drive safe

21Jan10

It starts with a facebook message, Sunday “Do you know what happened? I think there was a death in her family, but I don’t know for sure.” Minutes later. “Oh god. Her brother passed away” The cell-phone rings and we text each other, leave messages. I get a call from my sister in the dead of the night, crying. “I just wanted to hear you, that you were okay.” Fragile, fragile life. My mother comforts me as I cry. I didn’t really know him. I know his sister. I know his friends. I email and call and comfort. The next morning, I go to work. I’m a wreck, trying to figure out what happened. The obituary isn’t posted until mid-afternoon. My mother freezes. “He worked at the Y?” “Yeah. Opening pool guy.” My mother teaches spinning in the early morning. She described him. I nod. She saw him every morning, cheerful chats and hellos. He’s touched a life without ever needing to know her name.

The car ride there was quiet. We spoke about trivial things. A high-school teacher I hadn’t been close to gave me a one-armed hug as we walked in the door. Then we entered. Take off our coats. I sign the book for three people. Myself. My sister. My lover. All of us are deeply affected. Only one of us could be there physically. We look at the pictures. Sassy child, he mowed the lawn with his toy mower, defends a rock. The picture that starts the tears is simple, him and his girlfriend grinning up at the camera.

We hug his sister, our friend. Talk about small things. Tell her we love her. There is an awkward moment with a girl who’s been cruel, but we simply compliment her hair and leave it be. Walk to the other room. I talk with two girls from school, seniors now, comparing socks, Christmas mismatching, green m&ms, pianokeys and glowinthedark. “How are you? Stupid question.” “It’s all I can think to say, but I can’t say anything when people ask me. I’ve already gone through it too many times. I’m just blank now” His girlfriend is there, and she is hugged.

I can’t turn around. He’s in the room, and I didn’t notice. Later, I found out the family had been laughing; even at his wake, he was better-looking than 90% of everyone. They go up while I hug another. The sisters come back crying. “Can you go up alone?” “Yeah, just be ready to go after”

I talk to him. Little things. I didn’t know him well. Yet he made an impression, an imprint in my life. The sisters come up and walk with me back. Tissues are discreetly placed around the room, and I am grateful. We say our goodbyes, and hug and keep in physical contact with each other.

At the wake, if you listened carefully, you’d hear the rest of the room. And about half of them would be crying. And about half of them would be laughing. Then they’d switch.

He was alive, and then he was dead. Because of ice. Because of the car. Because he had no seatbelt. There were no human villains. Just tragedy and a twenty-one year old man, loved and loveable, thrown from a car. And he won’t go to her senior Semi with her, or see her eighteenth birthday. She’ll have guilt because she was driving, replaying that moment in her head. It was not her fault. It will never be her fault. She needs to know this.

After the wake, the most important thing happened. We weren’t alone. We were listening to Lady GaGa and laughing and talking and eating and being alive. We were watching youtube and devouring ice cream and Indian food sipping chai and tea. We watched tv, and talked about sad things. It’s been shitty since November, and we all want spring back. But there was something so right about this collective tribe, a gathering of laughter and tears. We talked about sex and love and heartbreaks. We talked about foes and friends and awkward. We talked about his death. His life. Her life. We didn’t stop hugging and touching and being.

I’m exhausted and the drugs make my perception weird, aches and pains with the painkiller only helping some. And I’m almost grateful to the pain because it is small and temporary and I may whine, but I’m alive. There is a we, a collective that mourns, lives, laughs together. Even when they’re in another state. We are. We are love and life and this is us forever.

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