I don’t particularly like commenting on death. No one does. I don’t like writing about death, either. That isn’t because I hate horror or gore. It’s because if I write about death, in fiction, let’s say, my death scenes never turn out like a movie. In movies—and in the teenage mind—death comes in two ways: from a killer in a hockey mask or through a fiery car explosion. But when I write a death, it comes in a hospital bed or well-lit room with someone battling his or her own dark soul. So, for me, writing about death is depressing.
Last week, I was forced to comment, though.
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I was a band kid. For six years, I played my alto sax and marched in the rain. Many people claim it rains all the time in Seattle, but really, there’s just a constant drizzle—nothing that would kill an alto during a parade. The saxophones are always behind the clarinets, which isn’t really a bother. The clarinets move quickly because their instruments are lighter, so even if you were stuck behind the kid who is off beat and tripping every other step, he’d rarely be in the way. David wasn’t that kid, but he did play clarinet.
He loved band way more than anyone else, rivaling the teacher’s enthusiasm. He wore black. A lot of black. He talked to kids who liked things typical band kids would like. He read science fiction books and didn’t care for anything but classical music. Because of this—or maybe just because—David and I never really talked. One time, though, I got new glasses that were “Harry Potter-ish.” He said “Nice glasses!” I said, “Thanks!” And that was that. It wasn’t as if we disliked each other for six years; we just never had anything in common. I like to think that years ago we accepted that we would wave and smile at each other in passing, but would never be BFFs who might babble about what Blair did on “Gossip Girl” the night before.
The other night, my actual BFF, Shirley, and I were texting about an ex-friend-type-thing-of-mine. We threw around comments of what a moron he was were before she finished with, “BTW, David died today.” At first I didn’t know whom she meant. There are about a million Davids in just our city. At this time I was getting in the shower, so for the next ten minutes I wondered which David she was talking about. Taylor Swift sang about her Dear John in the background while I pondered whom Shirley was referring to. Could it be my other friend’s ex? Could it be our history teacher? Maybe David Spade? The last one was a no. That’s someone you need to say both names for, like Hilary Duff.
We talked more and it turned out to be David from band. The first thing I thought of was David’s sister. I thought how sad my sister, London, would be if I died. London and I wouldn’t be able to stay up into the wee hours of the night anymore. HBO documentaries would have to be watched alone. My Weiner dog, Simon, would only have my sister to call “Aunt geel” and not me to call “Daa.” The more I thought about how people would react to my own death, the worse I felt for David’s family. I told Shirley this and she responded, “He didn’t have a sister.”
“Oh.” All of my notions from the past few minutes went out the window and I realized, after six years, I didn’t know something as simple as that about David. But then I thought. “If I had died, would David have thought about London? Did he even know I had a London?” I don’t recall if David and I ever spoke that deeply. As if asking, “Do you have siblings?” is deep. Anyway, our interactions consisted of waves and smiles for six years, not even quick little remarks like how we felt after this band concert or that. I suppose he could have seen me walk to the bus stop with London, but often times we’re easily mistaken for a couple. I don’t like that fact, but it is true. Same with my mom and me.
So the next natural thing to do was to call my fellow band member, who now lives in California. Short. Blonde. Possibly the most “book-smart” person I have ever met. She was the head of the drum section and most of the time, the head of the band. She had known David better than I had, so she was a lot sadder. At first she didn’t even believe me; she said “No!” a few times before going onto Facebook for confirmation. She was silent as she slowly realized what she was reading, through comments like: “RIP David.” “We will miss you, David.” “I wish I knew you better, David.” “You always seemed nice, David.”
She said she couldn’t believe she was looking at a dead person’s wall. This was one of the first times she knew someone who had died, so naturally she was in shock. The fragility of life finally made its grand entrance in her life. But then she said something. Her intellect popped out of its resting place. “These people didn’t care about him. They’re all posting on his wall as if they cared about him yesterday. They’re all lies.”
I said, “That’s true; it’s sad.”
“Not being rude,” my friend replied, “but you didn’t care about him, either.”
This was true, too. I could say that David was a nice guy, but that would be speculation and really only based off a handful of times that we said more than just,“Hi.” I did feel bad for his family. He was very young and society tells us a young death is always a tragedy, and that everyone should respond with a bit of sad in his or her heart. I felt bad for his friends. If one of my friends died, I would crawl in a corner for weeks and barely come out for food. Yet to say that I felt a gut-wrenching pain because he had passed on would be a grave overstatement. I simply didn’t know him well enough. And although it may be harsh, I can’t say I “wish” I did either. David and I were two different people. Neither of us really wanted to talk to the other. If there had been this underlying longing for conversation, surely it would have come about over six years.
Then I thought about the other people. The Facebook posters. Some of them genuinely did care about him and this was a loss to them. However, looking at the names, I saw several who were probably like me. The ones who would wave once in a while, or some not at all. I wondered why they would so casually post lies like, “I wish we were closer” on his wall. It’s one thing to lie on a live person’s wall, but to lie on a deceased person’s wall just seemed in bad taste. I thought it funny that when someone is in front of you, you can fold your arms and look the other way, but suddenly when you can’t see that person anymore, your arms are wide open for a hug.
My thoughts went further; soon I realized that I might not know the whole story of their relationships. I felt bad and ended up keeping my thoughts to myself while I was on the phone with my little California blonde. She actually knew David’s relationships, so her judgments were more justified. After a while of talking about David and a tangent about how one of us is going to fly cross-country over break, we signed off for the night. I went to bed and prayed to God and my Grandma that David’s family would get through this difficult time. I prayed that somehow, they would cherish the time they’d had with him.
In twenty years, I don’t think I will recall David. I may see his figure marching in front of me in a memory, but he will be just that. A figure with a clarinet. I now wonder if I might see him again once I pass on. Maybe we will cross paths up in a hallway in heaven, if he believed in that sort of thing. I might wave and smile appropriately. I could ask how he has been because it would have been so long and we might chat a little bit about where I can get a good angel-made burger, but I know how it will end. He will go his way and I, my own, without another thought of each other. But then again, we may have practice that day, so I might end up marching behind him.