I was walking through downtown Detroit one smoggy, cold morning having a smoke on my way to work when I turned to the side and my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe what I saw. My chest was sore and it felt as if my heart had plummeted into my stomach. I stopped moving all together and thought I was going to cry but I instantly went into denial. There was a poster with the picture of a really close friend and ex boyfriend of mine hanging on the tall wooden post beside me. It read “Missing, Jacob (Jake) Lawson. Please notify police if you have seen this young man. 19 years old, 6”3, 135 lbs.”
I kept saying to myself, “it’s not true, it’s not true.” I convinced myself that he had just taken off somewhere to get away from everyone and everything for a little while. Everyone around me was sure that he was missing but I truly believed that he was either just gone for a little bit or hiding out at home to avoid the stress.
I kept seeing these posters all over the city and it started getting to my head and making me angry every time I saw one, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It got to the point that it upset me so much that I would rip them down and tear them up in disbelief.
Two weeks went by and no one had heard anything from Jacob whatsoever. This is when it started to really bother me. I began wondering what was going on, I knew that Jacob wouldn’t leave us all hanging for this long. Therefore, I went downtown to a community center that we had gone to for years to talk to someone. They knew how close we were so they told me of something they had seen in the paper that had them very worried. The woman I knew best there told me they had notified police that they thought this may be him. The article they showed me said there had been a body found on the shore of the Detroit river, downstream from downtown where he spent most of his time.
I couldn’t believe my ears. I said “No” in an outraged voice, not taking into consideration how strong the current was sometimes. “That can’t be him, he’s a strong swimmer.” He meant so much to me that I simply didn’t want to believe it, something inside of me knew though. Every time I passed the river on my way to work I would stare. Passing the place where I last saw him, I would cringe. I wanted so badly to see him walk by me with that big, goofy smile he always had on his face.
After about a week, an investigation had been done and the body was identified. My boyfriend woke me up one morning and my close friend Zach came into my bedroom saying he had something he needed to tell me. I sat on my bed and Zach in a chair at the foot of it. He looked at me and said “Mary, they found Jacob.” My first response without thinking was, “Oh thank god, where is he? Tell him to hurry up, I miss him and I was worried sick.” His eyes watery and glazed, Zach raised his bowed head, looked at me and said something that I will never forget. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but he isn’t coming. They found him, but he was in the river. It was him.”
I instantly went into shock. With this sinking feeling in my stomach, I just stared blankly at Zach. I was speechless, which is rare as I’m normally a talkative person. My chest was burning and my lungs felt as if they had stopped working. I was completely heartbroken and didn’t know what to do with myself.
After the shock wore off a few moments later, the tears started running down my face uncontrollably. I gasped for air but the pain was restricting my breath. Zach kept apologizing and telling me that he didn’t want to have to tell me but I needed to know. I couldn’t even get out an “It’s not your fault, thank you for telling me” no matter how hard I tried. All I could do was look at him and shake my head.
My good friend Chris, who had spent the night, was one of Jacob’s closest friends. I knew I had to tell him, but didn’t know how. I could barely speak, but I went into the living room with eyes swollen from crying and my nose stuffy as can be to see Chris. He asked me what was wrong and I just spat it out “I don’t know any other way to tell you this, but Jake’s gone. It was him in the river.”
Chris had the same blank look on his face that I did when I found out. His face went pale and all he said was, “I’m going to walk home, bye.” His house wasn’t close, it would take someone around an hour and a half to walk there at a fast pace. I was worried sick that he was going to do something stupid. I called his house and asked my friend who lived with him to call me when he got home so I knew he was okay.
The tears didn’t stop when he left, if anything they came on even stronger. I didn’t want a hug, no ice cream, nothing could ease this pain. I sat on my balcony for over an hour just crying. Staring up at the sky, hoping that he could hear me I said “I love you, I’m so sorry we didn’t spend enough time together in the last two years of your life. I should have never left you.”
After I calmed down a little, caught my breath, wiped my eyes and blew my nose, I went back inside. My boyfriend asked me if I was okay and I told him that I didn’t know. He had no idea what to do, kept asking me if I needed anything and rubbing my back. When I started to blame myself he told me that Jacob wouldn’t want me to do that and I knew he was right. He would never want me to blame myself, let alone cry. He would want me to smile and remember all of the good times that we had together, so that’s what I tried to do.
With news like that it was nearly impossible for me to think about him and the good times without breaking out into tears. I started thinking that I would never be the same. All I wanted was to be able to see him one last time, say all of the things we never said and give him a big hug and kiss goodbye. Everything happened so fast.
In the newspaper article about his body being found in the river, they said that there was no foul play suspected. I could not and would not believe that. In my mind, that implied that he either killed himself or fell off of a bridge. I could maybe see him falling, but Jacob was not someone that would end his own life. Especially not at the time that it happened, I had spoken to him shortly before he went missing and he told me of how he had stopped partying and drinking, gotten a new job and a nice new place of his own. He was getting back on his feet.
That being said, I took it upon myself to do my own little investigation. I went to a bridge that we used to drink under when we were teenagers because from where he had been found, I knew that was where he ended up in the water.
When I got there, to no surprise of my own I looked down and saw a trail of the little orange flags that police put around evidence leading into the water. I was furious, this meant that they had found something and failed to mention it in the article. So I climbed down the steep, rocky path that I knew so well to go check it out.
As I got closer, I started to realize that it was in fact a trail of blood with markers around the soiled area. I knew from how hardened and darkened it was that it was old and most likely belonged to Jacob. I started to piece it together, no matter how much it hurt I craved to know what had happened to him.
I thought about it more and more and eventually I had an idea of what happened. I figured that seeing as he was very artistic and thoroughly enjoyed graffiti, he had most likely scaled down there intoxicated and lost his balance. This would land him unconscious and in the water if he was standing on the concrete pillar, holding up the tall metal support for the bridge that I imagined him to have been and where the blood began.
I didn’t leave my house for days; I called into work and explained the situation to them and they gave me the week off. I was a mess until the funeral. I wasn’t eating, sleeping, no showers and no contact with the outside world. I wanted nothing to do with anything that wasn’t hearing his voice again. The tears were inside but wouldn’t come out. I was completely numb.
The day of the funeral, I had prepared a little something to say. I arrived and all of my friends were standing outside. Everyone hugging, some people crying and not one real smile on a face in sight. As I walked up everything went silent. I was the poor ex-girlfriend and I didn’t like it one bit. I didn’t think I deserved any more attention than anyone else and couldn’t understand why they thought I would be bawling my eyes out. Everyone was shocked that I was not crying profusely.
After all the “Hello, how are you’s” and hugs all around, I finally worked up the courage to go inside. As I walked up the stairs I didn’t know what to expect. I entered the visitation room and saw people looking through photo albums everywhere. Family, friends and acquaintances all gathered to celebrate a wonderful young man’s life.
I thought I was okay until I saw the erne, then it finally really hit me. It felt like a smack across the face. My knees started to buckle as I made my way slowly to the nearest seat. What a beautiful erne it was. I went up to it and said all that I wanted to say to him, as if he could really hear me. After that, I couldn’t choke back the tears anymore and headed for the door out to have a cigarette before the service.
When I got out there, his dad, Wayne, was standing out back. I went over to say hi and he was more excited to meet me than I had ever expected. We went for a short walk, had a smoke together and a really good chat about Jacob.
When we got back inside and the service started, I sat near the back of the room and watched as his poor father shook walking down the aisle with his son’s ashes in hand. A good friend of mine and Jacob’s spoke first after Wayne said his piece. After he spoke they called me up and as hard as it was to get up there and say what I had written for him, it was my final goodbye and I would have hated myself if I hadn’t gone up.
So with tissue in one hand and my speech in the other, I stood there and said what I wanted to say. Not without a few pauses to choke back the tears, but even the strongest of men were crying that day. That was my goodbye; I can only hope that he heard it.