Yesterday I was in the locker room at the JCC and a guy came around from the other side and greeted someone getting dressed next to me.
They weren’t close friends. They seemed to be gym friends. The first guy started by saying he hadn’t seen the other guy in a long time.
The second guy said, yeah, he hadn’t been to the gym in a while. Not since his wife died.
“Oh,” said the first guy, “what did she die of?”
I looked up. I’ve been the first guy. Not since I’ve been the second guy. But at one time I was the first guy and I cringed at where I knew the conversation was going because I’d done it. I don’t remember to whom or when – but I had and I felt bad. I reached for my clothes.
“Heart,” the second guy said.
“What happened,” the first guy said.
I struggled not to look up again. I wanted to wave the first guy off. He didn’t really care about the second guy. He wanted details.
Maybe he thought he was being polite and showing interest but he was making the second guy relive it.
I’ve heard it. People who wanted details on what Elena died of. I get it when it was someone she went to school with. Friends of ours whose kids had played with her needed to get preventative medicine right away so we called them with details.
People have asked me about details of Kim’s accident. It’s not enough that a semi ran into her. They want to hear about the last, terrifying thirty seconds of her life. And so I tell them. And I sit in the car with her for the time it takes to tell the story.
The first guy pushed for more details. The second guy gave them. He made clear that the first guy wasn’t his friend.
Then the first guy said those meaningless things that people say. Those things that are ok if they’re your friend. He just didn’t know how to stop talking.
It was so strange witnessing this conversation I’d participated in so many times.
I had understudied both roles and could have stepped in to either one.
In addition to the second guy, I’ve heard of three deaths this week of people who were way too young. All, it turned out, died of something similar to second guy’s wife. A popular programmer in his 40’s, the older sister of childhood friends in her 60’s, and a local restaurant owner in her 40’s.
I suppose I know they’re all from the same thing because I know some of the details.
I’m not sure that that makes any difference.