Thursday, August 26, 2010

A frightening grief

It's 2:00am as I start to write this sentence.  I haven't been to sleep, though I've been in my bed for hours.  My brain is running at a breakneck pace through scenarios, future events, past tragedies, and the events of the day.

It's a lot of thought to devote to something that doesn't really have anything to do with me.  But death tends to caress everyone it passes and send them gently spiraling in their own eddies of self-examination.

The death was a local high school junior.  He was driving a country road at night, ran a stop sign, collided with another car and was instantly killed.  I know this because the high school student who works part-time in the shop came in to work and told me.

She appeared in the height of the afternoon during an unexpected burst of activity.  As can often happen in a retail store, an imperceptible signal went out and caused four customers to arrive simultaneously.  As we swept around trying to keep people busy, she slipped in.  I saw her enter and called out a greeting, which she returned.  Had it been less busy, I would have noticed something different. 

As it was, I didn't notice it until a few minutes later.  She was quietly working in the breakroom and I lightheartedly inquired if there was anything wrong.  She looked at a spot about three feet to left of my elbow and said that one of her best friends had been killed on Monday. Having made it through that sentence, her voice broke and her tears ran down her cheeks as she sobbed.

I laid my hand on her back and expressed my sadness.  But there's little time for this in the height of the academic music season.  Too soon, another employee was standing at my elbow, wanting me to verify a price cut on reeds for a customer who had the nerve to bargain to stupidly low levels.  Didn't they realize that death had passed through the room?

But for now, it's time to turn out the lights and sleep.  Nothing more to be gained from losing additional sleep.

In time, she came to me and asked what she could do, having completed the task she started.  I thought furiously if there was anything that could be accomplished, but eventually presented her the opportunity to bow out of work for the day and return home.  She took it.

And now I sit here, in the dead of night (so to speak).  I think about a high school life cut short.  I think about the other such students I've known from my own past.  I think about death and what it means and how it works.  I think about the times I've gone to graveyards alone to feel "close" to the dead I've known.  To search their marble markers for explanations or excuses.

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