It is quiet in the office now. A few stacks of papers await my review on the desk. Meeting reminders queue up on my monitor. But all I seem capable of doing this morning is staring into the distance. I'm trying to understand why, trying to understand exactly what I feel and why I feel that way, but I'm doing so with limited success. Maybe writing it all down will help.
Yesterday afternoon, mixed among bills and junk mail, I found the annual Homecoming magazine from my alma mater. I'm not exactly sure how they continue to find my address, from transcript requests I suspect, but there it was in the pile. I went to a small school with about 6,000 students at the time of my graduation, so from time to time I recognize faces or names in these alumni mailers, but rarely give them more than a cursory glance. Sitting down to dinner with my wife and daughter, I absentmindedly pulled the magazine towards me and began flipping through it as we chatted about our day. In the back, two pages are dedicated to alumni who died recently. This section is divided by decade, and gives a brief description of the deceased's connection to the school. Most of the entries are from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. But curiously, while flipping the page, I noticed two names listed in the 90s. Somewhat startled, I recognized both names.
The first befriended me at the campus Wesley Foundation. I wasn't Methodist, but a close friend had started hanging out there and so I naturally drifted by from time to time. Chris was a fixture there as much as the foosball table. He was older than me, and spent his time playing card games or watching wrestling on the television, or napping on the couch, or really anything except studying. I would sneak in late at night to raid the refrigerator for leftovers from one of the religious functions, only to find he had beaten me to it. Most felt that he was an odd duck, but I knew that he was happier delaying his exit from college than facing the prospect of returning home. Even after three years together, we did not know each other well, but I was sad to see that both he and his wife had perished in a car accident.
The second notice, however, disturbed me even more than the first. Mike and I worked together during my first two years of college. As a wide-eyed freshman scared of my own shadow, I was taken in by the staff of the University theater, Mike included. If I close my eyes I can still see him dancing with Miss Alabama backstage during a pageant. I can see his grin as we sat on the steps to the loading dock the night he told me everything about he and his young wife. He was easy-going and quick with a smile. His laughter still echoes in my memories of cast parties after our University productions.
Police reports seem to indicate that driving home from work down the interstate late one night, Mike stopped his vehicle to check on another motorist. While getting back in his car, a BMW traveling at speed struck him from behind.
It had been several years since I had seen him, though I kept up with him through mutual friends. The photo attached to the obituary looked like one of the head shots from his trip to Hollywood. In it he sports that same devilish grin.
Since yesterday afternoon I have been constantly returning to this in my mind. The randomness of it all, the untimeliness, curious how Chris's family and Mike's three children are handling it after these few months. I think how it could be me, my wife and daughter left behind to put the pieces of their life back together. These were people with whom I broke bread and shared my joys and sorrows together. And now there are two less people in this world who knew the younger me. That number will never increase, but only continue to decline in a race to see who is left. A race none of us can win.
mors vincit omnia