At the end of 2011, my house is still standing on its foundation; my early-twenty-something children are progressing ahead in life (at a glacial pace); my wife has not murdered or maimed me; and we are both still gainfully employed. By all accounts, life has not been bad. Well, 2010 is a “almost-was” good year. Nothing is more shocking than the death of a young person, and the tragic passing of one of the neighborhood kids last Tuesday has most of my Merced friends shaking their heads and asking the proverbial question, “WHY?”
Several nights ago, as my son was drifting off to sleep around 1:00 AM, he heard what he thought was someone in the house screaming and then a loud thud. He dutifully checked the doors and windows and then went to bed. An early morning phone call woke us all. One of the neighbors was calling to tell us about the deadly auto crash in front of her house in the wee hours of the morning. As the facts rolled out, what my son had heard the night before was the sound of a raised, half-ton pick-up slamming into the side of the car of one of his best friends, just two blocks away. His old playmate was fatally injured and died at the scene.
For the next few days, there has been a constant vigil at the corner where he died. There are reminders of his violent death everywhere. His car was T-boned; sent air born; took out a light post and a corner of the adjacent house. The arm on the streetlight drove through the roof and into the bathroom. The pick-up landed on its side two houses away. The pavement is still tained with blood, and nearby, candles burn and hundred of flowers scent the air. Not only is it an alter to the poor soul and departed friend, but to innocence lost, as well.
The sense immortality of the early-twenty-something crowd was fractured. The auto wreck allowed death to enter their lives. They could no longer live in the Garden of bliss, innocence and ignorance of their own mortal vulnerability. Their mourning has been at once heart touching, profound, and –this may sound harsh– morosely comical. The young man was well liked by every social group in town, from shaggy skaters to well coifed college students. Eulogies spoke not only to the young man’s life, but also to a life that for his peers, was history. They stood at the memorial service, gaping at their mortal nakedness and knew not what to do.
The boy’s death affected me as well. He had been a neighbor who played in my house and swam in my pool many times. He and his sister had been my students. I chose not to go to the funeral, thus leaving me very unpopular with my kids and wife. Instead, I gardened in my backyard: pulling weeds, hoeing, pruning. I like it there in my yard. It is verdant with trees, countless shrubs and flowers, beautiful masonry, a pool, and a plethora of neighbors’ trees surrounding me. The song birds provided a constant symphony of whistles and chirps, only interrupted by the occasional raspy-throated caw of a crow. I was treated to a pair of golden eagles circling overhead and then perching atop a bare limbed maple tree behind my house. My binoculars are always handy, and they gave me a great look at their sharp, wary eyes, hard talons, and gilded cowls.
I worked all morning after my coffee and paper; skipped lunch; and only stopped when the sun rested on the edge of the horizon. By that time, my back was strained, my hands ached, and my hamstrings would not straighten. Leaning against the back door, I grunted as I bent over to untie my wet and dirt caked gardening shoes. The air was already chilly enough to see my breath cloud in front of me. I limped in to the warm house and headed to the bathroom to soak my own mortal bones. The strain of a long day in the yard, and our poor young friend’s passing only reminded me how long ago it had been since I too had left that Garden of innocence.