It started with a voicemail from her beloved former boss. “Let’s get together soon. I’m sorry that I’ve been out of touch. I’ve been swamped lately. I’m sure you read about what happened to D’s son…” She hadn’t.
Before she called back she wanted to find out what this terrible thing was so she went to her computer. Oh my god, the words flew out of her mouth as she scrolled down the page skimming the first article. It got more and more terrible. His son - the son of the man who had sent her that lovely email when she decided to leave, the one who noticed how good her work was when she was left alone to do it, the one who ate banana pudding with her when they were away on a business trip, the one who toasted her at that last Christmas party, the good ‘ole southern boy - his son was dead.
She called back, set a date, wished happy holidays, and said how sorry and shocked she was by the incident. She attempted to distract herself by thinking about how good the voice students had done with their performance the night before, about how uplifting the opera’s story of the healed boy had been. She remembered the gingerbread house decorating party she’d gone to earlier that week and how silly her friend had looked balancing gum drops on his nose. And how the kitty had amused herself with the unbraided strands of red twizzler. She laughed as she thought about the post-performance-high opera director who had made prank calls to the library service desk the day before. She was looking forward to having dinner with her co-workers that evening, the last time they would be together until after the new year. She drove to work; she went about her day. It worked for a while.
At work, she was weird. Things were bugging her. She caught herself thinking about the dead boy. She read more – a stolen toy, a swat team, a battering ram, noises mistaken for gun shots, law enforcement gun shots fired through the closed door, dead boy, dead dog, officer falling on the ground with a scream. None of it made sense to her - senseless, all of it. Why did this happen? Why would he steal, why would they bring a swat team? She had to leave her office, to get away from the computer. She moved her in/out magnet to out saying that she was going for coffee. She didn’t write a back time because she didn’t know when she’d be able to return.
As soon as the cold air hit her she started to cry – quiet crying without too many tears, the kind you can cover up if you run into someone you know. She walked first to the coffee house where she pretended to be okay. Choclatey coffee drink in hand she headed back outside. She needed solitude to process this. What she really needed was nature, but she wasn’t going to find much of that here. The students were gone for winter break so she thought quiet would be easy to find. Everywhere she went there was noise – construction noise, parents picking up kids from the daycare center and then starting up their cars, 12-month university employees running around passing out cards and gifts. She was overwhelmed. Why was there no fucking quiet place on this campus? She considered calling her friend, the one from the retreats, the one who was so wonderful, but decided that it would be unfair for their first non-airplane arrangements phone call to be weepy and frantic. She ended up on the back porch of her old cherished dorm. It seemed an appropriate place. She pulled her journal from her bag and started to write. It helped a little and so did her pink flowered hankie and her girlie coffee.
It was cold and she wasn’t ready to go back yet so she got up and started walking again. She was still trying to figure out where there would be quiet and then she remembered the meditation room in the student center. On the way there she ran into a friend who gave her a small purple silk bag filled with lavender and a hug – two things that she hadn’t realized that she needed. She arrived at the student center - the meditation room was locked. Her first instinct was to start crying again but she stopped herself and walked to the help desk and asked if it was possible to get the room unlocked. Of course, it’s not supposed to be locked was the response and the student behind the desk went downstairs with her to unlock the door.
She chose a bench near the window. With the bag of lavender in her hand she looked out at the fountain. The garden was prettier than it used to be when she worked on this side of campus and took her lunch breaks here on sunny days. This area was renovated during the 4 years she was away. She sniffed the lavender and thought about the boy that she’d met only once. He must have been a middle-schooler then - so kind, full of love for his parents, happy to be included in his dad’s work party. How could this have happened to him?
She walked across the room to the zen sand garden. She used the rake to remove the Merry Christmas that she imagined was left by a post-exams student right before he left for home. She picked up a small rock and wrote the boy’s name. Then she wrote the officer’s name – the man who killed him. She drew a line connecting their names, in hopes that something good can come from senselessness.