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May You Not Rest as Long as I Am Living

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“She was much too fond of Heathcliff. The greatest punishment we could invent for her was to keep her separate from him.”
Wuthering Heights
Chapter 5

Eddie had always heard it told that in someone’s last moments, their lives flash before their eyes. As his breathing slowed and his heart followed, somewhere in the back of his mind, he wondered when the flashes of his memories would come. The small piece of him that was fading screamed out to stay on this side of the veil. He had to stay with you. He had to wipe the tears from your face, from Dustin’s face. He had to make sure you both got out of this hellscape. Then he could sleep.

“Get him home, love. You gotta get Dustin back…” he choked around the blood in his mouth and spoke no more. He hoped you heard him. He didn’t last long enough to know if you did or not, but the time for him to sleep had arrived. Eddie’s eyes dimmed as he sunk into death’s cold embrace.

He learned reasonably soon that instead of his memories clicking past like the pictures of the slide shows he never paid attention to in class, they faded in and out slowly. They were feature-length films he relived in vivid detail. In every single one of the films, you had top billing.

Forest Hills Trailer Park
May 1975

“Run home and don’t come back here! These are mine and Eddie’s swings now! Let all your little friends know too!”

The bully lay sniveling in the dirt, eyes filled with tears he refused to shed. The shame of a scrawny girl two years younger than him knocking him flat on his ass must have stung more than his split lip.

“Whatever!” He screamed at the pair of you. “I don’t wanna get too close to you freaks anyway! I might get fleas!”

“Yeah! Fleas and lice AND worms! Now run before I give you rabies while I’m at it!” The fierce little thing snarled like a beast, showing off permanent teeth that were still too large for her small, round face.

“Stupid freaks!” The boy kicked up dirt as he ran back to his home on the opposite end of Forest Hills trailer park.

Eddie looked up in awe from where he’d sat in shock on the ground behind you. Maybe he was just a child, struck with a silly thought. He was only ten years old, after all. However, at that moment, he couldn’t think of a more beautiful girl in the entire world.

“Are you okay, Eddie?” Your tiny hand was outstretched, offering to help him up. He took it and simply nodded.

“H-how do you know my name?” You were new to the neighborhood and Eddie was a shy kid. He hadn’t worked up the courage to ask you to play with him before today.

“Well,” you started, looking a little sheepish, kicking bare toes in the dirt. “Mama says I’m very perceptive. Which is a big word that means I notice lots of things. I think that’s a nice way of her saying that I’m nosey,” your button nose scrunched up as your little fingers tugged at the hem of your dirty dress. “Anyway, I just live right across the road so it’s easy for me to hear when folks yell. And I hear your dad yelling your name a lot.”

Eddie winced at that and your eyes flew to his. Your hand was back in his, not to help him up this time, but just to hold it. Warmth bloomed in his tiny chest.

“Do you like spaghetti?” You began walking to your trailer, Eddie following close and gripping your hand a bit tighter.

“Umm, sure.”

“My mama is making some and it’s almost dinner time. Do you wanna eat with us?”

He looked back at the empty, dark trailer. He had no idea where his dad was or when he’d be back. The thought of Honeycomb cereal with no milk as his third meal in a row wasn’t very appealing.

“Yeah. I can.”

That night, Eddie learned that you had a mom and a dad that sat together and ate dinner with you just like the families in TV shows did. Your mom smelled like lavender and Marlboro Reds and made the best food he’d ever eaten before in his life. Her cooking was even better than the burgers and milkshakes from the diner Uncle Wayne would take him to every other Friday on his day off from the plant. Your dad smelled like the woods and wore boots caked in dried mud that he left by the door on a mat. He drove log trucks and told Eddie he even got to use the machine that picked the logs up and loaded them onto the trucks some days.

The later he stayed, Eddie expected to be herded out of the door and sent on his way. He was sure that he would wear his welcome out. Since that never happened, he ended up sitting with you on your couch watching TV. You’d waved him over as soon as your plates were in the sink to join you, patting the cushion next to yours and grinning. It was some cartoon that you seemed to love, explaining who the characters were and what was happening while waving your hands around excitedly. Eddie never watched a moment of the technicolor pictures that flashed before him. He couldn’t stop watching you.

At some point, Eddie must have fallen asleep. The trailer was dark aside from the glow of a single lamp in the corner of the living room. He was almost asleep again when he heard soft voices from the kitchen.

“What can we do, Gene? I mean, you saw how he inhaled that plate. The poor thing’s so skinny,” It was your mom and dad. He heard the flick of a lighter and a deep inhale. The exhale that followed was long and loud. “I can’t just send him back over to that man.”

Eddie was called stupid regularly, but even a stupid person knows when they’re being talked about.

“I’m not sayin’ we do nothin’, Mary,” your dad sighed heavily. “But we have to be careful. I’ve known that Munson guy long enough to know we need to give him a wide berth.”

Eddie’s heart sunk. He knew it felt too good to be true. It only made sense that the curse of his last name would haunt him forever. He felt like a neon sign reading STAY AWAY followed him around hanging over his head.

“So,” he continued. “No cops. No fuckin’... CPS or whatever. They’d just disrupt the boy’s life even more. Might even stick him in an even worse situation.”

“I agree. I wish I could do more, but warm meals and some peace will have to be enough.”

“We’ll just keep our doors open. Let him know he’s got a place here if he needs it.”

Eddie scrunched his face to keep the tears from spilling over. He felt all warm in his chest, like when Uncle Wayne buys him new comics or takes him to the movies. When he was older, he looked back and realized those were times when he felt safe, the times he felt wanted.

That night was the first of many he spent in your living room over the next few years. It was the only time in his short life that he didn’t feel completely alone. Looking back, he didn’t realize just how important those years were and just how much he would miss them when they ended.

Hawkins Memorial Hospital
July 1980

Eddie’s knees ached from kneeling on the cold linoleum floor at your feet, but he didn’t move away from you. There was only one chair in the tiny room bisected by white curtains. He knows he could have probably asked the nurse for an extra chair, but when the boy walked in to see you sat there, tears streaming down your face, he ran to you and couldn’t bear the thought of parting from you even for a moment.

You fell asleep at some point, your hand still buried in Eddie’s short curls. Ever since you mentioned to him a few months ago how pretty you thought they were, he’d refused the haircuts his Uncle Wayne had tried to give him. I was nearly long enough to gather into a ponytail at this point; a fact you made him aware of one day when you tried sitting on top of him and putting a pink bow in his hair.

That was before all the doctor visits and hospital stays. They told you that your dad’s cancer was very aggressive and that they’d do what they could. This time, however, you all knew you wouldn’t be taking him back home.

A cacophony of sounds erupted from the machines attached to your dad. In a flash, you were both on your feet. Eddie ran to the nurse’s desk as you fell upon the bed, weeping into your dad’s hospital gown, screaming out to a god who had remained indifferent throughout the ordeal thus far.

By the time your mom made it to the hospital from Bradley’s Big Buy where she was working that day, he was already gone. When he was finally able to drag you home that night, it was well after midnight. Eddie held you as you exchanged stories and laughed and wept. It was the first significant loss for both of you. He’d never known the woman who gave birth to him, so even though her absence was felt, he had no memories or fondness attached to her. Sometimes he wished his old man would disappear, so he doesn’t think losing him would hurt too much. It most definitely wouldn’t hurt like losing your dad, the only other adult in the world who had given a shit about Eddie besides your mom and Uncle Wayne.

The funeral was a miserable affair. Eddie was relieved when it was over so that he didn’t have to keep answering invasive questions from your extended family about who he was and why he was glued to your side. That morning, you begged for him to stay with you and Eddie never refused you anything.

“My aunt will be here today,” you explained while tying his tie for him (a dark green one Uncle Wayne brought over to him last night along with some decent second-hand dress clothes that felt awkward on his body). “I can’t stand the thought of being around her. Promise you’ll be with me the whole time?” Your hands lingered on his chest as you looked up at him with wet eyes threatening to spill over for the hundredth time. Eddie’s poor fifteen-year-old body nearly vibrated from the contact.

“Course I will, Pip,” he reassured you, using the nickname you’d given each other after reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time. You’d insisted they were as close as Merry and Pippin and would stay that way forever, sharing adventures like the brave hobbits from the book had done. Eddie pulled you into a hug, your tears wetting the front of his shirt. He didn’t mind, though. It was worth it to know you were comforted by his presence. His mom might have left him, and his dad might smack him around, but when Eddie was with you, he felt important. He felt needed. He’d wear wet shirts every day if it meant he got to be near you.