The phone is ringing, surprised as it’s early. It was my mother.
There was a long pause. An eerie silence. Usually when my mom calls me, she’s perkily asking me about my classes, berating me about yet another unpaid parking ticket that came in the mail, or complaining that my little brother hasn’t mowed the grass recently. Mom stuff. But this time it was different. There was a pause. Maybe a few seconds. But those few seconds were enough for me to realize that something was off. Something was wrong. Instead of her affectionate and sometimes nagging voice, all I could hear was the sound of my air conditioner blowing in the background.
She said his name.
I wasn’t there with her. But I could hear the tears. My mom usually speaks with energy, whether that energy comes from being upset with me for doing something stupid or eagerness to talk about visiting her friend, it doesn’t matter – there’s always a certain energy in her voice. When you know someone like that, shit, the first person who ever spoke words to you when you were a potato fresh out of the oven, you know when something’s up. You know every normal vocal inflection and what it means. I can read her like a book. Her typical emotions are stressed, excited, frustrated, and loving. But this was different. When I heard her say his name, I knew there were two emotions running through my mother’s soul, audibly permeating through her voice – anxiety and sorrow.
“She… Have you heard anything?” No.
I don’t remember exactly what she said because I developed tachycardia, diaphoresis, and I guess what you can call “amnesia”, but I’ll paraphrase the words that came through my phone.
My mother has worked with my friend’s mother for twelve years. We were friends. Our moms were friends. Holding the phone to my ear and waiting for her words felt like an hour, even if it only lasted 20 seconds. I asked her what was wrong:
She was at work with his mom. His mom received a phone call. In the middle of this office, on a normal Thursday in September, a switch flipped – she starting screaming… “NO” “NO”, “NO”….
She sprinted outside. Hysterically. Crying. Screaming. Every employee ran after her. She frantically fumbled with her keys and three people restrained her. I was not there. But I’m sure there was no fucking question or doubt as to what was going on. One woman drove her to her house. The house she had raised her family in. Husband, wife and several children. They’d been there for at least fifteen years, probably more. This house is where they learned how to ride a damn bicycle. This house is where they giddily tore wrapping paper off of boxes under a Christmas tree as children. This house is where they celebrated their 10th fucking birthdays. This house is where they snuck beer and their sixteen year old girlfriends in the basement to make-out and hopefully get to third base. This house is where they built their seventh grade science fair projects. This house is where they were yelled at and grounded for talking back. This house is where they grew up in. This house is the physical manifestation of love. Of birth. Of lessons learned and growing up. Of family.
When she got there, hyperventilating in the passenger seat of a sedan, there were firetrucks, ambulances, and police cars. You know where this fucking story goes.
Tears welled up in my eyes.
She ran out of the car and took off on a dead sprint towards the front door of her home. Several cops grabbed her, stopped her, and restrained her. She screamed and she cried and she kicked and begged and howled – Where’s my baby. But they wouldn’t let her go.
They wouldn’t let her inside. All she wanted to do was see her son. Her baby boy. They eventually let her in, but said that she could only look – she was not allowed to touch her son. It was a crime scene. I cannot fathom the horror. I don’t even want to think about it.
The woman who drove her to her house tried to drive back to work. But she couldn’t. She stopped on the side of the road, tears streaming down her face, opened her driver’s side door and vomited. I’d do the same.
This is the end of my mother’s recounting of the story. I could hear the tears in her eyes. The cracking in her voice. The pauses between each sentence. The empathy. The heartache. The despair.
I do not believe there is a bigger tragedy in this life than the one that woman experienced yesterday. Both of those parents.
The father found him there in the morning. His son usually went to work early. But on this morning, his car didn’t leave the driveway. It didn’t fucking move. He probably knocked on the door to silence. The knocking probably turned into banging. The banging probably turned into screaming before the door was kicked down to behold the most tragic discovery of a parent’s existence.
Their lives will never be the same. And how could they. How do you recover from that. Your child. Your son. Your baby boy. Gone forever. Vanished from the earth. And as a mortal, there is nothing you can do but wonder until you’re gone as well. Not a day will go by when that wonder isn’t there. Wondering where he is now, wondering how and why he got there, and wondering what could’ve been if he’d stayed with us. But above all the ethereal wonder, they will forever be haunted by the wonder of what they could have done differently.
Our mothers had worked together for years. We met in high school. And I very well remember my first impression of him – this guy is cool as fuck. He had a sense of being that radiated a glowing aura. Who didn’t want to be friends with him? He was a star athlete. He got the girls. He was popular. He was witty and funnier than you. He had everything.
It’s 2:30 in the morning on Friday night or Saturday morning or whatever you want to call it. I should be sleeping or studying because we have an exam next week, but I can’t stop reading all of the painful Facebook posts, the Instagram pictures of that infectious smile with heart-wrenching captions. I can’t focus for more than fifteen-minute increments. I wasn’t even one of his best friends. We weren’t close in the sense of sharing deep secrets and ruminating over life, but I spent enough time around that guy to know that the loss of his soul is a tragedy to all who have known him, and all who should have had the chance to know him if he didn’t leave this world so soon. This posts means nothing to anyone. This is my long-winded Facebook tribute post because I can’t do that sort of thing. I can’t read people say “this was God’s plan”. This was not his fucking plan. I just have to get this shit off my chest. Tonight is a night for memories & merlot…
When we were sixteen, we’d joke around and taunt each other about who could bong a beer faster. We’d make jokes about our mothers. When I was seventeen, when I was a bit more a rebellious and not so good of a student, I asked him to write a paper for me for twenty-five dollars. He did, but a week later my English teacher pulled me aside and told me I had plagiarized the paper. The dude completely copied and pasted it from online book reviews. Haha, that bastard. He gave me my money back and bought me a case of PBR. I can’t help but laugh now. We drank beers together often. We did this in basements when someone’s parents weren’t home, shit-talking over beer pong and staying up until the next day started. That’s about as seventeen as it gets. He dated one friend and I dated the other. We dumped out a third of a gatorade bottle, filled the rest with vodka, and got drunk on the beach with our friends. When he moved away, I visited him at his apartment. That night, we sat in his apartment living room, drank beers, got high, and laughed hysterically at Trailer Park Boys for hours on end. I’ll never see Bubs, Julian, Ricky & the gang without thinking of him. Early on in college, he’d come to visit frequently. We’d take shots of Fireball, because that’s when that devious potion first hit the market, drink Molson’s and go to overcrowded house parties while wandering the streets of the college universe as a gang of kids, one of whom was in charge of carrying our backpack full of beer through our voyage. When we moved out of the freshman dorms and got the new freedom of a house, he was at each and every party. We’d sneak outside to smoke a drunken cigarette, talk about our crazy mothers, and discuss music and movies and such. He was one of the guys I could do that with. He was one of the cool ones. As time wore on, I saw less and less of him. But each time I did see him, there was a warm hug preceding ten minutes of catching up and laughter. Like I said, he had a charm. You could be at a great party surrounded by friends, but if he were there, it just became it little bit better. His smile was contagious. His voice just emanated warmth and friendship and his trademark goofiness. And he always had something witty to say. But not in the annoying witty sarcastic way. More like, damn I wish I were that witty because this guy is hilarious without trying.
But like I said, I was seeing him less and less. On the surface you’d never know. But he had his demons.
I’d heard the rumors about him. Flunking a semester of college. Smoking every day. Hanging with the wrong crowd. The classic response to where is he was a shrug, eyes looking at the ground and… “It’s bad“.
I’ll never forget the last time I saw him. We were drinking together, with two other friends at a bar. He was drinking bourbon. He was quieter than usual. It was the first time I’d seen him in a while. I said, “Dude, we really need to hang out again soon. Let’s do something this week”. Fittingly, he responded, “Come on man. You’re just saying that because you’re drunk. We’ll make a plan to hang out this week. Then we’ll never talk about it again”. I paused for a moment, then smirked and laughed at his deadpan candor because he was right.
Now, I wish that we could talk about it.
But we can’t.