I sat at the statue on the corner waiting for him. For at least two weeks I’ve practiced being present and focusing on my breath. For those 10 minutes I breathed with presence and Not Thinking so nicely it would have been okay if he didn’t show up.
But I wanted to be present. I wanted to bring nothing into whatever our conversation would be. I wanted to just let him bring it.
Across from me, a bakery window. Two chatting employees laughed, hard. I remembered once years ago buying a baggie of weed from a brother who worked there named Worm. Otherwise, around me the parade of office workers and backpacked kids.
Finally, my friend strolled up. Reed thin in a grey shirt, matching slacks and huge reflective sunglasses. I am 15 years older than he is, and now that he’s 30 and no longer the 21 year old I’d met and once worked with, I can site the new maturity in him and I like this version a bit more than the manic, non-listening lightning strike he was just a few years ago.
All of the lunches we’ve had with him, he never eats. We walk and talk, circling around directionless, stopping in a clothes store where he expects shoes or garments with white glove detail. This time was no different, and I was glad I’d already eaten. We shook, and briefly caught up. Any time he asks questions now, I’m caught off guard. His 21 year old wouldn’t listen. The 30 year old does. But I still keep feeling like I need to hurry to the point before he loses interest and says politely: I Hate To Cut You Off.
O-kay… Not everyone thinks in images. Not everyone likes poetry.
It didn’t take long for him to come out with it. How his aunt was shot and killed last weekend at a party. Adult night skating at a rink. Four were shot, three wounded. Hers was the only death. The suspects haven’t been caught.
He’s not angry. Tell the truth, he said. I dont feel anything. Everything happened so quick. My cousin called, didn’t say she was in the hospital or nothing. He called and said she’s dead and that was it.
I asked if the funeral happened already.
He said she was a Jehovah’s Witness– so there’d be no funeral.
And she was an organ donor. She was shot Saturday and by Thursday, cremated.
What memorial there was, he and a few close members of his family missed it by 10 minutes. She’s just gone. Her two sons, suddenly given blinders and expected to move on.
Everything happened so fast, he said.
Were you real close, I asked.
You saw her last name, he said. She was That Aunt to me.
He told me the last three times he saw her. The second time was in Costco, just at random. He ended up shopping with her, pitching in some money and joining her for the rest of the day. The third time was just last month, he said. The day his grandfather was released from the hospital.
She was That Aunt who kept the family together, was the one to organize reunions and kept people fed and whatnot. He wonders now if he’s expected to take up the slack without her. Especially where her sons were concerned. He’ll probably Just Do It anyway.
I told him I felt him. I told him that I didn’t have any family. That all the people I felt closest to were gone. Even in my biological family. The folks who kept me in the mix were erased thru a cancer of one type or another. But he and I didn’t share wounds. We shared his second cousin whom I went to high school with. He mentioned her by name, since his aunt and his cousin were very close and I told him I remembered his cousin.
Serious? He said. Why have you never told me this? (–I once thought I did–) What was she like back then?
Truth: We didn’t kick it like that. But I knew her, I said. I liked her. I even remember seeing her on a game show many years ago. Supermarket Sweep.
We walked into a phone store. The Greeter was cool and helpful… if not fine enough. “If you’re gonna be greeting people at the door,” he said. He shrugged and shook his head.
He handed the woman behind the counter his phone and a package of protective screens. She disappeared in the backroom and I joked she’ll probably switch phones on you. He said: I was just thinking that.
But she came back, handed him his newly protected phone and we parted ways at the door. He said we’ll have lunch again. Maybe Friday. I would like that, I said.