It’s hard, filling that small space set aside for your platitudes. I gaze oh-so-casually over the previous entries, trying not to give the impression that I have to really think about it. This should be easy- I have all the empathy of unpainted drywall, but that’s easy enough to fake. I even like the person I’m writing to.

I think about what I’ve said to people who’ve lost the ones they love- dogs, grandparents, great-aunts, gerbils- you say the same things whether it’s a small furry rodent who sometimes pissed on your favorite sweater or someone who left a ragged bleeding hole in their life. Jesus, that sucks. I’m sorry. You need anything?

I consider writing “shit happens” and leaving it unsigned- Lauren would get it, might even make her smile- but some of the other entries are so…thoughtful. Deep, even. Sad when the only wisdom I notice is written under “Our prayers are with you” in flowery script.

Damn it. They’ve taken all the ones I’ve seen other, more compassionate, and better-mannered people write. What the hell can I write? I know what I should, of course; it comes with the culture, I guess, or maybe just Hallmark Cards. I’m deeply sorrowed by your loss. My prayers (thoughts, if you or the intended receiver are otherwise-minded) are with you. God be with you during your time of trial. I’m here for you.

What the hell does any of that mean, though? I’m sad for Lauren, that’s a given. My thoughts are with her (when they aren’t on food, or precalc, or gas money). I don’t believe in God, as she well knows. But I’m not always there for her. Nobody is. Some things you just have to face yourself in some deserted mental alley. You either come to grips with it, or you don’t. My stupid banality, still slow in coming, won’t change that.

Z.Z. saunters outside and taps her watch. Time to go. I scribble something about loss and strength and something-or-other, sign it with my harsh third-grader’s cursive, and pass it on to the next person in the chain.

Shit happens.

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