Chad died today. At 6:00 this morning… they turned off the machines at 5:30 yesterday and now he’s gone. I can’t think. I am finding it impossible to focus on my email or whatever it is that I’m trying to do right now. I just want 5:00 to come so I can go do something – I don’t know what, maybe just sit and stare at the TV or even just sit. I don’t know what to think. Or what to feel.
I haven’t thought about Chad in so long – we just grew up and apart and do what most people do when they graduate from high school. When I moved to Charlotte, I lost touch with everyone – just moved out on planet where the only people who existed were Bobby and my family. Part of me wishes that I had maintained a friendship, kept in touch. Part of me is glad that I didn’t, because it would hurt even more than it already does.
Is it ok that I’m upset? I feel like Brad doesn’t think that I should be, that I haven’t earned the right to be upset because Chad and I weren’t close anymore. And maybe he’s right – I didn’t even know the person that Chad had become. I still think of the kid – the little blonde loud-mouthed kid that I had every class with. He was one of my very favorite friends, but then we graduated and life happened. He went on to do all sorts of things – he graduated from Clemson, became an engineer, got a job, wanted to move to Charleston, wasn’t dating anyone, still loved music, still chatted online. And for some reason I cut people off – I don’t log on to IM and have a myspace account and do all the things that people do when they want to keep in touch. I just move to Charlotte and disappear.
But even if I don’t have the right to be so very sad, I just am. I’m sad that he was only 28 – he had his entire life, with a wife and kids and he should be burying his mother rather than his mother burying him. But did he have his entire life? How could he live for 28 years, and then it just be over? How could it be “his time to go”? I always thought I understood that concept, that it was just the ultimate way to say “God decided and I don’t know why – it’s just out of my control.” But why and how could it be his “time”? Why would a 28-year-old have a “time”? And his mother – my heart hurts for her. She just said goodbye to her only child – she and her husband, Chad’s father, had to make the decision yesterday at 5:30 to turn off the machines that were keeping him alive.
I saw him yesterday. He was so warm, almost too warm, and his chest was moving as if he were sleeping. But something was very wrong with his head – his head said that he wasn’t sleeping… it was a strange shape. Like it had been altered in some horrible way, like someone had taken a large piece of his skull bone and not put it back. And he smelled bad – not clean, not normal. But his fingernails were dirty, like they always were. Like he had just fiddled around under the hood of one of his cars and forgot to clean the oil out from under his nails. And when I looked at his arm, it was normal. There was nothing to indicate that his head was not normal. I held his hand and when I put my hand up to wipe my eyes, I smelled the bad smell – like his body already knew that it was dead, but the machines hadn’t yet gotten the message. And I touched his face – I never touched his face in life, but yesterday I did. There were times that I wanted to, when he was the target of my high school crush, but it passed and I never did. Until yesterday, when I said good-bye to him. His skin was bristly, like his hair was still growing since he shaved last… his hair didn’t know that he was dead either.
I stood by his bed and cried for a few minutes after his mother left us alone. I left and walked down the hall, but didn’t know where to go – the waiting room was somewhere and I couldn’t find it. What if he was still in there? Or what if he was just in the room, listening to those to loved him say their goodbyes, and although he couldn’t talk back, he could hear each word? If I were him and I had a choice, I would choose to be there, to hear the things that people say when they’re saying it for the last time to your body, to your face.
So I went back. The nurse came in and talked to me – she told me his story, how he was still talking when they brought him in, but that as his brain swelled more and more, he became less responsive. And that he would never be the same – even if he lived, his brain had crossed a threshold that human brains cannot cross and come back. The Chad I knew, the one that others knew, was gone. And then she left and I sat next to him.
I talked to him – I told him that I was so sorry, so very sorry that this had happened to him. And if there was anything I could do to fix it, I would. And that I was sorry that I had lost touch – that I always asked about him, but never took the time to ask for his number and give him a call – and for that I was truly sorry. I told him that we were going to have our ten-year reunion next April, and that we would all miss him so very much. That our class wasn’t complete without him, and that he would be in each of our thoughts, because he would leave a gaping hole. I told him that he looked the same as he did in high school, except older. And I told him that I would miss him… even though we didn’t talk and didn’t see each other anymore, that I always knew that he was out there and doing ok… and now that he was leaving, I would truly, truly miss him. And I cried. I kissed my fingers and put the kiss on his cheek – I thought he would wake up, but he didn’t. I couldn’t kiss him with my lips – Chad was one of my very favorite friends, and even though I knew he wouldn’t open his eyes and catch me, I still couldn’t – it would just be too weird.
And then I left as quickly as I could…. His mother kissed me on the cheek and told me she loved me and thanked me for coming. She told me that she used to fuss at Chad for not studying in school, but he said he didn’t need to study – that he had Sarah. She laughed about how it was always a big group of guys and then just me. And she told me that she always hoped that Chad and I would become a couple – that she told him that he should “make his move” because I was pretty and smart, but he said “no, mom, she’s like my sister – that would be too weird.”
She rubbed his arm and his cheek and told me that it was the hardest thing that she had ever had to do – to let him go. But that she wouldn’t give up those 28 years for anything. I believe her.