When I write, I try to capture that balance of attachment and detachment that I feel about most things at any given time. Often, life can become overwhelming, if you let it. Yet, at other times, one can find it difficult to connect, emotionally. I find that writing about it helps to put things into perspective, and allows my brain to sort the tedium from those real, meaningful human experiences.
I am currently working with writing in several genres to experiment, learn and grow as a writer. I am inspired by writers such as David Foster Wallace, Mark Leyner and Thomas Pynchon. Their voices each provide a unique look at the absurdity of everyday life and make great strides in making sense of it all. I hope that my writings will have a similar impact.
“Dropping Like Flies” is a slice of my life. Like anything else, the first time you experience something like death, it is overwhelming. However, just as with real life, this piece barely allows the reader time to process one death before another comes along. I’m hoping it will convey that certain degree of detachment and bewilderment that I have felt about these sorts of life experiences.
When I was in 7th grade, Brittany Hodgins' brother, Jack, dropped dead of a heart attack on the way to the school. Everybody was shocked, sad, all the Kübler-Ross stuff. The students moved on, but that was only the beginning. It was a Sunday, and our marching band had to meet up to march in a parade. The band director was furious that he and his sister weren't there for roll call, but they had a good excuse. Well, maybe not a good one, but, as far as excuses go, it fit the bill. Everybody was shocked, sad, all the Kübler-Ross stuff. The students moved on, but that was only the beginning.
A year later, two kids died of hypothermia. Well, one died of hypothermia, the other drowned in quicksand 300 feet from his house. The boys had gone fishing in a nearby lake. It began to rain so they walked back, taking a shortcut through a sandy lot owned by an excavation company. According to court documents, one of the boys slid down an embankment and into what is called a "quick condition." This occurs when a cushion of water exists below the soil, causing the inability of that surface to support a load. Justin Bradley was the first of the boys to become trapped in such a condition. When his friend, Evan, attempted to free him, his own leg became stuck. Their bodies were still touching when they were found.
During my junior year of high school, James Fox was crushed by a semi who failed to brake for a traffic jam. He was just one of three who died in the accident. Two of the girls in my school lost their father and brother that day.
That same year: a quadruple homicide. An entire family was beaten to death by their daughter's jealous ex-boyfriend who, later, set fire to the house. The firemen on the scene were all friends of the family. They were sworn to secrecy about what they saw. You know how that goes. It must've been a terrible sight. I slept with a knife under my pillow every night until they caught the guy. They found him on the interstate about to jump in front of traffic. He was sentenced to death and spent years on death
row. However, just last year, a judge changed his sentence to lifetime in prison and he took his own life to avoid being put in with the general population. I guess Stateville is a pretty rough place, after all.
A few winters ago, a man was shot in the head in a local bar. Nobody was ever convicted. The bar has cameras now.
That summer, a three year old was abducted, raped and murdered in a nature preserve in my home town. There was a massive search effort to find her. I didn't join because I was terrified that I actually would. The man who did it has been caught and sentenced based on DNA evidence, but everyone still blames the girl's dad. They say he wasn't sad enough at the funeral.
During my junior year of college, my good friend Tommy overdosed on heroin, had a seizure in his sleep and never woke up. Funny thing is that was the second time he had overdosed on heroin and died. The first time was about a year earlier. He overdosed, died and was revived by paramedics. Try, try again, I guess.
When Evan and Justin died, the school had an assembly to deal with all of the commotion. The boys had been missing for three days, after all, and we were in a small town. The school district administration decided that they would plant a tree for each of the boys and put memorial plaques at the bases.
The plaques are all grown over now. I doubt you can even see them.
I think Jack Hodgins got a plaque, too, when his heart exploded inside his chest.
After that, the school decided they didn't want their front lawn to look so much like a cemetery and got out of the memorial tree and plaque business for good. I'm not sure if it was a function of recently slashed budgets, or a laissez-faires approach to memories of students who died too young.
James Fox has no tree growing in his memory. In fact, rumor has it that his family had his body cut in half, and that half of it was buried and half was cremated. It was kept pretty close to the chests of
those of us who knew because it's illegal. Rumors have a lot to say. I guess the secret's out, but I find it hard to believe.
A few years ago, a friend of the family was diagnosed with cancer. She was given 3 months to live, and didn't go a day longer. Sometimes people live for years after a negative prognosis like that, but not this one. She didn't go one day past the mark. You could have set your watch to it. I went to the memorial service with my sister. The deceased's husband took his wife's ashes out of their container to show his grandchildren what happened to grandma. I wonder if that made it easier for them.
My grandpa died when I was in 5th grade. The wake felt like an eternity. I really wanted to leave. When they put make-up on his body, they decided on pink lipstick. It was a piss poor choice. It made him look like he was sticking out his tongue. It freaked me out. In one way it wasn't as sad to look at, but that was a bit disappointing. Sometimes, if you undercut your own sadness you just feel ripped off, like you missed your opportunity. Our family priest came to the wake. I'm not really sure why, but I took great comfort in that. I was an altar boy and he was a close friend of the family. I miss him a lot, sometimes.
A few years later, my parents were in Colorado and my grandma was staying with us. We went to Saturday evening mass. There was a tall, dark haired man with a mustache where our priest had usually been. During the homily, he explained to us that Fr. White had had a massive heart attack that afternoon and died. Not exactly a hallelujah moment. I broke down at the wake in front of a lot of my friends. I was mildly embarrassed, but what can you do?
That wasn't my last church-related death, either. I was serving mass for my sister's Confirmation. The whole place was packed. The bishop was there. The whole procession gets to the altar, and everybody takes their places. All of a sudden I hear Joe Anderson call out "Will somebody help Joe?!" Joe Simpson had collapsed back onto his chair. The church was across the street from the fire department, and Ed Munch ran over to get help. They carried him into the back room of the church and the bishop gave him last rites. The paramedics were able to revive him once, but it didn't take. He was kind of an asshole, anyhow. But, if I believed in God, that's how I'd want to go.
That's an awful lot of death. I didn't even mention Bob Harris and his suicide, which is rumored to actually have been a murder. I guess the theories there make some sense, because who would hang himself in his front yard? I won't even bring up Steve McCreery's brother, who borrowed the ammunition for his suicide from Steve. I wish I could tell you about Justin Thompson, who died as the passenger to a drunk driver. I'm also leaving out Brian Lambert who overdosed on heroin and what he had to do to get that heroin. Chris Murphy: overdose. J.T. Fitzgerald: suicide. Joe Milstead: Overdose. Perry Walton: Suicide. Raeanne Clifford: Overdose. Juan Mendez: Cancer.
It's tough to remember it all. After a while, you just come to expect it. You get a phone call from someone's mom, or a friend you haven't spoken with in a while, and it's amazing if someone hasn't died. There have even been a few deaths that nobody told me about. It's strange when that happens. Nobody even realized that nobody told me. I didn't find out until everyone was already over it, so I just jumped right to being over it, too. It must be like those cases where 20 people all see a crime being committed, but nobody calls the police because they all think that someone else will do it.
After a certain point you just become desensitized. It doesn't even shake you anymore. It seems like you can average a little over one death per year, or at least I can. Anything less than that is easy money.