Better Days

Beth and I are drinking martinis at Cafe American, one of our friendly competitors, after a hard Saturday night. We’re both tired and in need of post shift medication.

“So did you hear about the guy who died?” Beth asks.

“Who died?” I reply.

“You know the bartender over at Flannery’s?”

“No. I’ve never been in there.”

“He was killed in a car accident a few days ago.”

“That’s awful,” I say, “How old was he?”

“He wasn’t even thirty.”

I have a sinking feeling in my gut. People younger than me aren’t supposed to die. But it happens every day.

“Did you know him?” I ask.

“Not well.”

I take a sip of my drink and remember my friend Kevin who died of pancreatic cancer at 32 – one day after his first wedding anniversary.

“It’s tragic when someone dies so young,” I say, “All their possibilities become impossible.”

“Yeah,” Beth murmurs.

“They have the funeral yet?” I ask.

“Couple of days ago.” Beth says.

“Did you go?”

“No,” Beth says, her voice dropping to a whisper. “Like I said, I didn’t know him that well.”

Suddenly silence seems like the best reply.

Beth takes a thoughtful sip from her drink.

“But you know what really sucks?” she says.

“What?”

“The guy who died?”

“Yeah?”

“His brother was killed on 9/11.”

“Jesus” I mutter.

“Can you imagine their poor parents?”

“I can’t imagine,” I say, shaking my head.

“Their parents have other children,” Beth says, “They had a big family but…..”

“It’s a disaster no matter how many kids they had,” I say. “In my family there’s only me and my brother. If this had happened to us…”

“Oh God,”

“Yeah,” I say, knocking on the wooden table.

“And,” Beth says slowly, “The guy who died? His best friend was away on his honeymoon.”

Suddenly I’m transported to the day Kevin died. It’s a glorious spring afternoon. Just as I’m pulling up to his house the funeral guys are taking his body away. When the somber men carrying the gurney reach the foot of the stairs they see me and stop. I reach out and place my hand on Kevin’s shrouded corpse.

I cannot believe Kevin’s dead. Not my friend. Not the guy I played poker with. Skied in Vail with. Not the fun loving guy who tried to hook me up at parties. It can’t be.

But what I feel under the shroud doesn’t move. It’s stiff and cold. I pull my hand back, suddenly frightened.

The funeral guys say nothing. I nod. They continue down the stairs, slide what was once Kevin into the hearse, and drive away. In the back of my mind I remember he’s going to be cremated.

I go inside the house. It’s filled with people. Everybody’s crying. I hear Kevin’s wife screaming.

“This time last year we were on our honeymoon. It’s not fair. It’s not fair!” she wails.

I head towards the sound of her voice. Kevin’s widow’s curled up in her bed. Her mother’s holding her close, gently stroking her hair. The hospice people are preparing a sedative.

I go over to the side of the bed. I stroke her hair too. I mumble my condolences. She doesn’t hear me. She doesn’t hear anyone.

I walk over to the hospital bed the hospice people set up in the living room. This is where my friend ended his days. I place my hand on the bed and look out the window.

Outside it really is a beautiful spring day. The trees are just beginning to show the promise of new life. The sun is warm.

I stand there and contemplate the fact that anybody I ever loved who died, died on a spring day. With a start I remember its Holy Thursday. Easter’s around the corner. But I’m not thinking theological thoughts. No musing about death and resurrection. There’s only grief. Context will come later.

Keith’s widow lets out another piercing wail. It’s a sound I’ll remember till the day I die. I walk outside before I fall apart…………

I snap back to the present. That was nine years ago. Has it been that long? As I take another sip of my drink, a quote from the Bard floats into my head.

“When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions,” I murmur.

But Beth doesn’t hear me. She sips her drink in silence. I’m silent with her.

I stare into my martini and remember……

And pray for better days.


Comments

Better Days — 7 Comments

  1. Wow.

    My eyes watered up at this. Such beautiful language.

    My condolences to you, as belated as they may be.

  2. My wife and I have been married for a year now…one year since our honeymoon.

    Very sobering. I’m a young 24-year-old man myself…it’s hard to remember that death doesn’t always wait until you move to the nursing home. Our department just got an e-mail this morning that one of my boss’s sister died in a car crash the night before.

    Not much you can do sometimes but go on autopilot while you sort yourself out inside.

  3. Six months ago, my son was stillborn two months to the day after my wedding. Now every month Husband & I visit the little white stone in the cemetery & wish each other ‘Happy Xth Month’ on the same day… Plus, my dearest friend that I’ve known fully half of my life killed himself two weeks after our baby died, leaving *his* two daughters wondering why he didn’t love them enough to stay. (Extra bonus: the day he killed himself was my birthday.) Sometimes Husband and I get angry because our first year wasn’t supposed to be spent crying on each other.

    Reading blogs like this is one way I stay up late enough that I black out as soon as I go to bed, so I don’t spend hours just thinking about how much this year’s March absolutely sucked. But sometimes, instead of just a distraction, I find at least some kind of comfort in entries like these and their comments; Waiter can tread philosophical waters without sounding preachy or treacly or tying a bow on a sticky issue.

    We can only take what comes, but going on is up to us.

  4. Kevin or Keith? Methinks Waiter slipped and used the guy’s real name instead of a fake one. remember he changed the names of people to not abuse their privacy.

  5. I actually cried here.
    You are an amazing writer and I came across this blog after reading your book…yes a couple of years behind, but hey, it’s still selling!

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