Lest we forget: life is so achingly fragile, and there are no second chances.
A week ago today was the fourth anniversary of my father's death. That morning, I asked myself the kind of question that defines the difference between adulthood and childhood: "If I had no more chances after today, what would be my greatest regret?"
For me, the answer was clear. Something about the day, the anniversary—something indefinable and pressing—meant that I spent that morning finally doing something about it. Actions that may or may not get written about here. It's too personal, and has ramifications on lives not my own. Even if I could write it, I am not sure that I should.
Today, after a crossword-and-cat-induced nap, we dressed and headed out for Indian food, at a restaurant in which we are regulars ("No bread tonight?") and came home to a message on the answering machine.
"That's unusual," I said, turning on lights as Jeff headed to the bedroom to check the message. I followed him into the room shortly thereafter, and he gave me the summary. I played it back to confirm, then called my mother: my grandmother, who has been in poor health lately, fell and broke her hip yesterday. She had surgery this morning and is recovering as well as can be expected.
As soon as her condition stabilizes a bit, my mother and I will settle on a range of dates this month for me to visit.
While we were speaking on the cell, the house line rang. Caller ID said that it was Jeff's parents, so I cupped my hand over the phone and bellowed, "Pick up, Jeff!" On the cell line, I could hear my mother's laughter. Apparently I have the old-married-woman bellow down pat these days.
She and I spoke for a few more minutes, and then a friend taught me something new: how to work a sudoku puzzle. As I was completing the numbers, Jeff came in to give me the news his mother had called to give us: John Hancock died yesterday.
John was a childhood friend of Jeff's, and one that I had never managed to really get to know. He served as an usher in our wedding; those of our friends who stayed over the night after the wedding will remember him as the guy who ended up sleepwalking and chugging some sort of chemical—Kara, was it drain cleaner? I don't remember.
He dropped off the radar shortly after that. He was someone whose name always came up when Jeff went home, but someone whom we never managed to catch up with or get to talk to. We would hear about him from family members, but I don't believe Jeff or I managed to actually see him at any point past our wedding, nearly eight years ago.
This was the Horde of Geeks, circa 1998:
- Jeff and I are the ones in the wedding clothes in the middle.
- On the left, in the purple shirt - Brad, who has since married.
- On the front row, Lori (Jeff's sister), who has since married.
- Kicking the cane is Eleanor, who remains resolutely single and, last we heard, is rampaging about in northwest Arkansas.
- Kara is to the left of me, in the white dress. She is married and has two boys now.
- Stephanie is to the left of me, also hiding under my train, and is wearing a green dress. She and Dan (in the back right, trying to be seen over John Wilson) married last year after having been together for ages.
- John Wilson, in the plaid shirt, has also married. He just announced this month that his wife Peggy is pregnant with their first child.
John can be seen between Jeff and me. If you're from Arkansas, he's wearing a Razorback snout. Anyone else would say he's wearing a pig nose.
Death erases chance and opportunity; no more opportunities to make up that missed phone call or to go back and ask that question you always meant to ask. There are no more photos, no more second chances, and time marches on in a silent and endless benediction to us all.
He was twenty-nine. (Last night, we were told that he was thirty. Not the case.)