(Blink) (Blink) (Blink).
For a long time, that’s all I see.
A digital cursor, on digital white.
It begs a simple summary of a complex situation; It’s so 2015, you know?
A single word, on a scrolling feed.
“Sad” or … maybe “Angry.”
Let the masses figure it out.
* * *
On Sunday morning, after a sound night tucked in the comfort of my wife’s family’s home in the mountains, I went for a run.
It has been an abnormally gorgeous late spring in Arizona. Lots of rain; unseasonably cool temperatures. Even more so in the state’s high country.
The Ponderosas are vibrant, the slopes green in a way reserved for the late monsoon season. Brittlebrush and sage and Mexican golden poppy bragging in yellows, purples and golds.
My mind was swimming in that serenity when I opened the front door.
“Nick is dead,” Heidi said.
* * *
Nick is one of my wife’s good friends.
She adores him. Every story from work that involves something worth laughing about involves Nick.
The first time I met him, two years ago, we ended up dancing like fools in the aisles in front of 35,000 people at a Diamondbacks game – this two hours after we’d said our first hello.
Every night after work, I heard stories about the debates; the beautiful kind shared between friends. They fought over IPA versus lager; Chandler versus Tempe; the kind of girl you might call a keeper.
There are not many exclusive friends between Heidi and I. We share in almost all aspects of life.
But Nick, a few of his friends, and some other people from work, were decidedly her circle. So to delve too much into who he is is beyond my capacity and, probably, beyond my authority as a writer.
He was someone I instantly recognized as reserved for a special category in my mind. Kind, gentle, real. The kind of guy I wanted my kids around.
And now he’s gone.
* * *
My instinct is to dive into clichés. To tell you that this is another example of the mass unpredictability of life.
But that’s way too shallow to convey the hollowness of unexpected, accidental death.
We don’t know why it happened. We never will.
All we know is that it is.
And now everyone in the aftermath is left to pick up the pieces in a situation that makes absolutely no sense.
My wife and her coworkers will look at the empty desk; the empty space in the meetings; the void of happy hours when the guy who was the driving force is gone.
I’ll face what comes when the front door is closed; the workday done; in many cases, the kids put to sleep.
I don’t know what it’ll be, because I’ve never been there.
I suspect it involves listening, and patience, and the understanding that it’s a long road to recovery.
* * *
Even for me, there is a gaping hole.
Those who have grieved deeply will recognize the feeling; the hollowness of it all.
The “why” “why” “why” that beats with the regularity of the heart.
On Sunday and Monday and today, I did what I know best – I retreated to Heidi and my children.
I crouched down low and explained to Beckett that every time I raise my voice, it’s not because I hate him, or because I want to make him angry.
I do it because I’m trying to teach him something: How to be the best man possible in a world full of snark, and horror stories and sarcasm.
I watched “Planet Earth” with Brody, absorbed the coos as the elephant babies marched towards a seasonal delta alongside their momma.
I held Heidi’s hand, kissed her again and again, as she went to face her coworkers and explain what had happened.
* * *
I’d like there to be some neat little takeaway here.
But we’re only on the periphery.
We’re not mom, or dad, or the very closest of his friends. Though Heidi knows, and cares deeply for some of them, as well.
On Sunday, as I searched for some sort of answer, it was hard not to dive down a rabbit hole; to ask why we even bother planning when the universe has no interest in our plans.
Me, the naïve, US-bound pontificator dived deeper and wondered if people surrounded by war and chaos even bother to dream – or if they only have time to focus on survival.
I thought about the tightly spun cocoon I’ve woven around my own children – all of my own dreams I’ve sacrificed to keep them warm and fed and worry-free. Even the way I’ve shielded them from my own weaknesses. And why I’ve done it.
I fell down the hole deeper.
I questioned my job, my choices, all of it.
And every few minutes or so, I’d snap back to the kitchen, or the living room, and see my wife – on the phone, tears streaming, talking to someone else or texting condolences to someone who cared.
The heartbeat “why” “why” “why” would start again; and an old voice, borne from my own deep dive down some other rabbit holes would emerge.
“Acceptance,” is all it kept saying. This ain’t fucking Hollywood, people.
There aren’t neat story arcs to most of the things that matter; to the moments that really define our existence.
We may be mighty beings; but we can’t know all the answers.
* * *
A couple days before all this happened, sitting with a close friend of my own, staring the glory of a holiday weekend in the face, I shared with him a story I’d recently read about an old co-worker of mine.
She was a journalist I worked alongside in my early 20s, chasing down local government stories for the daily newspaper.
Recently, she had become a US attorney.
She shared with the writer of this story, “I use to let life control me, to take me where it may. But at some point, I decided I needed to take control of my own life.”
To make the decisions that would take her to the place she wanted to go.
Those words lingered; they still do.
But they also layered neatly atop a conversation I had with someone else a few days prior – about how the thing I look most forward to each day, no matter where I am, no matter what the circumstance, is my first cup of coffee in the morning.
“It’s wonderful you can appreciate that,” she said. “So many can’t.”
At the time, it was a simple – but true – statement.
I didn’t delve into the why.
But I have since.
It’s all about another day.
If there’s coffee brewing in the morning when I get up, it means the night before was normal enough to set the timer. If I have time to drink it, it means the morning is normal, too.
Faced with this realization, faced with the fact that I’m chasing lots of lofty goals and in the process skipping regular phone calls to parents, conversations with friends, Sundays cuddling in front of the TV – when all I really want is a morning cup of coffee …
… the thought hangs in the air.
The “why” “why” “why” beats again.
Answers to thoughts like this never come easily.
The answers, often, are a luxury we don’t have the time to afford.