A Requiem for Javier

Ana’s Pick
Dave S. Shearer


Colin stood at the top of the bridge looking out over the bay in the moonlight. His dark hair flipped and fluttered and his jacket ripped loudly in the breeze. The bay stared back at him, a sea of living ink, churning and crawling in the night. Somewhere down below lay the body of his best friend Javier Ruiz. He had lain in a sunken grave for exactly one year to the day.

Colin stared at the water, watching the way the moonlight played off of the waves. He tried not to imagine the body of his friend beneath the water’s darkness, but the images came anyway. He saw a skeleton covered in barnacles, crabs scurrying back and forth across fish-eaten bones. He forced himself to push the image away and after a moment he saw Javier again as he had been, dark eyes shining within his deep olive complexion, handsome and bold, an image of youth and vigor. Colin looked back at the water. “There are worse places to be buried,” he supposed. “At least it’s quiet…”

Javi would have been nineteen three weeks before and Colin had gone to his mother’s house to see her. She had cried when she saw him, arms open wide to hug him as she greeted him at the front door. She had looked so much older than Colin had remembered her. Her hair was long and graying and deep lines had formed into her face. She had cried again when she brought his picture into the kitchen where Colin sat at the table eating banana bread. It was the same banana bread they had eaten as little children, when Javi called it ‘nana’ bread and his mother had always said that was just fine because her mother had taught her the recipe anyway. She continued to cry as she talked about her son and how talented he was at everything he put his mind to.

“He’s still out there Colin,” she said in her mild accent through her tears. “I know it Colin. My little chico is out there somewhere.” She cried until he felt shamefully exhausted and had excused himself. Unable to stomach anymore banana bread and powerless to ease a mother’s tears, he had kissed Mrs. Ruiz on the cheek and went back out the front, a hollow thud trailing him as he had closed the door behind him.

And so tonight on the anniversary of Javi’s death he had come out to the bridge. Earlier in the night there had been a fair amount of folks fishing or crabbing from behind the stone walls of the bridge’s sides. Colin had hung out and waited as the night saw them all disappear one by one until only he remained.

How many times had he and Javier stood there at the top of the world (or so it had always seemed)? He couldn’t remember. What he did remember was that first night, the night Javi had put in motion the cycle of events that had both bonded and broke them in the brotherhood of a secret shared.

It had started back in freshman year. Jake Standwill had told them a story that eventually turned into a dare. Jake was a small kid with glasses two times too big for his face, and a set of ears to match. His older brother was a senior and happened to be the source of Jake’s questionable information. Jake had told Colin, Javi, and a small group of other boys that a couple of varsity baseball players engaging in a hazing ritual had jumped from the Ponquogue Bridge where the Shinnecock Bay ran next to the ocean along Dune Road on the south shore of Long Island.

Jake said it was a hundred feet to the water from the top of the bridge. Colin doubted it, but since he had never measured it himself, nor knew anyone who had, he kept his mouth shut and listened to the story. Apparently one of the guys was nervous or something and he hit the water wrong when he jumped and he began to drown. Luckily, someone was there with some kind of boat and they were able to get him out of the water in time. He had almost died, at least that was what Jake had said, but Jake was a documented liar, so who really knew? It wasn’t like Colin was going to go ask one of the seniors or anything.

Javi had always been the type of kid to push his luck, jumping off five-foot ramps with his bike, picking fights with the older boys twice his size, and riding heavy waves at the ocean even on red flag days. Colin was always there with him, a disciple of poor judgment and lack of inhibition. He was Javi’s sidekick, his “mejor amigo,” as Javi always said himself. They had grown close over the years ever since they had first started playing together in grade school, and despite their differences in skin color they were like the closest of brothers. Colin had always admired Javi and sought to emulate him in every way he could.

Javi had told Jake that anyone could jump off that bridge if they only knew how to do it, and furthermore, that Javi could jump off that bridge himself with his eyes closed, (Colin supposed the latter part wasn’t as important as you would probably close your eyes anyway), so of course Jake had dared him to do it.

The next Friday, they had snuck out of Jake’s house where they were sleeping over, creeping quietly out the back door and hauling their bikes from the bushes where they had hid them earlier that day. The group was Javi, Jake, and Colin, as well as Timmy Waterson and Forest Mitchell, two other kids from their grade who they hung out with. They had ridden swiftly down south shore roadways under the lush May foliage of a blossoming Long Island summer. They peddled as if pulled by the tide, racing and laughing, whizzing through the spotlights of lonely streetlamps, their shadows struggling to keep up. At last they came to the bridge, rising above the water like a tremendous leviathan.

They parked their bikes at the foot of the bridge in the shadows of the thick reeds that grew along the shore and began to make their way up the bridge’s slope. The steep ascent quickly tired the boy’s legs and a few groans escaped their mouths as they hiked up the asphalt. At last they made it to the top, the air seeming to “open” more around them as they stood in the center of the road. They had left late enough that no one else was on the bridge. They were alone.

No one really thought that Javi was going to do it except maybe Javi himself. They figured he would chicken out and they would call him a ‘pussy’ and then they would sneak back home. Javi, however, seemed determined to make the night memorable. He walked to the stone wall at the side of the bridge and looked over. Forest joined him.

“Man, that’s high!” Forest exclaimed. He let out a long whistle.

Javi set his eyes out on the bay like Columbus looking upon the new world for the first time. He looked to Colin almost as if he were someone else, as if Colin had never seen him before in his life.

“You see?” asked Jake. “I told you it was crazy.”

Javi said nothing for a minute, then he turned around and looked at all of them and smiled. “Well, we didn’t come all the way up here to just turn back now,” he said.

Jake snorted. “Yeah right. You’re not going to do it,” he said.

Javi simply smiled and began to start taking off his shirt.

Jake saw that he intended to uphold the dare and began to get worried. “Javi, this is crazy,” said Jake, his voice sounding a little panicky.

“You shouldn’t have dared him,” said Colin, laughing.

The others besides Colin looked concerned. “Javi, I don’t think you should man…” said Timmy.

Forest murmured an agreement. Colin knew it was pointless. Although he was as worried for his friend’s life as much as the others, he had seen that look on Javi’s face before. There was no talking him out of this one.

Javi looked over at Colin. “Qué le hace piensa mi amigo?” he asked.

“I agree with Jake, I think you’re crazy,” said Colin in return.

Javi smirked and began to take off the rest of his clothes until he was standing in his boxer shorts. He climbed up and stood on top of the steel rail, looking towards the rough water.

At that moment a pair of headlights appeared at the base of the bridge and began to approach them quickly from the south. All five boys whipped their heads to see the oncoming car’s approach.

Jake looked back up at Javi, looking real scared now. “Javi, man, were going to get in trouble. C’mon get down,” he pleaded.

“Shut up Jake,” said Javi.

Colin was struck with an admiration for his friend he had known often before, whenever Javi looked in the face of danger and didn’t blink. It wasn’t natural, and you couldn’t help but marvel at the sight.

The driver of the car had seen them by now, the four boys crowded around Javi, standing on the bridge’s ledge in his underwear. The car’s tires screeched and the sound pierced the night like a piece of chalk drawn across a dry board.

“Oh no,” whispered Jake.

“I told you we’d get caught,” said Forest.

The car was close now, pulling to a stop a few feet away as the driver screamed at Javier through the open window, yelling at him, telling him not to jump.

Forest, Timmy, Jake and Colin looked up at Javi. He bent his knees again, and without any further hesitation, hopped over the ledge and into the empty night’s embrace. He dropped through the air like a falling icicle; hands at his sides, chin tucked, feet pointed. The other boys pushed to the rail and looked over the ledge to watch as Javi’s pencil dive plunged his body into the deep bay water. The sound of his entry into the waves was marked with a distant splash and the water heaved into the air as he penetrated the current.

“Oh my God!” shouted Jake.

“What the hell is going on?!” a voice shouted from behind them. A balding middle-aged man was running over from the purring car that was excreting smoky exhaust into the air above the road, the binding light from the headlamps briefly eclipsed as he passed in front of the vehicle. He joined the boys at the railing and put his head over the edge. “What are you boys doing?” he asked quickly.

They didn’t answer him. Colin had stood there biting the inside of his mouth, something he had done often throughout his whole life when he was nervous. They had held their breaths watching, waiting, and begging the waves with the silent voices of their minds for their friend’s fate.

Then, as their eyes squinted against the night, they watched Javi emerge miraculously from the water as he burst through the surface. As he propelled himself out of the depths of the bay they all cheered as Colin smiled, watching Javi start to paddle to the shore.

“Holy…” the middle-aged man said.

Colin laughed out loud.

The middle-aged man turned out to be an off-duty cop and after Javi was seen to be safe and sound he seemed to collect himself. He had gotten on a CB radio in his car and called in the incident to the precinct. They had stayed on the bridge as he told them to until two police cars showed up and brought them to the station house. Their parents were notified and one by one they showed up, hastily dressed with sleep still in their faces, angry and bewildered. Javi’s mom was the most angry. She had yelled at him in Spanish and yanked him out of the building by his hair. Colin remembered thinking to himself that none of them would ever forget that night.

And he was right. None of them ever did. Jake had squawked his mouth off about it and Javi was a superstar around school for a few weeks. Kids would come up and ask him if it was true, boys gushing with admiration and girls giggling and marveling at him. Javi played it cool but Colin knew that he like the attention.

Eventually the novelty wore off and the fascination began to die down. The weeks went by and everyone turned to the finals and the state regulated exams that were coming up. Before he had known it, Colin found the last day of school only a short week away. It was around that time that Javi had told Colin he wanted to do it again. They had been playing Playstation at Colin’s house when all of a sudden Javier had turned and told him out of the blue. Colin had asked him if he was serious. Javi had said yes, and that this time, he wanted Colin to do it with him.

They went alone a week later as the summer evenings wallowed in the moist thick of June, a sticky, clingy web of humidity. They jumped under a cloudy sky, starless, as if the heavens had taken the night off, impenetrable layers of fog covering the murky bay.

Colin remembered how scared he had been. How immense everything had seemed. He remembered feeling as if the whole world were rushing towards him, while at the same time realizing it was he that was rushing at the world. He understood at once after his feet had left the ledge why Javi had needed to do it again. It was utterly the greatest moment he had ever known in his life.

There had been no cars, no police, no angry parents that night. It had been just Colin and Javi, embracing life in a way neither of them had ever imagined, stunned that something as serious and foolish as the temptation of death could bring such surreal sensations. They had ridden home in silence and yet they had never felt such a strong bond in their friendship before.

They told no one else of that night. Not Jake, not Timmy, not Forest. No one. Nor of the other nights that followed. Every few months they would jump from the bridge, save the months from December to April, which they spent in agony waiting for the water to warm again. They harbored their dark secret together. The dangerous bond that ensnared them, their common obsession.

Senior year everything changed. Colin had gotten a part-time job at the video store in August and worked after school, so he wasn’t around during the week anymore. Javi played baseball through to the end of the summer and worked with his dad’s landscaping business on the weekends when school started. They compensated for their lack of availability by scheduling more frequent jumps, going every three or four weeks instead of months. It had been Javi’s idea. Javi had always been the one with the ideas. It wasn’t that Colin had been content to just follow him around all their lives; it was just that Javi was the type of guy who needed to be in charge. He needed to be the first one to think of something, the first to act. Yet as Colin found himself spending more time without him he began to feel an independence he had never felt before. It was not unlike the feeling of jumping from the bridge, free and uninhibited.

He also began to feel less of a thrill each time they went and something else too. Fear. A fear that he had not known before that fall. Fear that he would hurt himself and that he would get into trouble. Fear of things that had never mattered before and had all of a sudden become inexplicably important. He felt vulnerability, the weight of responsibility of adulthood creeping over him.

Javi seemed to not show the same feelings. He was as carefree as ever, relishing the jumps, untouched by the stresses of SATs and college planning as was Colin. He had started to drink and smoke weed on the weekends with a crew of other guys Colin didn’t really hang out with. Most of them were poor and came from some of the lower class families that lived in the town. They were dirt bags mostly, always getting into fights and doing drugs, some even dealing, and Colin had asked Javi what he saw in them, Javi had answered that they were fun guys and Colin just had never given them a chance.

Eventually Colin had started to feel like he and Javier had drifted apart. Javi began to skip school and get into trouble. He had two fist fights that fall for which he received a suspension each time. The principal had called Colin down to his office after the second time and asked him if he knew what was going on with his friend. Colin had told him the truth—that he honestly didn’t know.

Colin had asked Javi that same question two weeks later at the bridge as they parked their bikes. Colin had just gotten his mother’s old car the month before but they still rode their bikes, partly because the car made too much noise and partly because it was simply tradition.

Javi had looked at him angrily. “What are you talking about amigo?” he had asked.

“C’mon man,” said Colin. “You haven’t been yourself these past few months.”

Javi had looked away from him. He stared into the night as if searching for something, something hidden and elusive.

“I just want to have fun.” said Javi. “I don’t want to listen to stupid teachers and counselors who think they know all the answers. What do they know? What do you know? What does anyone know? You’re all so content living in your tight little white bread community. You’re all like a bunch of sheep, always just going along with the flock. You don’t know any other way to live!”

Colin looked at him strangely. He was confused. He had never heard Javi talk this way.

“I thought you were different Colin,” said Javier.

“I don’t understand,” said Colin.

“How could you. How could you understand how I feel? What do you know about me?” Javi had asked sharply.

“I’ve been your best friend for seventeen years!” shouted Colin. “I know you better than anyone!”

Javi looked away again, avoiding Colin’s eyes. He stepped to the railing, pulled himself up and closed his eyes. “I don’t even know myself anymore,” he said softly. He jumped off the bridge, and a moment later, Colin followed.

That night Colin had told him he wasn’t going to jump anymore. It was almost November and the water had been freezing. They wore wetsuits after September to keep from getting hypothermia and they peeled them off afterwards like snakes shedding their skins on the small rocky beach next to the bikes. Colin had told him as they peddled home.

At first Javi had said nothing, and then after a long silence he asked: “Why?”

“I don’t know…” said Colin. “It’s dangerous, and sooner or later one of us is going to get hurt. Besides it’s… it’s not the same anymore.”

Javi had not replied. They had peddled back to Colin’s house where they snuck back inside like usual, quiet as whispers in the breeze. They had lain awake for some time staring at the traces of moonlight across Colin’s bedroom walls, posters of the rock bands Taking Back Sunday, Thursday, and Glass Jaw looking down on them.

Finally Javier had whispered, “So that’s it huh?”

“Yeah…” Colin whispered back. “Are you mad?”

“No,” said Javi. “I guess I expected it.”

“Right,” said Colin.

Silence for a moment, and then: “Goodnight Javi.”

“Goodnight Colin.”

And so it had went. They had moved along separate paths after that night, their intimate bond broken. They rarely spoke, even at school. Javi had continued to act up and hang out with the wrong crowd. He failed his midterms and missed the SATs in November. Colin had continued to work at the video store, where he met Amy Hutchins a few weeks before Christmas.

Amy was very cute, with dark hair like his and beautiful hazel-brown eyes. She had a penchant for sarcasm and was every bit as high strung and energetic as he was laid back and unruffled. Somehow they made a perfect fit. She had a laugh that turned him soft each and every time he heard it. They had become friends and soon after began to date. After a few months they were calling each other boyfriend and girlfriend.

They took each other’s virginity on a bright Sunday afternoon on soft cotton sheets in Amy’s bedroom while her parents were shopping for a new T.V. Colin remembered feeling her warmth for the first time, drinking in her wonderful smell and the electric touch of her fingers on his bare skin. He remembered telling her he loved her and hearing her say it back. He remembered how amazing it felt to have someone tell you they loved you.

He had lost track of the months after that, his mind knowing only his new love and the rapidly approaching last day of high school. He had applied to NYU as an English major with the intention to write, maybe go into journalism or something like that. Amy would be going to school in the city as well to study environmental science so it seemed like the right decision. He had scored high on the SATs and was doing well in his classes. He had almost forgotten those nights at the bay when Javi had grabbed him one day after school. It had been the second week of June and the only thing standing between Colin and the start of summer were the Regents exams going on the next week.

“You missed my birthday man,” Javi had said. He was smiling.

“I called, but your mom said you were out,” said Colin.

“I know, she told me. I was just kidding,” said Javi. “So, what’s up man?”

“Not much,” said Colin. “How about you? I haven’t seen you in Chemistry…”

“Yeah, I’m going to flunk that class so I’m just not going to go. I’ll make it up over the summer.”

“What about college?”

“Well I figured I would take a semester or two off you know? Work with my dad maybe…”

“Oh,” said Colin. He had felt strangely awkward, as if they had just met for the first time instead of having known each other their whole lives.

“Listen,” said Javi. “I know what you said about never doing it again. But… I wanted to see if you would jump with me.”

“Are you serious?” asked Colin. “We haven’t done it in like six months. We’ve barely seen each other…”

“I know… It’s been eating at me man. I need to do it.”

“Javi, I don’t know…”

“C’mon!” Javi pleaded.

Colin had paused for a moment. “I can’t…” he said finally.

“Why not?” asked Javi. He looked hurt. Colin saw a weakness in him that was as foreign as a palm tree in Alaska. He had never seen Javi seem so needy.

“I don’t know,” said Colin. “I have so much to study for, and then there’s Amy… Besides how many times are we going to jump from that bridge…”

“You’ve changed man,” said Javi.

Colin looked at him for a minute, thinking about what he had said. Javi was right. Colin had changed. All that time he had been thinking it was only Javi that was different, but he realized he was different too. He made decisions for himself, and he really liked the feeling. He was happy with his life’s direction, happy that it had one. He felt like he was on the right track. A path all his own.

“We both have,” said Colin finally.

Javi nodded his head. There was another awkward silence and then finally he said. “Well, if you change your mind I’m going this Friday.”

“You shouldn’t go by yourself. What if something happens?”

“I had hoped I wouldn’t have to.”

“Why are you doing this?” asked Colin.

“Because I have to feel it again,” Javier had said. “It makes me forget everything for just a moment. When I’m falling, I don’t worry about school, or where I’m going when it ends, where I see myself in ten years.” He paused, and then said finally, shaking his head softly back and forth, “Because it makes me feel alive.” He walked away.

Colin never saw him again.

Up on the bridge, Colin pulled himself out of his memories and brought himself back to the present. The wind was blowing stronger now as the night deepened and he told himself the chill he felt on his spine was because of it. He looked again at the water.

They had searched for exactly three weeks when Javi never came back home. Volunteers from around town and relatives of Javi’s Colin had never even met had hunted the east end of the island for the boy. Colin remembered the news broadcasts and the flyers. He remembered the police asking him questions and how he had lied and how it made him feel dirty and sinful, as if the guilt of Javier’s disappearance lay on his shoulders. All the kids at school couldn’t stop talking about it, each and every day for three weeks. And when they finally had called off the search Colin had been there to see the unfortunate picture of Javi’s exhausted and mourning mother, screaming at the police for calling off the manhunt. He remembered how Javi’s father had pulled her away and swept her into the car, and then worst of all, had thanked Colin for all of his help before driving his hysterical wife back home.

Colin had found Javi’s bike a few days after the news broke. It had been stashed in the reeds beneath the bridge as they had always done. Taped to the handlebars had been the note. It was short and not made out to anyone in particular. Colin had felt a strange combination of anger and sadness beyond measure when he read it and he found himself crying and cursing as he ripped it to shreds and tossed it into the water. He had wondered how in the world Javi had gotten the cinderblock here on his bike, and how he had gotten it up the bridge for that matter. Colin had gathered the bike into the trunk of his car and driven it out to the dump the next day.

He had never told. He bore the secret partly as a mark of shame for the failings he attributed to himself in Javi’s death, partly because he didn’t want Javi’s mother to have to confront the darkness of the reality of her son’s suicide, and partly because he knew that Javi would have somehow liked it better this way. This had been their place. A place where the entire world had lain before them, where they could be anything, where nothing could touch them and they would live forever. Here they had been kings.

He paced along the sidewalk wondering how cold the water would be. Warm enough despite the wind’s chill he guessed, but it was hard to tell in June really. The temperature of the water could be fickle this time of year. It didn’t matter either way, freezing or not, he would find out soon enough.

He began to undress in the moonlight. He pushed back his thoughts of danger and injury. What he felt now was a sense of duty and honor. He had come alone. He thought that Amy might have understood enough to come, but as it had always been, it was Colin’s secret to bear. This was between him and Javi.

He stood at the rail as they had time and time before. “Hola mi amigo,” he whispered to the wind. “I’ve missed you man.”

He was in his underwear now, his body illuminated with a dull soft glow. He was fighting back tears, but now he just let them come, letting them run off his face like the surf off the rocks below, his cheeks themselves looking like polished stones in the moonlight.

He screamed into the night. “Why Javi? Why did everything have to change?!” He stood there, sobbing and shaking. “Why does everything always have to change?!” The salt of his tears mixed with that of the sea and the two danced together in the wind.

“I wish I’d been there Javi,” he cried. “I wish you could have just let it go. I wish we could have changed together. I wish…” His voice dropped, narrowly audible even to himself above the wind.

“I guess I owe you one last jump, mi amigo,” he said finally. In the end it had been what broke them, their bond of friendship that until one year ago had been timeless, and Colin was compelled to make it right, to make it whole again. He pulled himself onto the ledge as the wind tugged at him gently.

“Here I come brother,” he said softly.

As his feet left the rail he felt the water reach for him, welcoming him, and in later days he would always recall the feeling that someone was there with him, calling and laughing as he fell, seeing him safely all the way down as he plunged into the open arms of the sea.

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Dave S. Shearer is from Suffolk County in Long Island, New York. He is a graduate of Dowling College. His hobbies include fishing, martial arts, writing, painting, drinking cheap whiskey, scaring his cats, and hotly debating his friends on trivial matters. E-mail: davesshearer[at]hotmail.com