This morning I walked into the Key Food around the block and saw the front page of Newsday, read the words, and stopped moving. It was the headline, "16 Deadly Miles, the riskiest road on LI for pedestrians." For a second the tears welled and I remembered him as if that last night were last week. I didn't have to read anymore to know where they were talking about. And then I came home and found the paragraphs below which I wrote a few years ago. Today, for Stuart, for the boy he will always be, for the road that took him, for all the others along with him.
I am performing a search for a dead man on the internet. An ad on the side of the Google page tells me that Dave Stuart is for sale, an advertising gimmick that takes the item you are searching for and plugs it into a “find here” field for eBay’s auction site. For an instant I want to click on that ad. Maybe I will be directed to a page where his face will smile out from the screen. Maybe I could bid on his life, take back that day, slow the speeding car, turn him around and tell him to just wait a minute. Maybe that's all it would have taken, just a minute. I decide against it. Instead I refine my search to the local long island newspapers where the accident occurred and find a brief and non-personal obituary in their archives. “Upstate Man Killed While Crossing Street, December 1999.” Two dollars and ninety-five cents later I have a print out. A small morsel, but I have a piece of him again, to remind me that he happened, he was here.
The night we came back to school from winter break, just two weeks after the accident, we gathered in Dave's dorm room. His parents had been up the day before so his bedroom was void of his likeness. His bed had been stripped and as we swallowed beer after beer, we threw the empty cans onto his now soiled mattress. We thought if we trashed it enough the school wouldn’t be able to move someone new into the room. And then the end of my life with them began. Alex cried out that we were destroying Dave’s bed. He spoke as if at any moment Dave was going to walk in and be angry with us for ruining it. Jess yelled for him to stop whining, that a beer soaked shrine was fitting. John slumped into the corner as Eric quietly wiped the puddles off the mattress and onto the floor. The January wind whipped against the building and Jess and I left without saying goodbye. When we were back to our room she jumped onto her bed and wrote Dave’s name across the width of the wall. Days later we tried to remove the letters, their image a haunting and constant reminder of what was lost, but they wouldn’t budge. I assume some janitor had to paint over them in June, cursing the girl who loved a man so much she had to stain her wall with his name.
The last night before winter break we had all been in that small room together. Stuart was in my bed and I told him to get out, there wasn’t enough room, I wouldn’t be able to fall sleep with him there. Instead he wrapped his arms around my head in an awkward embrace and drunkenly kissed my face, hoping his affection would keep me there. James was on the other side of me, the three of us squeezed so tightly into my single bed that I had to get up, climb over them and sleep on the couch in the common room. For a few minutes the two men lay in my bed together until they realized that I had left and there was no female body separating them. I heard a shout, and I laughed out loud as Stuart tripped his way out of my bedroom in surprise. He found me on the couch, smiled, leaned down to kiss my forehead, and then left to make his way back to his dorm. I never saw him again.
I didn’t go to the funeral. I was the only one of the group who didn’t come from their hometown and I missed it. Jess and I fell out of friendship and in my last two years at school I would only see the rest of them occasionally. When we met there would be a knowing look, a small smile and recognition that I had shared something tragic with them. But I was never one of them. I never felt that I was allowed to mourn like they could. He was only a part of me for such a small time; he was theirs for years before. But I mourned just the same. He was still mine to share. And that is something. As I close out of the search screen and return to work, it is something.