At first, I couldn’t tell what was going on. I was at the jail and LuAnn was in the lobby. Crying, very nearly hysterical.
“William is dead,” she said, burying her face in my shoulder.
“William is dead.”
Then there was nothing but heartbeats, some hers, some mine, trapped between us and filling the lobby with a harsh thunder.
A car crash. Two sixteen-year old boys, neither wearing their seatbelts. They slammed into the back of a grain truck, left no skidmarks.
William, LuAnn’s nephew, drove, still giddy about recently getting his driver’s license.
No skidmarks. And going fast enough to tear up the back axle of the truck they hit.
They didn’t even see it coming. One minute they were gabbing, probably talking about girls, maybe changing one CD for another in the stereo. The next?
William was a good kid, had been as long as I’ve known him. Once, about ten or eleven years ago, LuAnn and I had traveled from Colorado to Illinois to see everyone. William, all of maybe five, had latched on to me and dragged me to a local park. We played on the swing and ran around, had a high old time.
Two days later, just before we left, I heard William on CB radio that connected my in-laws’ place with the farm a few miles away. “Little guy no go home. No, little guy no go home.”
I was little guy. To this day I’ve no idea where that came from, drawn up from the depths of a kid’s imagination, I guess.
A few years later, when the family came west to Denver to visit, William got a little crazed when it seemed like his dad was going to get on my motorcycle and take a ride. Didn’t want Daddy riding without a helmet, I think.
Wanted him to be safe, to survive the ride, come back still the Daddy.
And now Daddy is still here, but William is gone.
I won’t cry and yell and howl about how unfair life is. Life is what it is: fair, unfair, frequently ugly and sometimes beautiful. Maybe my Catholic mother-in-law is right and William is in a better place. Then again, maybe he’s no place.
All I know is, this place is less interesting because he’s not in it.