not knowing.”

“That sucks,” I said. I meant it.

“I suppose it does. But there’s something exciting about the not-knowable-ness of it. It means you’ve got a secret—a mystery—that’s still waiting to be solved. There’s not many of those left. Seems like you’ve got a good one. Right up there with Bigfoot.”

I thought the Bigfoot comment was pretty stupid. But I pretended it was funny, then told Mrs. Henry to have a good summer and left.

Not knowing totally blows. I’d rather know, Dad. Where are you?

Your son,

Trevor

I want to know for sure. At least I think I do.

June 9th, 2010

Dear Dad,

It’s been more than a week since you got on the boat. You did get on the boat, didn’t you? I hate not knowing. I want to know for sure. At least I think I do.

I’m pretty certain you’re gone for good. So why am I still writing? I’ve got no reason that makes sense, other than sometimes you get into a pattern and you just keep doing it because it’s what you do. I’ll probably stop when school gets out, because I try not to do anything that even smells like school in the summer. Except reading, I guess. I still read. But I try to read only trashy books, full of lots of violence and maybe even a little sex, but not so much mom would think I’m reading porn or anything weird like that.

Donnie is supposed to come over after school on Friday. Our plan is to stay up super late then sleep in practically all day on Saturday. Which means Donnie will stay up super late and I’ll probably fall asleep by 10. 11 if I drink lots of Coke. And I can’t sleep in to save my life, so I’ll be up early playing video games with the volume down.

I told Donnie that Rhett wants me to jump off the marina after we get home from school. Donnie said, “Can I come? I’ve always wanted to jump off that thing.”

Sometimes I hate my friends.

Anyway, tomorrow is really like the last day of school, even thought we have to go on Friday, too. Friday is only half a day. The cool teachers have parties in their classes and the other ones make you clean out your desk and review stuff. I think they should all have parties, because that will be the last thing you remember about them. But some teachers want you to remember how hard their classes were, I guess.

I’m gonna try to talk to Mrs. Henry tomorrow to maybe tell her about what happened between you and me. I figure she was a key person in the whole deal, so she deserves to know. If I don’t tell her tomorrow, I probably never will, because I won’t have her for a teacher next year.

I know that, because I got my list of classes for 8th grade. All new teachers. I don’t know any of them. I hope they don’t think I’m a hood, because of the whole cookie thing. I figure they all heard the story. Maybe Mrs. Henry will put in a good word for me. Maybe I’ll ask her that tomorrow.

If you were writing back to me, this is where you’d say, “You’re not a hood, Trevor. You’re a good kid. I believe in you. Blah blah blah.” I wouldn’t mind having someone say that to me right now.

Your son,

Trevor

Things I’ll never be able to talk to you about.

June 8th, 2010

Dear Dad,

Things I’ll never be able to talk to you about:

-        What kind of job I should get when I’m a grown-up. Right now I have no idea, but I think it would be fun to do something with writing. You talked about wishing you’d done that, right?

-        Where I should go to college. I don’t really care about this one, but it seems like the kind of thing we should talk about.

-        Any kind of advice about sex. I mean, not that I would necessarily ask you or anything, but it would be nice to have the option, because there’s no way I’m gonna ask Mom. And if I ask Rhett, he’ll just call me a dork.

-        How to drive a car. This one I’m definitely gonna miss. Right now, I’m thinking about getting an old jeep. I wish you could tell me if this would be a good idea. I don’t really have any money saved or anything, but I think it would be a cool choice and still basically practical. Jeeps are pretty reliable, aren’t they? I mean, if they weren’t reliable, it doesn’t seem like you’d drive one in the desert or in a war. I wouldn’t want an unreliable car in either of those places.

-        Kids and stuff. I mean, someday, if I got married and had kids, that is. I basically plan to. And I plan to take them to the beach and teach them how to skim board and throw seaweed at them and play card games with them when it’s late and they should be in bed. I figure if you were here, you could probably tell me how not to screw them up. Then sometimes I wonder if the reason I’m not screwed up is because you died. Since you were dead, my parents never fought. And I pretty much thought my dad was perfect until we started writing letters. Now I know better. Nothing personal or anything. Besides, I think real is better than perfect.

That’s enough for today. It’s really sunny out. After I mail this letter, I’m going down to the beach with Barry, Rhonda and Tess. I’ll probably even go swimming, even though the water’s so cold it makes it hard to breathe.

Sometimes, that’s just the feeling you want.

Your son,

Trevor

Rhett says he’s gonna make me jump off the marina.

June 7th, 2010

Dear Dad,

The second hardest day to go to school all year long is the last Monday before summer break. You know that summer is almost here and you get a weekend of great weather to give you a little taste of it—just enough to drive you insane. Then you have to get up early and go back to school for a whole other week. Barf.

The hardest day to go to school is the day after you’re suspended for poisoning the teachers with Ex-Lax.

It’s the beginning of the final week. Then summer. And Rhett told me that after school on Friday, he’s gonna make me jump off the marina whether I like it or not.

Maybe that’s what bugs me—him pushing me so hard. Maybe if I felt like it was my decision to jump, I’d be happier about it.

But who would ever decide to do such a stupid thing? Even at high tide, the roof is at least 40 feet above the water. From that height, the water is like concrete. If you land wrong you’re dead. Or you’re paralyzed from the waist down and you’ll never walk again and kids will stare at you in the mall. You just spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair. Maybe if you’re really lucky, you do a talk show on PBS or something dorky like that.

Should I jump? I guess I’ve gotta figure this one out on my own, because you’re no help. You’re beyond dead.

Your son,

Trevor

Things I miss, now that your letters have stopped.

June 4th, 2010

Dear Dad,

Things I miss, now that your letters have stopped:

-        Hearing stories about when you were alive, like when you made that trailer from the Popular Mechanics plans.
-        Hearing you worry about me. It sucks to worry, but it’s nice to be worried about.
-        Learning about boxing. Knees bent, hands up, elbows in, fists relaxed.
-        Thinking that maybe I was like you, after all, and being OK with that.
-        Gordon’s weird Latin quotes. E pluribus cuckoo.
-        Knowing that I was the only kid getting letters from you.
-        Descriptions of Sung-Hee’s crappy coffee. I don’t want to drink it. I just want to hear about it.

I wish you’d write back.

Your son,

Trevor

I think you may be gone for good.

June 3rd, 2010

Dear Dad,

Still no letter from you. I think you may be gone for good. Then again, I thought you were gone when you went into the woods, then you came back. But you said no one ever comes back on the boat except the bloody captain. The boat goes out full and comes back empty.

I know I should be glad, right? Because this probably means you made it to heaven. Or somewhere. You’ve moved on at least. That’s good, right? I really am glad for you, if it makes sense to be glad.

By the way, if the postman or Sung-Hee or Gordon or someone else is reading this letter right now, I’m OK with that. But you don’t need to write back to me. I don’t want to start getting a bunch of letters from dead people I don’t know.

It was super sunny today. It made it really hard to keep my mind on school. After today, only six days to go and then school is done. I’m glad summer is here to take my mind off your being gone. The only thing that worries me about summer is the marina. I know Rhett is gonna bug me to jump off it. I don’t know what Rhett’s problem is.

I was trying to think if there was a question I wished I asked you before you got on the boat. Here’s a simple one: What should I do about the marina?

Your son,

Trevor

Everybody will be gone but me.

June 2nd, 2010

Dear Dad,

I didn’t get a letter from you today. I’m not sure how to feel about that. I think you may be gone. Again. I’m sort of getting used to it.

I’m trying to picture where you are. Are you still on the boat, just riding over the waves, with the salt spray dripping from your face? Did you get somewhere yet? Where? Heaven?

It’s June here now. School’s close enough to being out that no one cares about it—not the students or the teachers. Mr. Schick seems as uninterested in all the other students as he is in me. He gave us worksheets and then stared out the window toward where his crappy car is parked. I think his longing for the year to be over is even stronger than his anger about the cookies.

Even Mrs. Henry seems ready to go. I feel like I should tell her what’s really been happening between you and me. I don’t think she’d be surprised much.

I was thinking that maybe now that you’ve left me again, maybe I could start talking to Mrs. Henry. I was thinking maybe I could sit in her classroom and talk to her during lunch a couple of days a week, to hold me over until I hear from you again. Then I realized that it’s almost summer and she’ll be gone, too.

Everybody will be gone but me.

Your son,

Trevor

Is it true? Are you gone?

June 1st, 2010

Dear Dad,

I’m not sure what happened in your last letter. I think you just got on the boat. Is that true? Are you gone?

What happens now? How will I know?

It figures that yesterday was Memorial Day. Mom picked a bunch of flowers from the yard – big, red rhododendron blooms and tiny little lime green flowers and I think lilies and some other stuff. We went to Washington Memorial and visited Meredith’s grave and your grave. We scrubbed your tombstone with copper cleaner. I think we’ve probably been scrubbing it a little too much over the years, because it’s looking kind of worn through around the letters. Then Mom put her flowers in the little metal can that’s sunk in the grass and we dumped some water in there. It’s kind of cool, because we decorate your grave, even though there’s no one to see it. It’s kind of like Mom thinks maybe you’re looking down or God is. Maybe it’s just for us.

It was weird being there with Rhonda and my brothers, who were working away with the copper cleaner and making jokes and stuff, while I was mainly thinking about our letters. Visiting your tombstone felt different to me this year, because now it’s there for someone I know. I mean, before we started writing to each other, Memorial Day was kind of about the idea of ancestors, not about real people. Now you’ve become real, just in time to leave.

Our timing is off again, because you’ll probably never read this.

Your son,

Trevor

The boat pulls in.

May 31st, 2010

Dear Trevor,

 I know you need me, but I am beyond apologies.

 I write this leter at the Laughing Gull. Ezra sits next to me, tapping his fingers on the table. Tap tap tap.

 The boat pulls in. The woman captain is dressed in her best blood. “Why is she like that?” I think to myself. Or maybe I say it out loud, because Ezra answers.

 “Who knows what g—got her to that point. A bill—billion little things. That’s like me asking you wh—why you look the way you do.”

“Why do I what? Look like this? This is who I am. Or who I’ve become. I’ve looked better.”

“Ah. And this is the best she’s l—looked so far. Like she’s dressed for a wedding. Don’t you think she looks lovely in h—her wedding clothes?

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, but she looks just rough enough to get me where I need to go.”

“Then come.”

“I’m coming.” My heart pounds as I say the words.  “I’ve just got to mail a letter.”

“Even so, come quickly,” says Ezra.

I will finish this line, stuff this note in an envelope and hand it to Sung-Hee. I’ve gotta run, Trevor.

Your dad,

Hugh

Don’t leave.

May 28th, 2010

Dear Dad,

 Carrying your burden is no big deal from my end. Or Or maybe it is a big deal, but it’s not a heavy load for me. I mean, I took on your shame, but I don’t feel it. Probably because I didn’t do the act that made you feel shameful. So it’s easy for me to carry, I guess. And besides, you took on my fear, so I owed you. It feels good to pay you back.

 The part that sucks is that I helped you get clear of it, right? And in return you’re gonna leave me. I can tell you are. You’ve gone crazy, even if it’s crazy in a good way. I can tell you’re gonna get out of that place, either on the bloody boat or some other way. So now I’ll be without a dad again.

 I still need you. For instance, it was 70 degrees today and you know how it is here in Washington. When it hits 70, everyone acts like they’re in Hawaii and walks around with their shirts off. Guys, I mean. Rhett and a couple of his buddies went to jump off the marina. He asked me to come along. I said no thanks, as nice as could be, and he started calling me a wussy.

 Did he ever consider that maybe I just don’t want to jump off the marina? Did he ever think that I might have better things to do? He acts like I should just drop everything and go jump off the stupid marina, like it’s the greatest thing in the world.

 So I could use you here, to back me up or tell me what to do or maybe gather my squished body from the beach after I break my neck by landing wrong if I actually jump off the stupid marina.

 Don’t leave.

If you do leave, can you at least try to write me a letter when you get to wherever it is you’re going?

 Your son,

 Trevor

Perhaps I could howl for you.

May 27th, 2010

Dear Trevor,

 Huh.

 It’s strange, but I miss this town, even as I sit in it.

 I think of it as passed. Or past. I feel like I’m sitting in something that has come and gone, like a time traveler who is just here to document a completed event.

 Maybe that’s the right word. Completed.

 Can I thank you for your act of taking on my burden? I don’t think so, Trevor. Not in words, anyway. Certainly not in these words, which feel like smoke trailings behind a plane. I have no confidence in their ability to communicate my real feelings. By the time the envelope arrives in your box, you’ll find only the damp evidence of steam.

 Perhaps I could howl for you, but I don’t know how to spell the sound I would make. Let me just say that I feel primitive. Wild. I want to bite something. Ha!

 The hairs on my arm are tingly. When I brush alongside my doorway, my side tingles for a full five seconds. I can feel the rough boards through the souls of my shoes. I can stand on my porch and smell the salt shore, smell Sung-Hee’s fish and coffee, even Sung-Hee’s own sour sweat.

 I want that boat to come in, Trevor. I bet I’ll smell its iron odor when it’s five miles out.

 I picked up all your letters from my table with the thought of rereading them, but I found I wanted nothing to do with the words. I only wanted the feel of the paper on my skin. I rubbed them on my rough, unshaven face and I could smell the oil of your fingers. The oil smells like my own self. I can smell my blood in your blood.

 I want to grow a beard. Is that silly? I’m done with haircuts, too.

 Do I worry about the burden you now bear for me? I don’t. I can’t. My brain has gone native within my skull.

 Dad

I’m no longer willing to wait for you to ask.

May 26th, 2010

Dear Dad,

 I’m no longer willing to wait for you to ask. Therefore, I’m jumping ahead without you. Consider your IOU cashed in.

 I, Trevor Griffiths, officially take on the burden of my father’s shame for anything he had to do with the death of his daughter, my sister, Meredith Griffiths.

 There. That’s it. It’s done. Move on.

 Your son,

 Trevor

I have no idea if I’m still grounded or not.

May 24th, 2010

Dear Dad,

Mom officially lifted my grounding today. I asked her to put it back.

At work, she’d finally gotten over her embarrassment of me and told her co-worker Don Padgett about the cookie contest. She said Don laughed for 10 minutes straight. “Maybe it’s funnier than I first thought,” said Mom. Then she told me, “And I just can’t keep you grounded, Trev. So we’ll call it done today.”

I got really mad at Mom, which surprised both of us. I yelled, “I should be grounded! You shouldn’t lift it! Why can’t you stick with anything?” Her eyes got really wide and she stuttered out a few animal sounds.

“If you want, you can stay grounded, I suppose. But you don’t have to. That’s what I’m trying to explain to you.”

“You’re giving in too easy,” I muttered.

“I don’t think you understand. I’m saying you’re not grounded anymore.”

“I know that’s what you’re saying. And I’m saying that’s dumb. I should be grounded. You should stick to it.” I stomped into my room and slammed the door so hard I knocked a dumb old trophy off a shelf.

I have no idea if I’m still grounded or not. I guess the decision is up to me, which is pretty stupid.

Anyway, the whole conversation put me in a really pissy mood. But I’ll still take your burden from you, Dad. My offer still stands.

Your son,

Trevor

There’s nothing gentle about it.

May 21st, 2010

Dear Trevor,

“People think that forgiveness is a gentle act. There’s nothing gentle about it. At times it’s been the most bloody, violent act in the history of the world.” That’s what Ezra told me. That’s what it would feel like to me, Trevor, to let you take this on for me. To have my blood on your hands. On your back.

I can’t ask that of you. Of anyone. I have no right.

Ezra disagrees. Of course, Ezra is a bit of a nut. I verified this fact with Gordon. “De omni re scibili et quibusdam aliis,” Gordon said.

“Which means what.”

“It means he’s a bloody know-it-all, even about things of which he has no right of holding expertise. He’s annoying.”

“I don’t know. I kind of like him.”

“You would. You’re always seeking for something different. Something more. You should be like me.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning I have decided I am quite comfortable here.”

“Oh, you are not. You do nothing but complain about this place.”

“Perhaps. But perhaps I like complaining. Perhaps it is the very act of complaining that gives me comfort. Perhaps it is the sheer mediocrity of this locale that makes it so right for me.”

“You may have something there.” I left. I went back to my cabin and took my IOU out to reread it. Then I put it back.

You don’t owe me this much.

Dad

The hard part was apologizing to Mrs. Henry.

May 20th, 2010

Dear Dad,

 Yesterday I had to go back to school. I had to go early and walk by myself from class to class, apologizing to every teacher who ate one of the tainted cookies. I started with Mrs. Fletcher, the math troll. It was weird and made me feel pretty rotten, because Mrs. Fletcher said that I’d hurt her feelings. She clutched her projection monitor in both hands and said, “I thought we were friends, Trevor.” Boy, did that ever surprise me.  

 Mr. Schick was easier, because we don’t like each other and we’re clear on that. He just glowered at me the whole time, then nodded in a kind of military way. I thought he’d say how disappointed he was in me, but I think he only says that kind of stuff in front of a group. Come to think of it, I’ve never spoken to him alone before.

 The hard part was apologizing to Mrs. Henry. Is it bad of me for only feeling sorry about hurting the teachers I like? I knocked on Mrs. Henry’s door and she told me to come in. I walked in and stood by her desk where I confessed my crime and asked her to forgive me. She was quiet for a good ten seconds.

 “I’ll have to think about it, Trevor. You’ve just made a very serious request. And like any good bargain hunter, I don’t want to give in too easily. You wronged me. You’ve made no recompense, other than your confession. And now you want my pardon.” Then she started giggling. “Did you—did you hear about Mrs. Fletcher? She couldn’t stop eating your cookies. Oh, I bet she lost three pounds that day. Oh, what the heck. I forgive you.”

 The giggles took back over. I started laughing with her—the first time I really laughed about this thing that was supposed to be a joke. Mrs. Henry wouldn’t let me leave her class until I could get a serious look to stay on my face. “We can’t let anyone know we think this is funny, can we?”

 Anyway, Dad, I’ve been thinking that this is what you need. Forgiveness. Not the easy kind like Mom or Mrs. Henry gives out. The serious kind. The kind of forgiveness that costs something, you know? More like the way Stephan made Keith’s head pain go away by stomping on his toes. Not quite sure how to do that. I could ask Mrs. Henry. Or maybe you should ask your new guy.

 I’m thinking maybe I could help. Maybe I could take on this burden of yours, Dad, like the way you took on my fear of Mudgett. Maybe you could cash in your I.O.U.

 Your son,

 Trevor

This is my second day of being suspended.

May 18th, 2010

Dear Dad,

 I’ve got some time to write you a long letter today, since this is my second day of being suspended from school.

 Only a few minutes after I mailed your last letter, Brian Haase called me at home, a bit frantic. “Trevor! Caulkins is gonna call you any minute! I just got off the phone with him!” Mr. Caulkins is our vice principal.

 “What’d he say?” For some reason, I was way calmer than Brian. I guess because I pretty much knew this was coming.

 “He said I was suspended for two days! My mom is really pissed! I gotta go!”

 I hung up the phone and jogged into the living room to tell Mom. I still figured it would be better for her to hear it from me first.

 “Mom, I gotta talk to you.” She closed her book over one hand and looked at me. The way her mouth was opened and her eyebrows were pushed together, I could tell she was waiting for me to confess something. She just didn’t know what. “The vice principal’s gonna call any minute, because I’m gonna be in trouble at school.”

 “What did you do?” She pulled her hand out of the book and closed the book shut, losing her place.

 “You know those cookies me and Brian made for the cookie contest? We kind of put Ex-Lax in them. And the teachers—”

 “You what?”

 “We put Ex-Lax in the cookies we made. For the teachers.”

 Bang. She exploded. I was surprised how mad she got and how fast she got there. She kept yelling “You had no right,” and yelled how I might have sent someone to the hospital. She was right in the middle of her rant when the phone rang, which didn’t help. I answered it.

 Caulkins asked me if I knew why he was calling. I said I was pretty sure I did. He asked if I’d like to tell him why. I lied and said I would. Then I told him. He let me know how sick some of the teachers had become, especially Mrs. Fletcher, who I guess spent most of the evening in bed, although I bet she actually spent most of the day in the bathroom. After he told me I was suspended, he asked to talk to my mom. I handed her the phone and listened. She said yes a lot and thanked Caulkins for calling. I bet she really wasn’t very thankful.

 Mom was a bit calmer when she got off the phone, but she was really mad. She acted like I’d done something dangerous. Then she grounded me for two weeks, which seems about right to me. I didn’t mind, really.

 I go back to school tomorrow, because this is the last day of my suspension. All in all not too bad. I hope the teachers don’t hate me, though. And I’m glad it helped you.

 Your son,

 Trevor

I hope you don’t get in trouble on my account.

May 17th, 2010

Dear Trevor,

 I can’t believe you did it. I mean, I believe that you did it, but what you did was an unbelievable act. Smart? Stupid? Mean? Irresponsible? I don’t know. But bold as all hell, boy.

 I hope you don’t get in trouble on my account. “On my account.” A strange set of words, don’t you think? But so true, here. I feel like I’m spending heavily and counting on you to cover the cost. More of my vampiristic nature.

 That said, it worked to a reasonable degree. If your story didn’t take my mind off my plight, it at least provided a little entertainment. Perhaps that’s the best I can hope for. And now I get to sit in suspense, waiting to hear what happened to you. That suspense is a gift of great distraction.

 I’ve had another distraction as well. That newcomer to town that Sung-Hee and Dr. Jones gossiped about came to call on me. I was lying in my bunk when there was a knock at the door. I opened it to this man I’d never seen before.

 “Can—can  I borrow a cup of sugar?” he said.

 “Sugar? You’re joking, surely.”

 “I am. Can—can—can I come in?” I stood back and let him enter. He’s of medium height, about my age, I suppose, but gone much softer than me. His hair is black—or perhaps very dark brown—and, oh, windswept I suppose is an acceptable way to describe it. A scruffy beard doesn’t quite succeed in giving shape to his great double chin. He wears a dark blue suit, but not well. No tie. The suit somehow manages to make him look slobby. He’d likely be better served by a flannel shirt and a pair of work pants. I can imagine him wiping grease off his hands after emerging happily from underneath a car.

 “I—I’ve been looking for you,” he said. He couldn’t seem to get a sentence off without stuttering.. “Name’s Ezra. Ezra Ledford. Hear you—you’ve been looking for me as well.”

 We sat then and swapped our stories. Ezra came to town a few weeks ago. He’d recently retired as a high school teacher and was working abroad, teaching English in Hong Kong. One day he was lunching on fish at his favorite local restaurant when a bone stuck in his throat. “Next thing I knew, I was stepping off a plane into this place,” he said. “But it’s not so b—bad. Been in worse. T—taught school at a logging camp that was nothing but m—mud. Least it’s not cold here. I hate b—being cold. Why’ve you been looking for me?”

 I told him I had no real agenda, other than searching for a way to keep busy.

 “I encourage you to get one,” Ezra said.

 “One what?”

 “An agenda.”

 Trevor, I like this guy. He’s interesting. Not sure why he’s interested in me. Not sure if he’ll remain so. But for now, I like him.

 Let me know what happens with the cookies.

 Dad

We made the cookies. One with this stuff called Ex-Lax.

May 14th, 2010

Dear Dad,

 I got your letter too late. I didn’t come home after school yesterday. I went home with Brian Haase. We made the cookies. Both batches. One with this stuff called Ex-Lax and one normal batch. We brought them to school and entered them in the cookie contest. We hoped we could make sure that only Mr. Schick got the Ex-Lax cookies. But when we showed up at the teacher’s lounge, this pep club girl named Sophie Johnstone just grabbed both plates from us and said, “Ooh! These look yummers! Good luck, boys!”

 Brian and I promised each other we wouldn’t tell anyone what we’d done. I kept my part of the promise, but I’m not sure Brian did, because I heard whispers all day long.

 We never actually saw any of the teachers eat the cookies, but they definitely did. “Did you hear about Mrs. Fletcher?” Rick Jarvis asked me at lunch. “She left math to go to the bathroom five times. The last time she never came back.”

 “Oh, crap,” I said.

 “Exactly,” said Rick, laughing. “Serves her right. She’s such a hag.”

 Mrs. Henry got into the bad cookies, too. I’ll probably burn in hell for that one, because Mrs. Henry is beyond innocent. She’s a force of good. Luckily, she didn’t eat too many. Or at least she didn’t get the runs too bad, because she lasted the whole day.

 Mr. Schick got it bad. Donnie Joad told me he heard that Schick went to the hospital. I’m know that’s not true, but in P.E. he already looked bad, and that’s my first period. He barely made it through Bible class. He excused himself three times. The third time, he didn’t even say anything. He just got up and ran. Brian Haase burst out laughing and a couple of other kids snickered, too. I heard that Mr. Schick tried to go home after lunch, but too many other teachers had already left early, so he had to stay all day long. That’s how I know he didn’t go to the hospital. Brian has P.E. near the end of the day, and he said Schick looked liked a zombie. Schick declared an open play period and then went and sat on the bleachers near the boys’ locker room. Brian thought this was awesome. I mostly did, too, but I’m pretty sure we’ll get busted.

 Now I’m home, wondering if the phone is gonna ring. Wondering if I should tell Mom what I did now, or wait to see if we get caught. Either way, it’s a gamble, right? If I tell her now, I’ll definitely get in trouble, but probably not quite as bad, because she’ll like that I told her ahead of time. If I wait, there’s a slim chance I might never get caught, but if I do, I’ll get in more trouble.

 I think I’m gonna take my chances and hope we don’t get busted. Wish me luck.

 I hope this helps distract you, Dad.

 Your son,

Trevor

I kind of longed for her to scream at me.

May 13th, 2010

Dear Trevor,

 Don’t get into trouble for me. Especially for this. I don’t want any more shame piled on.

 Thanks for telling about your mom missing me. I’m not sure if it helps.

 A few months ago, when your trouble with Mudgett was making you vomit, you told me how your mom would make you feel worse when she’d baby you and call you her “poor dear.” That’s what Ev’s quick forgiveness felt like to me. It made the shame that much harder to bear.

 I kind of longed for her to scream at me. To hit me. To scratch my face and leave a horrible scar that I’d have to bear. Take a baby’s weight of flesh out of my backside. But Ev has never worked that way. She’ll take the sins of the world on herself to avoid causing anyone pain.

 Trevor, tread carefully around the cookie business. Cookies can be dangerous. Get a teacher sick and you could torch your school career. A vengeful teacher can make a kid pretty miserable.

 Dad

I can shock you, too, if that’s what you want.

May 12th, 2010

Dear Dad,

 I think maybe you’ve got the wrong idea about Mom. I think you remember her wrong. She’s not sitting around crying all day. When she gets weepy about the past, it’s more about you being gone than about Meredith being dead. She misses you. I don’t think she’d miss you if she was still pissed at you.

 I could ask her, if you want, if she’s forgiven you. If that’s what you’re worried about, I mean. Is that what you’re looking for? Someone to say, “That’s OK.”

 I can shock you, too, if that’s what you want. I was gonna tell Brian that I didn’t want to join him in the cookie contest plan. It seems kind of mean to me. And I’m pretty sure we’ll get in trouble. But if it would help you, I can do it. Because Brian’s got a plan:

 We go to his house after school on Wednesday. We make the cookies. His mom has this recipe for three-layer brownies that he says are amazing. We just mix in one extra ingredient. A laxative. That’s a kind of medicine that you take when you’re constipated. It totally gives you diarrhea, which I guess is what you want if you’re constipated. Then we make another batch of the cookies that are normal. We pack both kinds of cookies to school. We make sure Mr. Schick gets the diarrhea cookies and we give the normal ones to everybody else. Then we watch as Mr. Schick poops his pants.

 It seems like a pretty good plan. The only problem is that if you look at the names of the other kids who signed up for the cookie contest, they’re all girls from the pep club. They’re like the nerdiest girls in school. They all wear hairbands. Then at the bottom of the list, you see Brian Haase and Trevor Griffiths. If something goes bad with the cookie contest, who are you gonna blame?

 That’s why I said no to Brian. But if it will help you, Dad, I’ll do it. It’s not like Mr. Schick doesn’t deserve it. So after I mail this letter, I’ll call Brian and tell him yes.

 Your son,

 Trevor

Do something irresponsible to slap me out of this hangover.

May 11th, 2010

Dear Trevor,

 If I were to talk about this to your mother, what would I say? She knows what happened. She knows I was there, in charge, when the future of our baby girl was eliminated, when your mother’s own joy stopped breathing.

 It’s strange how quiet tragedy can happen in real life.

 If I could have fought and lost, it would be so much easier to bear. If I’d been bloody and battered, laying half dead next to the all dead baby body, it would have been easy for Ev to forgive me.

 I’m wallowing. I know it.

 I thought this purgatory—if that’s what you call this place—would slowly scrape this burden off of me. But I took it with me into the woods and packed the whole thing back out again. Now I sit with it on my front porch. Maybe it’s like my hunch. Is that what you call it? My lump? I mean, if I were a hunchback, my deformity would be this lump of shame. I’ll take it with me everywhere. It will burn along with the rest of my bones in hell. Maybe it will make heaven a bitter place for me forever.

 I can’t imagine going to heaven, being surrounded by perfect people, and still walking around, hunched over with this crap on my back.

 Enough.

 Trevor, distract me. Tell me about the cookie contest. Shock me. Do something irresponsible to slap me out of this hangover.

 I remember when Keith was little and he’d bang his head on the kitchen counter. He’d whimper about his injury. Steffan would walk up to Keith and gleefully stomp on his foot. Keith would howl with pain and grab his smashed toes. Between sobs, he’d say, “Whadja do that for?”

 “You should thank me,” Steffan would say. “Now your head doesn’t hurt.”

 That’s what I need, Trevor. I need a pain so great that it will make my head stop hurting.

 Dad

Most things are somebody’s fault.

May 7th, 2010

Dear Dad,

I know I asked you to tell me all this stuff, but it’s a lot to handle. I feel like you should be telling this to Mom, not to me.

I guess I knew most of it—the basics at least—but I never really felt it before, you know? And it’s weird to think about Meredith like she was a real baby. Before your letters, she was a name out of an old story. And she was a tombstone. Or a name on a tombstone. That flowery little stone in the children’s section at Washington Memorial that we visit with Mom once a year. Mom still puts baby flowers on the grave. Baby’s breath, I think it’s called. I never thought about how weird that was until I wrote those words just now. Baby’s breath.

Maybe it’s too early to ask, but I’m wondering if you feel any better. I had this screwy idea that if you talked about what happened, you’d have some sort of weight lifted off your shoulders. Anything?

In movies about stuff like this, people always say things like, “It’s not your fault!” Then they shake the person by the shoulders and everyone cries, then look out at a sunset or stare out a rainy window or some moody crap like that.

But I think maybe it was your fault. Most things are somebody’s fault. We try hard to work things out so no one has to take the blame, but maybe on this one you do need to take the blame. I mean, you screwed up.

So now what?

Your son,

Trevor

Death got covered in equipment.

May 6th, 2010

Dear Trevor,

Sorry it’s taken me a few days to respond to you. No excuses worth noting here other than it’s taken me that long to find the gumption to finish this story.

Back on that day, the next fifteen minutes were the most mind-bending of my life. Ev walked upstairs, still angry with me. I could hear what sounded like your mother crying in the distance and I thought, “What could she possibly be crying about now? All I did was watch a football game.” Then I heard her voice, still soft from upstairs, but broken with sobs, telling me to call 911.

I knew right then. At least that’s where my imagination went. I imagined the worst–that our little Meredith had stopped breathing. I picked up a cordless phone and dialed. The operator came on and asked my emergency and I told her just that–that our baby had stopped breathing. She calmly said an ambulance was on the way and asked me to describe what had happened. I said I didn’t know. Then I ran upstairs.

Ev was trying to breathe life back into that tiny baby. The baby wouldn’t have it.

I was glad for the operator on the phone. I needed someone to talk to other than Ev. I laid out the scene for her until the paramedics took over our house. From that point on, things got really technical. Death got covered in equipment. Bulbs and tubes and monitors. It seemed more official that way.

Your mom cried for days. Weeks. I don’t know if I ever did.

We had a funeral. The saddest of sad days.

We went on to fill our house with four more kids. You included. That stopped the crying pretty well. Nothing takes your mind off a dead child like a house full of chaotic joy.

Then I died. And here I am. It all makes a kind of sense. I fixed the problem by replacing Meredith four times over. I paid my debt in a sense. Now I’m serving my time. Least that’s how I see it.

If your mom had asked to have 10 more kids, I would have said yes. I would have said yes to almost anything.

Dad

I’m still afraid of your next letter.

April 30th, 2010

Dear Dad,

It’s weird, because I know how the story ends, at least so far. I know that Meredith dies. I have a pretty good idea how it all happened. But I’m still afraid of your next letter.

I think I know you better now than I did when you were alive. I was a baby. We never talked. Now sometimes I wish we didn’t talk so much. Or didn’t talk so much about such heavy stuff. I wish we had that day-to-day thing where you’d ask, “How was your day?” I’d say, “Fine.” We’d go see a movie about a magician and you’d say, “So what did you think?” I’d say, “I liked it until Tesla started making clones of everything. It got really stupid after that.”

Talking is different when we write stuff down. No one makes small talk in letters. Well, maybe girls do. I bet Misty Lee could blather on about nothing for ten pages with no problem. But in our letters, it’s always life or death stuff. Maybe once we get past this we could share lists of favorite songs or books or pizza toppings. Something small like that.

Whew. I bet this is hard for you.

Maybe this will take your mind off of it. Brian Haase wants to talk about cookies. He says that the cookie contest the teachers are judging is a week from this Thursday and we need to have A Plan. “Let’s get together at lunch and make our strategy.” Brian is one of those guys who seems all quiet, but once he gets an idea, he’s like an army general. I can tell he’s already committed to some kind of idea in his head. He’s got that caveman-on-the-hunt look in his eyes. Blackie the Dog gets the same look when he sees Mrs. Johnson’s cat. He can picture the hunt, step-by-step, all the way to the kill.

I bet you’re barely able to concentrate on that, thinking about Meredith. I get why this is so hard for you. Stick it out, Dad. You’re halfway there.

Your son,

Trevor

She was six months old at the time.

April 29th, 2010

Dear Trevor,

I’ve been thinking about that IOU. I even wrote it out, so that you’d take me seriously when I asked to cash it in. It’s sitting right here in front of me now. I have other plans for it. But I do appreciate your offer, you persistent little punk. And now you’re threatening me, too. You pulled the mom card. It’s enough, Trevor. Enough to even push my way to a bit of a beginning about this story.

So here goes:

You guessed that it happened 19 years ago. You were close. If you are 13 now, then it was almost exactly 20 years. I’ve been dead for eight of those. Part of me has been dead the full two decades.

It was a Sunday. About 10 a.m. One of those spring days when it was sunny one minute and then rainy the next. Your mom put Meredith down for a nap in the upstairs bedroom—the one Rhonda must be using now. Ev told me to check on the baby in an hour and not let her sleep too long. Then she took Steffan with her to church. I was home alone with Meredith.

She was six months old at the time. I got to know that baby pretty well in half a year, because that was her entire life. With babies, the soul is all smells and burps and velvety skin. Meredith’s soul smelled like soap. She had your Mom’s unpredictable eyes. Green one day and brown the next depending on the weather and the color of her onesy. She had Ev’s disposition as well—out to make everyone happy all the time. Quiet and happy. Ready to smile at even the hint of a peekaboo. Ev would stare at her and say, “I’d rather watch you than TV any day.”

That morning, Meredith was asleep. I sat down in front of the television and started watching an East Coast football game. Philadelphia Eagles vs. the Washington Redskins. I didn’t care about either team, but football was my Sunday morning routine and I am a man of habit. Still am. As I recall, the Redskins made a rout of it and it was a lousy game to watch. No matter. I watched anyway.

Two hours later, your mom came home. I can still hear her church heels on the front porch steps, still hear her hello as she opened the door. “Where’s my baby?” she asked happily, looking around the living room.

That’s when I realized I’d left Meredith upstairs the entire time without checking on her. A slight infraction, right? The slightest imaginable. I mumbled something about her still being asleep. Ev instantly got mad at me. “Have you even checked on her?”

“I haven’t.”

“Do you even know if she’s OK?”

“She’s a baby,” I said, joking. “How much trouble can she get into?”

That joke. If I could take one thing back in my life, it would be that joke.

I’m stopping right there, Trevor. If I could find a liquor store up in this town, I’d drink myself all the way to oblivion, then drink a few more miles, just to be sure.

Dad

I’m not gonna back off on this one.

April 28th, 2010

Dear Dad,

I’m not gonna leave you alone, you stubborn old bastard.

Remember way back in December, when we made that bargain? When you took on my fear of Mudgett? You said that in exchange, you’d file away an IOU. How about if you use it now? How about if I take on your fear of telling this story? How about if you give me your fear and then write freely?

Either way, I’m not gonna back off on this one, so you might as well spill. You’ve been talking about talking about this all year. It’s time you got down to it. Get it over with. Do.

If you don’t tell me, I’ll ask Mom.

Your son,

Trevor

You are getting on my nerves.

April 27th, 2010

Dear Trevor,

You are getting on my nerves. I wish you would shut up about this topic. I wish you would leave me the hell alone.

I can’t do it. I can’t open my mouth about this one.

Dad

“Do you know how Meredith actually died?”

April 26th, 2010

Dear Dad,

I asked Rhonda about Meredith. I figure since you aren’t telling me, I might as well dig a little on my own. Like I said, I’m just gonna keep writing about it until you spill your guts.

That’s one advantage of having a dead dad. I can sass you all I want and you have to put up with it. I’m mostly joking, Dad. I’m not trying to be a pain in the butt. I’m trying to get you to unload, you know?

Anyway, Rhonda is my only real option. No way I’m asking Mom, because I know you’d really freak out if I brought her into it. Mom would probably tell me the real story if I asked. She keeps a lot of stuff to herself, but if you ask her, she’ll tell.

I just asked Rhonda straight out. I walked into her bedroom—upstairs. She was listening to some weird county-punk music and lying on her bed looking at the ceiling. I turned off her music and said, “Hey.”

“Hey.” She didn’t look up. Must have been something really amazing on that ceiling.

“Do you know how Meredith actually died?”

“Our Meredith?”

“Yeah.”

“Why? And why didn’t you knock?”

“I just wanna know. No one’s ever told me and I figure she was practically my sister.”

“’Course she was your sister, you little dork. She’s just dead. Why’ve you been so weird lately?”

“I don’t know. Puberty. So how’d she die?”

Rhonda finally turned onto her side. “Crib death, I guess.”

“Which means…”

“Which means that some babies just die in their cribs. Like they don’t get enough oxygen. Their faces get too smooshed into the sheets and they just keep breathing in the same air over and over until they suffocate. Happens all the time.”

“How do you prevent it?”

“What, are you planning to have a baby or something? Geez. I guess you make the baby sleep on its back or something.”

“How come they didn’t do that with Meredith?”

“You ever tried to keep a baby on it’s back? Baby are intrinsically squirmy. Besides, they didn’t know better back then. Now go away. And close the door. And knock next time.”

I left. I have no idea if Rhonda is telling me the truth or not. Anything you want to share here, Dad?

Your son,

Trevor

I don’t feel like I have a right to tell this story.

April 23rd, 2010

Dear Trevor,

I don’t feel like I have a right to tell this story. Just the act of telling it will be one more thing that needs to be forgiven.

I don’t know how to start.

I am the villain in this tale. No. Villain is more appealing than my role. My crime was less active but no less unforgiveable.

Can we avoid it for another few days? Can I talk about your math test? About how proud I am of you? About how I hope your Mom lets you take taekwondo lessons? Believe me, I’m in no position to ask her for anything, although I’ve asked her for so much throughout my life.

That’s all I’ve got for you today, Trevor.

Dad

    About

    Letter Off Dead is an actual transcript of letters sent between a 7th grade boy and his dead father. It covers the subjects of life and death, faith and doubt, fathers and sons.

    The textual transcript has been edited and presented here by Tom Llewellyn, a writer from Tacoma, Washington. The illustrations have been edited and presented by artist James Stowe, also from Tacoma. None of the content has anything to do with Tom's or James' beloved and very separate employers.

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