Actions Speak Louder Than

by aheasley

To My Friend From High School,

These are words you’ll never read. You’ll never hear them, at least while among the living.

You said words can’t be trusted anyway. You said it’s what you do that counts. I wouldn’t have guessed you would have had such a mantra. I remember you saying, “Whatever, Sweaty” to this lunch lady who insisted what you’d ordered was Salisbury Steak, not Hamburger With Gravy. It was a mean thing to say. Yes, mean is probably an overused word that can’t be trusted. Was your comment snide? Mocking? We both had laughed, a couple of self-absorbed teenagers willing to steal the Reese’s at the end of the line we could afford to buy. It would be a cinch. Child’s play. A piece of cake. Clichés. Those words and us back then. It would have been just plain easy. We could distract the same tired, underpaid lunch lady. The butt of our jokes. You called her Sweaty over two decades ago and today you’re gone.

Cardiomyopathy. Undetected. Two more inadequate words.

You were 40, basically my age, and one class shy from getting your masters in social work. You worked as a counselor at an elementary school not far from where I live, and most recently, with Child Protective Services in a city a little north from our hometown. I didn’t see anybody else I recognized from high school at your funeral, where I sat alone in the back, weeping over the cruelness of mortality. I couldn’t stop the tears over you, an old high school friend I hadn’t even seen in at least five years, someone I didn’t really know at all as a grown man.

So many ages and colors and ethnicities mourned you. If you couldn’t see them, believe me when I say they were beautiful. I couldn’t fathom having diversity like that at my own funeral. Most of them were strangers to me, but they all loved you. Maybe you loved all of them, too. Several spoke about how selfless you were in your life, this life I’d lost contact with, how much you gave without expecting a dime of reciprocity.

You chaffered kids to and from school, you furnished the homes of families you barely knew with secondhand couches and love seats and lamps, you asked your supervisor to advance you twenty bucks so you could buy Tide and dog food for somebody’s mom who called you after hours on a Friday.

A teenage girl, one of your former students, mentioned something about a hefty container, I pictured a milk jug, brimming with water. She said you kept it on your desk. In fact, she said it always rode shotgun, going wherever you went. She asked you, “Mr. S., why so much water?” and you simply replied, “To keep hydrated.” You said things like, “You have the sweet shine of baby Jesus” to kids descending from the bus in the morning and “Thanks for walking” to kids sprinting down the hallways in the afternoon. Forgive me again for these weak, unreliable words, but I can’t think of any other way to say it: You were one of the funniest people I’ve ever known.

If I’m honest, I’ll admit you could be annoying, too. So could I. Annoying. A word I still have the privilege of being.

Remember that time in college, after we visited our mutual friend at the University of Michigan? You made me pull over and pull over and pull over. You never actually puked, but you threatened VOMIT! every fifty or so feet. A two-hour road trip took us what seemed like eighteen to get home.

There was one thing I’m certain we had in common as adults. The loss of our fathers. Your Dad died a few years before mine. Your Mom said you drove your Pop’s beat-up red truck. A Chevy pickup? Some classic from the sixties or seventies? That’s what I imagined and continue to imagine. I used to drive an Audi in mid-life-crisis red. My Dad sold it to me months before his passing. I just let it go when the lease was up, but Kurt, you did the right thing. You held onto yours. Your Mom said it sits abandoned in her driveway now, a motorized beacon, a motionless reminder of your actions.

May You Rest in Peace,

–Amie, PHS Class of ’91