Phil’s voice is stuck in my head. I still dream about him most nights.
I can hear him speaking to me in the dreams, but I wake up never quite being able to remember what exactly it was that he said. Somehow his voice still echoes in my head.
In every dream he is always wearing the same thing; dark fitted, jeans, black converse sneakers, a faded green shirt with the name of some metal band on it, and my old blue bandana I gave him tied around his neck. His hair is shorter than normal, like after the first time we buzzed it. He looks goofy. He is tapping his foot a bit anxiously and his cigarette is dangling in his left hand. He is not exactly the type of guy you bring home to mom and dad, but he was the best guy I knew and my parents would recognize that. They never really questioned my choices in friends, and although upon a first glance there might have been slight judgment, it took only a few moments for both of my parents to understand the innocent sweetness lying below Phil’s hardened exterior. He quit smoking for a while when he was 17 and although it only lasted about a year, I couldn’t have been more proud for that year. Although we were only 17 a few years ago, it seems much longer now. After he successfully cut himself off for the year he gave the rest of his Nicorette gum to my mom because he knew how much I wanted her to quit. She did. Thanks Phil.
One of the dreams I manage to remember bits of is about me spilling some chemical on him in our chemistry class in which he was my lab partner. I was absolutely horrible at chemistry and he completely got me through it. Whatever I spilled on him stung and stained his hand for a week. He just laughed and restarted the experiment. He never really cared that he had to slow down to explain things or fix whatever formula I messed up. Always patient.
I like that he was dressed like his old self in my dreams. Not that stupid suit they put him in. The only time I ever saw him in a suit was prom and he hated it, although he cleaned up quite nicely. I strain my mind all morning trying to find the words he was saying to me in my dreams. Even just knowing one word in one dream would be enough. It was like I could hear his voice, but it was too far away to make out exactly what it was he was saying. For some reason I imagine the words being about the time he called me frantically because he had run over a bunny in his huge white Jeep Grand Cherokee with a bumper sticker on the back that said “No thanks, keep the change,” referring to Obama. I don’t know how I was best friends with a die-hard conservative republican… but I was.
On the outside one could say Phil and I were pretty different. I fit my stereotype as a white 17-year-old liberal girl living in suburban New Jersey. I got good grades, did my homework, listened to the top 40, and never got so much as a detention in school. Phil didn’t fit a lot of stereotypes; he was a 17-year-old conservative metal head living in a highly liberal suburban town and was more sensitive than many girls I know. I thought he must have been kidding when he called me about that little rabbit, but he wasn’t. I am pretty sure he almost shed a tear when he ran the bunny over. Not quite your usual metal head. He would kill me for telling you that.
On a Thursday night late in February I don’t remember having any dreams at all. I had spent the entire night in the hospital with an IV hooked up to my arm as I went in and out of consciousness. I was lucky enough to come down with the stomach flu right in the middle of the semester. Even though I am 22-years-old now, I have always had and still have, a crippling fear of needles, getting blood drawn or anything intravenous.
My mom used to joke that she never had to worry about me ever doing any drugs. Not like I was really the rebellious type anyway. My two friends had literally carried me to Hartford Hospital that Thursday night. They had to talk me out of hysteria before they could put the IV in my arm that would end my current pain and misery. I barely remember that at all. I hadn’t stopped throwing up in nearly 5 hours and had nothing left to give. The only thing on my mind was feeling better. Finally at five in the morning they brought me home, where I slept soundly and utterly dreamlessly until 10 in the morning. I woke up to my mom standing in my dorm room. She woke up early and drove from Jersey to take care of me. I still couldn’t get out of bed so she left to pick up the prescription the hospital gave me to end the nausea. She was gone for about 20 minutes.
“Jules, have you heard?” Laura hadn’t called in a while. I selfishly assumed she found out I was sick and wanted to check in. Laura and I don’t talk often; she is more of my sister than my best friend. We don’t really need to talk because we always just pick up where we left off. I set Laura up with Phil when she was 16 and he was 17. They fell very hard and very quickly for each other and their little paradise together lasted about a year. He left for college and he left her behind. It took her months to move on. First love. Something about him was beginning to change around that time but we couldn’t figure out what. I could just see it in his eyes that the sweet, sensitive, high school Phil, my Phil, wouldn’t last forever. The look in his eyes had hardened. I didn’t know what college would bring for Phil, but I was worried.
“What? No. Heard what?” I was rather delirious and didn’t understand what I was supposed to have heard.
“Julia. Phil died.” She spit the words out quickly like she had been choking on them. I could hear her trying to control her voice, which was wavering as she attempted to hold back tears.
“I don’t understand.”
“Julia, Phil is dead. He died this week, maybe as early as Tuesday. They found him last night.”
“Laura I don’t understand what you are saying.” I had now sat up in my bed and tried to wrap my mind around her words, but I was confused. I hadn’t talked to Phil in a year. He just kind of disappeared from my life. He went to Rutgers University and left his home life behind, and that included me. I don’t blame him. We both changed. It was to be expected. I couldn’t name any of his friends; tell you if he liked it there, if he had a girlfriend, or really anything at all. I only knew high school Phil. Sensitive, harmless Phil. I could hear Laura crying now as she tried to explain.
“Juj, he overdosed. Josh found him last night. It was heroin.”
I didn’t cry. It couldn’t have been real. I was delirious, drained and I must have been dreaming. Phil died. He overdosed. On heroin. I didn’t understand. Cigarettes were the farthest he ever went with drugs in high school. One of my dreams is about how before he quit smoking I wouldn’t let him smoke on my front lawn, so he would stand just over the property line telling me how ridiculous I was being. I like to think I helped influence his year away from cigarettes.
“Are you okay?” I asked. Of course Laura wasn’t okay. How could she be okay?
“I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him in a long time. I’m on my way home right now,” she mumbled through her muffled sobs.
“Okay, I have to go now, call me again. I love you Laura.” My room was spinning. I am not sure if it was from the news or the lack of anything in my system, or maybe both. I was now both mentally and physically comatose. My mom walked back into my room and I was just sitting there, completely paralyzed with shock and grief, silently staring at the picture of Phil and me in our yearbook. He is wearing the outfit I see him in my dreams, and I am on his back sticking my tongue out at the camera and he is laughing. The picture was taken at the end of our senior year. Life was really good. We used to drive around for hours, or nap on my front lawn, or swim in my neighbors pool. We would drift in and out of classes, parties and endless adventures. I remember when this picture was taken; we were at a school pep rally outside even though neither of us was exactly into school spirit. It was a particularly warm May afternoon and I spent the majority of it on his back being carried around. He would barely even notice me there; my 85 pounds did very little to weigh down his 185 pounds. Three years had passed since then, almost exactly, when my mom interrupted my daze.
“Jules I picked up your prescription, some Gatorade, and saltines. I am not sure if you are ready for the saltines yet. You should start with some watered down Gatorade. Jules are you hearing me? Are you okay? Julia?” She pushed my bangs out of my face to see my bloodshot eyes. “Julia, what is wrong?”
“Will you take me home?” I was calm. Still in shock I suppose. I couldn’t get myself to understand how he could have overdosed on heroin. That would involve him doing heroin. That was ridiculous, there was no way. Not Phil. I looked down at the bruise on my arm from the IV the night before. Did he have the same bruise? I couldn’t look at it anymore. I used to cringe when I saw a bruise like that because I knew what it was from. Not Phil’s though. My little bruised saved me. His little bruise killed him.
“Um…yes, maybe it would be better for you to recover at home. Is everything okay?”
“Phil overdosed. He is dead. I need to go home for his funeral.”
“Phil? What? On what? How did you hear? I am so sorry Jules. Are you okay?” My mom loved Phil too. He was good to me and she knew that. She looked right past his image. She trusted him. We drove home fifteen minutes later.
They dressed him in that stupid black suit. His hair was a bit long and curly. It was open casket. I had never been to an open casket wake. I honestly thought he might just wake up. He would have been mad to know he was in a suit. I was mad he was in a suit. I think I will just stick to the image of him in my dreams. The Phil I knew. My Phil. I never used to remember my dreams before Phil’s death, and now I wake up most mornings straining to remember a little bit more about him. I wish I knew what he was saying to me. What was he saying to me in those dreams? I have to know. I never want to forget his voice. The dreams are all I have left of him and his voice. I can’t forget. Don’t forget.