I had to tell a woman today that my friend was dead. It had been almost five months but she didn’t know. It was five months empty because he wasn’t there. Five months wishing he still was. Five months of being reminded of him every day we would have worked together. There was still an empty space in those days where his smile should have been. It had been five months, but he was still dead.
How do you tell someone that? How do you look this woman, a perfect stranger, straight in the eyes and tell her that he’s dead? Nineteen years old and he’s dead.
“He was so nice,” is what she told me, “He was such a nice boy.”
That’s what everyone says, too. He was nice, so nice. The nicest person you could know. Always smiling. That’s one of the things we miss the most around here. His smile. He was always smiling. He’d walk in and no matter how late he was or the reason for it, he’d be smiling. He didn’t smile because everything was perfect and nothing bothered him. His life wasn’t perfect. But it was his life not ours. So when he saw us, he smiled. Around us the rest of the world, that world beyond the doors of the store, didn’t matter. The rest of his life couldn’t bother him there. So he smiled.
The rest of his life couldn’t bother him. The rest of his life. Didn’t even realize how that came out. The rest of his life. Nineteen years old and the rest of his life doesn’t exist anymore.
He was only trying to help his friend. Some people could look at what happened and say that’s why they don’t put themselves on the line for anyone, just mind your own business. But that wasn’t him. That’s not the type of person or the type of friend that he was. His friend was in trouble and he had to help him. He had to, whatever the cost. Whatever the cost…
Not many people would agree with that. Not many people would do something for a friend no matter what the situation was. He would. He did. His friend was alive.
It’s easy to look around and say that it seems like the best types of people are dying. Or is it simply that those deaths are the ones that stay with us. The senseless death. Those are the ones we can never forget. The tragic death.
The people dying are the best types of people because they’re willing to put themselves on the line. They’re willing. Not willing to die. That isn’t their intention. They’re willing to stand up when no one else will, to step in when everyone else has put their head down. Not many people would do that anymore.
Everyone says they would. You hear it all the time. I’d do anything for you. I would die for you. I’ll be there for you no matter what. But what does that mean today? Today that means I’ll do anything for you that won’t take too much time or energy or inconvenience me in any way. Today that means I’ll die for you until I feel the slightest bit of pain and then you’re on your own; then it’s your problem and you need to deal with it yourself. Don’t worry, it will teach you a valuable lesson. You’ll be better off if I don’t intervene.
People who say that never mean it. It’s the people who are afraid to say it or the people the thought never occurred to who would be the most willing when the time comes. Words are meaningless. Words are a waste. How you live is how you are remembered. In some cases, too, it’s how you die.
He was always smiling. No matter what, he was smiling. Everyone, when they talk about him, that’s the first things they all say. They miss his smile. There are endless stories about him. Endless good times. Funny stories. Almost endless. They remind me how little I actually knew about him. I barely knew beyond the smile. They knew him better, and I’d listen to every story. They all had one. I suppose this is mine.
Senseless death. Senseless.
That’s what the woman kept saying. First she was shocked. Shock. Disbelief. And then— “How?”
I had to tell a woman today my friend was dead. Then I had to tell her how, at least the version of how that I had heard. But I couldn’t tell it all. I couldn’t tell the story; only that he was stabbed helping his friend. Protecting his friend.
Her reaction spread to me. My knees felt weak, my hands shook. My voice caught in my throat each time I tried to answer. And my eyes… everything started getting a little blurry. When I could finally answer so did hers.
He’d been dead five months. Five months and she didn’t know. Five months and I had to be the one to tell her when she asked, “Is Aaron working today?”
I had to tell this woman with the only words I could find, “Aaron died.”