By Tatum Jenkins | @tatumcoconate
The summer before my freshman year of high school, a kid died. I was in the McDonald's drive-thru when I found out. In between my mom's voice slicing the humid Illinois heat to order a burger, my brother said it. “I think Kyle Farr is dead.”
I turned around in my seat, my thighs unsticking from my leather car seat. “What do you mean?”
Kids my age don't just die. At least that's what I'd been told.
“Everyone’s posting on Instagram. Look.” My brother turned his phone screen to me as he spoke. Images of the fair-haired, freckled boy passed before my eyes, every single one captioned “#RIPKyle.”
“What happened?” my mom asked as she pulled up to another window to grab our food. I felt stuck. This doesn't happen to people my age. How could it?
I will never forget where I was when I heard that Kyle died, and I think most of the kids in my class won't either. I'll never forget the itchy sweat that crawled along my brows and under my thighs like spiders. I will never forget only being able to look at the glassy McDonald's menu, at the cold drinks for two or three dollars when I learned that I was, in fact, not indestructible. It's sad to me how I can only really remember those details rather than how that moment felt.
On July 2, 2015, NBC Bay Area News reported, “A 14-year-old Los Gatos boy was killed in a jet ski crash at Bass Lake, a popular summer getaway just south of Yosemite National Park. Investigators said the boy, identified as Kyle Farr, along with an 18 year old were aboard a Sea-Doo late Wednesday when they hit a moored pontoon boat. ”
On July 1, 2015, it was my best friend’s fourteenth birthday and I was at my family’s house in Crystal Lake, Illinois. I remember calling her on our landline, going into my grandparents’ bedroom, which had the best view of the street and the lake. I laid on my stomach, my lanky legs sprawled out on the dull-colored blanket, as I wished her a happy birthday. We would have time to celebrate, I knew.
Once I ended the call, I got off the bed and sat in a black office chair that faced a view of the lake. I was small enough to fold my limbs into myself, my skinny arms hugging my thighs and calves to my chest. The lake was so still that day. I can’t remember if it was sunny or cloudy that day, if the lake turned to diamonds or tidal waves before my eyes. All I remember is how still it was.
On July 2, 2015, NBC Bay Area News reported, “Farr was thrown into the water from the collision and later died, officials said.” When I first heard he died, I always wondered exactly what happened. How dark was it? Did he cry out for anyone? Did he know he was going to die? The saddest thought is the fact that the one holding him when he died was the lake, its cold depths swaddling him in shallow waves.
I came back to California just in time for his funeral. I didn’t know what I was supposed to wear. I didn’t know him well enough to wear all black. I felt like a fake. Was I allowed to mourn for someone I didn’t know?
I decided to wear a beige colored dress with black shoes. I never wore that dress again after the funeral.
I remember walking into the church with a few of my friends. We chose a pew to the left somewhat toward the back. I locked eyes with my favorite teacher, my seventh grade English teacher, the teacher who taught me to listen to my own voice, who noticed the quiet girl that sat in the middle of her class loved words just as much as she did. She gave me a solemn wave. I turned back around. I had lost the voice and the words she had given me.
I don’t remember much about the funeral. I remember crying and feeling bad about crying. I remember each tear feeling like a betrayal as it ran down my cheeks. I shouldn’t be allowed to be sad. Because while I learned that I was not indestructible, his friends learned they could lose someone they thought was indestructible.
I do remember his mother following his oak-colored coffin though. I remember her, soaked in grief, a ghostly, pale woman except for the bright red spots on her cheeks, sobbing into the plush matter of a teddy bear. His teddy bear. She cried as though she were trying to chip away pieces of herself, almost as if praying that some divine force would take her away instead and gently place her son’s body back into the lake, shivering and conscious and alive on the night of July 1, 2015.
At fourteen, I knew. It would be the saddest thing I would ever see in my life. So much about my life has changed except for that.
We exited the church to the song “See You Again.” It was the same song everyone in my class heard when we walked down the concrete steps of the local park, sweaty hands holding our middle school diplomas, and walking into the future. A future we thought would include all of us.
Outside the church doors were people handing out Cheetos with Kyle’s picture on them. I reluctantly grabbed a bag, looking at Kyle’s face printed on a small sheet of white paper stapled onto the bright orange snack bag. I hate Cheetos. This kid is dead and this was his favorite snack and all I can think about is the fact that I hate Cheetos. When I got home, I threw the bag in the trash, his chubby face smiling up at me from the bottom of the trash can in my kitchen.
A year later, I was with my friend, Kelsey, in Tahoe when I talked about Kyle for the first time.
“Where did he die?” she asked, looking shocked.
Bass Lake, I told her, near Yosemite. She went silent, then spoke.
“I was at a camp last year on Bass Lake. They shut down the lake for a few days and we weren’t allowed to do anything in the water. We never knew why that happened.”
I wanted to ask her: Was the lake still that day? Did you feel a tremor in the night when the lake held his body as his last breath left him? Could you feel it?
I don’t ask her those questions.
I still think about him. I don’t know why, but I do. My chest aches everytime as if I’m drowning. I will never believe I’m indestructible again.