I was standing at the door of my apartment. Backpack on my back and another bag hanging from the crook of my left arm, keys in my right hand. While I was unlocking the door, Richard came down the stairs leading into the hall behind me. I turned and called out to him.
“Hey, dude! How you been? I haven’t seen you around here very much lately.”
Richard stopped in his tracks and stared at me. He looked like a little kid who just found out his parents wouldn’t be living together anymore. A rush of adrenaline surged through my body. I didn’t know what was happening, but I could feel it was monumental. I knew that people don’t put on faces like that for the everyday tragedies. That face is for the heartbreak moments. The ones that tear us in two.
I dropped my bags and walked toward him as fast as I could, barely catching him as his legs gave out and he crumbled to the floor. His body shook as he pulled his knees up to his chest, fumbling for words. He tried several times to start a sentence, but he didn’t have it in him. After another set of shakes and a big breath in he managed to speak. “The doctors,” he said through shutters. “The doctors say he’s not going to make it through the week.”
“Wait, what? Who? Calvin?”
He turned his face toward me and took another rattling breath, “Yes. Calvin.” Then he dissolved into my chest. Sobbing.
I held him on the floor in the hallway. Crying quietly into his hair. It’s not that I knew Calvin well, it was that I loved Richard fiercely. And sometimes that’s all it takes to mourn an impending death. I could see the slowly opening gash in my friend that Calvin used to fill.
We try to fill those voids. We try with drugs or booze or other people. We try with hobbies and new jobs and cross-country moves. But when someone we love leaves us, there is always going to be that gap. A cave that collapsed in on itself, but never closed. But I guess it’s just like Leonard Cohen said, “That’s how the light gets in.”
When Richard stopped crying I helped him to his feet and walked him to his door. I didn’t ask him what was wrong with Calvin. It didn’t matter anyway. He was either going to pull through or he wasn’t. My job wasn’t to know the details, my job was to make sure that Richard was safe.
At his door I asked, “What can I do for you right now, man?”
“Just be around this week. Like, if I come knock on your door at 11 PM, will you answer?”
“Of course. I’m here.”
“Thank you,” he said more to the ground than to me. He closed the door and I could hear his shoulder blades hit it and his body slide down the length. I held up my hand to knock again, but I knew he just needed to be heartbroken right now. And that was okay.
I put my bags into my apartment and ran up the stairs to Allen’s, banging hard on the door. When he answered I didn’t bother with any greetings, just asked, “Dude! What the fuck happened?”
“Calvin has bacterial meningitis. He’s been in the ICU for about a day and a half now and they… You know, they just don’t have any good news.”
“Yeah, kiddo. It’s rough. I don’t even know what to say to Richard. He’s just barely holding it together, of course. I mean, I would be a total wreck, too. He’s just usually such a jubilant guy, you know. It’s so hard to see him… Shit. What am I doing? Complaining about how hard it is for me to watch him hurt like that. What must be happening in his head right now? His whole world is falling apart. You know he’s not even on the lease to their apartment?”
Allen’s words started fading out. He wasn’t talking to me anymore, he wasn’t talking to anybody. He was just trying to fill the space with something that wasn’t our brains stuck on a spin cycle. Repeating over and over that our friend was lying in a hospital bed, ten minutes away, and there wasn’t anything we could do about it.
These events happened in the summer of 2010. This piece is an excerpt from my current NaNoWriMo novel.