By Donny Lumpkins, 17
YO!, San Francisco
I was waiting for the 28 bus at Park Presidio, heading home to Daly City from my girlfriend’s house. I got a phone call from my father that he began with: “Did you hear?”
I know that when my father begins a conversation with this, something big has happened. I thought maybe it was something sports-related. But the news was grim.
“Sandy was hit by a car and killed today.”
He proceeded to tell me that my 21-year-old cousin-in-law had been hit while she was waiting for the 28 earlier that day. She had been just a few blocks from where I was waiting.
I did what I think most people do when they hear someone they know has died. A montage of all the happy moments and good times went through my mind. Suddenly, mental images of her 1,000-watt smile came into my head, like the day of my brother’s wedding, when we walked the aisle together as groomsman and bridesmaid. Sandy was unsure about walking in heels on the gravel. I told her if she fell I would fall, too, in order to make it look like a joke we were playing. She looked at me with such sincerity and happiness. We managed to make it down the aisle without a problem.
On the bus ride home, I hummed. I had to avoid asking myself all the questions one seems to wonder at these times. Where was Sandy now? I am man of faith, so I am supposed to have my own answers for questions like these. But when faced with the reality of someone so young – and so nice, so alive, so many beautiful things – being taken in such sudden and brutal fashion, it’s only natural and human to question.
In my black suit, on the way to the funeral, the humming and self-distraction didn’t stop. Neither did the self-questioning. Where is she now? Where will I be when I die? It was an endless stream of questions, with no answers in sight.
At the funeral home, my brother, his wife, and Sandy’s family all walked with their eyes to the floor, grief-stricken shadows of their normal selves. I realized I didn’t know what to say. I pride myself in my quick wit and knack for spot-on banter, but this was not the place or time for that. So, I gripped my hands in front of me and looked at the ground. I stood at the back of this room and studied everyone else, mimicking the appropriate behavior, worrying that I might not be doing it right.
That’s when I looked to the front of the room. Past the pews and next to a wreath of flowers was the coffin. In my attempts to blend in, I momentarily forgot what we were all here for.
My heart raced and my brain went into bandage mode. I told myself that, growing up, I had seen thousands of dead bodies on TV and in movies. They were lying in the woods on Law & Order, lying on beaches in war movies. I had seen countless news stories where dead bodies were covered with bloody sheets.
I told myself that this was no different. It happens every day, all over the world. People die and other people have funerals for them. The irony was that death is the most natural and certain thing that all of us can count on, but this felt like the most unnatural and confusing thing I had ever experienced.
Sandy’s friends showed up and the crowd grew. The ceremony was beautiful. Everyone spoke with sincerity. During a slide show at the end of the ceremony, people broke out in loud sobs that were like a knife in the heart.
By the end of the day, crossing back over the Bay Bridge, the sun was finally coming out. The fog went away and the streets dried, but my unsettled mind was still in the storm. I was still humming, and none of the questions went away.
I was raised to have faith that when this life is over and this body is through, you get a new body – one without sickness or pain, worry or hardship. I have not lost faith in this promise, but when confronted with death in such a blunt and random manner, and with the knowledge that no one is above it, I can’t help but question my faith. In my heart, I have to believe in something more, because I know life is too short and cruel to be the end.
© YO! Youth Outlook and Pacific News Service