On July 17th 2011, I was in my room waiting for the premiere of the ABC Family movie Cyberbully after having dinner with my family. It was a lazy day; none of us had any plans except staying at home. I was lying in bed when I heard my mom scream. I rushed out of my room and followed the sound of her sobs to find her in her bedroom talking on the phone. “Please tell me you’re pulling a prank. I’ll forgive you for being harsh, but please tell me you aren’t serious.” I immediately thought of my grandmother and I started to panic that something had happened to her. As I watched my mom cry and beg, my mind was scattered trying to tie everything together. Once she hung up, I asked her what happened. “Roy’s gone.” I stood there confused for a second. He’s gone? Did he run away again? Was he kidnapped? Was he in jail again? Not another second went by when I realized what my mom meant. In that moment, I was not interested in knowing what happened. All I knew was my cousin was not alive anymore. Both my brother and dad had blank expressions on the drive to my aunt’s house. My dad kept telling us not to worry because no one had identified Roy’s body. My mom and I continued to sob and when my dad realized that nothing he was saying was comforting us, the car ride was silent except for our whimpers and sniffles. A few of my oldest cousins were at my aunt’s house when we arrived. I cried in my cousin Deici’s arms and started to hyperventilate. She repeated my dad’s words, “We don’t know if it’s him. Don’t cry.” Roy’s parents and brother were not home. We all sat in the living room hugging and crying and waiting for a response from Roy’s parents. As the clock ticked by, more of our aunts and cousins were in the house but there was still no response. Since we did not know for sure, we all agreed that we would not tell our grandparents out of fear that the news could affect their health. For some reason, we all kept the living room lights off. The only light we left on was the kitchen light as if Roy were in there preparing food to satisfy his endless hunger. As I sat on the couch with swollen eyes, I reminisced of my childhood with Roy and my cousins. The five of us were always together because none of us were more than two years apart—Roy, Danny, Jenny, and my brother Alex and I. Roy was the oldest and the most outgoing which made him the leader of our group. He would plan out our days in the summer. We usually ran in the sprinklers and sat in the blue plastic pool that had no room to swim in. When we wanted a snack, we devoured cucumber with lime and salt that our grandmother happily prepared for us. We spent the majority of our time outside, but our time spent inside was far from boring. We each picked a band member from the Vengaboys to play and we would hold concerts for our adoring fans, Jenny’s Barbie dolls. Sometimes we played restaurant with the most popular dish served being Pringles. For the games where we needed pairs, Roy and I always joined together. Jenny would be furious with me when I would pick watching WWE with Roy instead of playing dolls with her, but I would not care because Roy was the one who wrapped his arm around my shoulders and protected me as if I were his little sister. When we grew older, things changed. Roy ditched school, got in fights, and spent days without coming home. My aunt was restless. She was constantly picking him up at 2AM from different places. Roy started getting in trouble with the police, and by this time, we all felt distant from him. We did not understand how he was heading toward a completely different path from the rest of us. During this time, Roy was not as big a part of our lives as he was when we were younger. My cousins would constantly bash Roy while I sat there quietly hoping that he would return to hang out with us. Any chance I could get, I talked to him and asked if he would stay out of trouble. He would always say yes, but he would never follow through. Despite everyone warning me against it, I decided to ask Roy if he would be my escort for my quinceanera. He didn’t hesitate when he said yes, baffling me. I expected some kind of pause or resistance. I told him that he had to attend rehearsals, and that he had to stay out of trouble. He smiled and said “okay.” Everyone told me that he would not even go to the first dance rehearsal. They also told me that if he did go, he would not stick around or he would not take it seriously. They were wrong. Roy was at every rehearsal and he was the quickest to learn the steps. He watched his feet as if there were mini-television screens on his shoes. When the rest of my chambelanes were goofing off, he stayed focused. Everyone thought that Roy would cause me more stress during those months, but he caused the opposite effect. I was stressed out and nervous the day before my party while we were rehearsing at the venue because one of the guys from my court was not taking the rehearsal seriously. As Roy and I were waiting for our entrance, I started to cry quietly. He turned to look at me and said, “Are you . . . are you crying? This wasn’t part of the deal! You’re not supposed to cry. Ignore Charlie. He’s an idiot. Do you want me to beat him up?” I quietly whispered, “Yes.” And he said, “I will when we’re finished rehearsing, but you need to stop crying because I can’t see you cry. I’m gonna start crying. Do you want me to cry?” I stopped crying and laughed due to being reminded of the times he wrapped his arm around my shoulders when we were kids. The familiar feeling of protection I received from him made me hopeful that things were going to return to normal. Cousin Deici’s phone rang and we got the response that we were not prepared to hear. My uncle had identified the body. Roy was in a car accident with his friends, but he was the only one who died. The details are still fuzzy but what we do know is that Roy and four of his friends drove to Chicago to pick up an air conditioner. They were about five minutes away from dropping Roy off at his house when they saw a rival gang member. They each flashed their signs and the rival threw a brick at the driver’s window. The driver wasn’t hit, but he swerved and consequently crashed into a tree. The air conditioner in the back of the SUV hit Roy on the back of his neck when he bounced out of his seat due to his lack of a seatbelt. His spinal cord was injured and he died instantly. When the police officer knocked on my aunt’s door that afternoon, he did not understand the pain his words caused when he said, “You should’ve taken care of your son. Now he’s dead.” That police officer only knew Roy as a delinquent. What he did not know was that Roy was waiting to receive his GED in the mail so that he could take engineering classes at the College of Lake County. The officer also did not know that Roy was feeling regret for the distance that had been created in our family and that he was going to try to fix it. The last time I saw Roy was on Father’s Day. I feel regret for the words I did not say. Our entire family gathered at his house to celebrate. It was the first time I had seen Roy in months and he was grilling hamburgers for everyone. Honestly, I was upset that he was there. I did not want him there because I was frustrated with his disappearing and reappearing act. Calling me by my middle name, he said “Michelle, why are you ignoring me?” and I walked away from him without saying a word. That same day, my mom said that Roy approached her and told her that he wanted to visit us soon because he missed us. He told her, “I love Michelle, tia. I want us to see each other more often.” I bawled when my mom told me this and the remorse I felt became infinitely deeper. To this day, I regret not saying anything to Roy that day and not speaking to him more often. When my aunt returned home, her face was blank as she hugged a frame with his picture. Her eyes were bloodshot and swollen, matching all of ours. She would not speak, but as soon as she would try, she would sob uncontrollably causing a chain reaction. We were all in a difficult position. We wanted to be strong and comfort my aunt, but we were all in pain too. We were all weak and we just wanted everything to be a lie. Seeing her breakdown was difficult, but seeing her in denial was much worse. When we finally maneuvered her to bed, she stood up and calmly said, “No, I can’t go to bed. Roy isn’t home yet. He’s going to call me soon, so I have to stay awake. He always calls me to pick him up no matter what time it is. I have to stay awake.” She constantly checked her phone waiting for the call she was never going to receive from him. Being at his wake was one of the most difficult proceedings I have ever had to witness. Seeing my cousin lying in a casket with the clothes he wore at my uncle’s wedding, just four months previous, caused my heart to stutter. My family and I sat in the front with our matching black clothing and swollen, bloodshot eyes. There were moments when we stopped crying and we were all quiet. We were overwhelmed seeing him lying motionless when just a year ago he was ballroom dancing with me. The tears disappeared and reappeared just like Roy did for the last few years of his life. We all watched attentively as my aunt stood up and walked to his casket. She caressed his face and begged him to wake up. She became hysterical and told him to stop sleeping because he had been asleep for too long. This was too much for all of us to handle and we broke down with her before leading her back to the couch. When it was time for us to say goodbye, I debated on what to say. Should I apologize for ignoring him? Should I tell him that I loved him and that I was going to miss him? Once it was my turn, I looked at him and noticed that he needed a haircut. Knowing Roy, I’m sure that he had noticed this also and had planned to have it cut. I bent so that I could kiss his cheek. His skin had lost its warmth and fleshiness. Kissing the dead felt like kissing a mannequin. It was Roy’s body, but he wasn’t there anymore. Only then did I know what I should say to him: I simply whispered “Roy, see you later.”
-- Gabriela Mendoza is a freshman at Lewis University majoring in psychology. She grew up in Waukegan, IL where the majority of her family live close by. Her education and family are what she values the most, and she hopes to someday earn a Master’s Degree in Psychology to motivate her younger cousins to pursue a higher education.