I get pretty much all my news from the Internet, so I don't know where else I'd expect to learn that Will died.
I mean of course he was 24, so it's not, I assume, something anyone expected to learn at all. But there it was, on my Facebook, a friend writing in some event called "In Loving Memory Of Will ___ ".
The Facebook thing is a little ironic because Will had dropped off of it a few years ago. I know, because I'd had the intention of getting back in touch. He was going to Brown, I was in New York, it seemed right, now that we were on the same coast. And yet - nothing. I tried all sorts of combinations, nicknames, last initial only, first name-middle name, nada. Google didn't help either - English-ish white boy names just leave you mired in high school football stars and tax attorneys and mug shots. I assumed he'd hit the Ivy League and developed that pretentious yet enviable aversion to having a "web presence". Since then, I'd nearly lost him to one of my many mental lacunae.
Which is maybe odd, because back further than that, when he had had Facebook, I'd check in frequently. Looking through the memorial FB event, others were posting all the photos of him I remembered - ones that he'd been tagged in, I realized, queasily aware of my stalking. The shirtless ones stood out, naturally. He'd been on the swim team, with the proportions for it, if not the musculature - all skinny torso and chest; twiggy little arms and legs; the kind of ass that's really just legs suddenly becoming lower back. It never could hold up the oversized gym shorts he'd worn as a teenager, as comfy sleep shorts when we'd spent nights together, as absurdly inefficient tenniswear during our group lessons. I'd relied on these photos before to remind me of those details I'd really sort of cherished; now, I wasn't sure how much I wanted to see, whether I could confront the mixture of bathos and lasciviousness with which I'd looked at him from afar. Not now, anyway. Respect for the dead, you might try to call it, if you're me.
But what happened? A link to the obituary turned up nothing - the bland sort of thing you'd expect a buttoned-up Midwestern WASP family to submit. He'd just "left us." Which made my heart sink. If he'd been sick, if it'd been a tragic accident, they'd at least have alluded to it. Nothing strikes fear in our kind of folks like the idea of scandalous rumors and gossip, especially about their kids. No, the elision clearly meant nothing good.
My mom had been with us when, me at 15 and him 13, we'd traveled to Japan together for a month. I'd of course been exasperated by her chaperoning then, but this time, as with so many other Real Adult Moments, I called her, in need of Motherly Input and Reassurance and Advice. I always forget in that moment of regression, of need, that I've not so much outgrown being parented as moved laterally away from my progenitors' ability to speak from experience; the combo of adolescent rebelliousness and queerness and just the times a-changin' have left Mom & Dad at a loss for a little while ("Well, I don't know, kiddo, I'd never heard of an unpaid internship when I was starting out, that's insane! It's different in architecture, I suppose.").
She was with my brother. "Just hangin' out on the porch, you know, me and J and [his girlfriend] and Scouty!" Scouty is the puppy, naturally. Also, my mother's main conversation partner. They'd been grilling on the patio, it had been a nice day, not too humid yet, was it warming up in the city, oh good, about time isn't it, oh yes.
Less impatiently than I could have, but just as sputteringly, I broke into the chitchat. "So I saw this weird thing on my NewsFeed tonight, actually."
"Yeah, Will ___ ?"
"Oh," and that syllable's pitch dropped like an anchor. "I figured you might have seen that."
"Yeah, what the fuck?"
"I'm not sure what happened. I went to the visitation tonight. It was really terrible. I saw [Will's brother] and gave him a little hug and said 'I'm Alex's mom,' but I'm not sure he remembered me."
"I'm sure he remembered you, Mom."
"Well, I don't know, it's been a long time. Then I said, I was Mykel's roommate, and I think that might have done it. It seemed like half of Springfield was there. He was well-loved, I told them."
"[Will's dad] just said, 'There's nothing to say.' You know?"
"Yeah, I mean, I don't know what you could. What they could, either."
"Yeah, it's just very sad."
"Do you know what happened? I mean, I don't know why that's important, but for some reason it is. Like, how to feel about it, I guess."
"I don't, I hadn't heard anything."
"The obituary didn't say anything."
"No, I guess they didn't want to say. Might've been drugs."
"Yeah, I figured OD or suicide. Fuck."
"I know what you mean, wanting to know. To know how to feel."
"Well, like, not that I'd be sadder or less sad. Just... wondering what happened to my friend."
"He was very special, I know."
Sometimes when she says this sort of thing about boys I'd known - "He was a special friend", "You two were like peas in a pod!", etc - I can't help feeling it's the same way she talked about Mr. Bowman, her old French teacher, being "very theatrical."
"I mean, we hadn't talked in years. The last time I saw him, I think we were smoking a blunt in the Albertson's parking lot." I laughed. She did, too, sort of, with the kind of "Oh," that implies the "really?!" that oughta come after it.
"Yeah, God, that must've been when I was 20." You know this because that's when you'd started kissing boys, and were way ready for more. "It's just... I'm like really upset, Mom."
"I'm sure, I imagined you would be. You guys were such good friends."
And I was in love with him, for a time, I couldn't add. And I'd found him irritating and adorable and craved the way he thought I was cooler than the "cool kids" cause I knew all the right books and bands, and smarter than the IB kids he would eventually beat out for valedictorian, and feared he'd realize he was too cool and too smart and too beautiful to hang out with dorky pudgy teenage me. At a certain point, he had, but then I'd gone away to school, and come back with some Californian cache, and we'd hit it off again for a good chunk of a summer, the one where I'd really gotten into psychedelics, and first heard of "Molly", and locked whiskery lips with same, and seemed to think the more Portishead I listened to, the more sense it would all make. In a hazy drunk memory, after splitting a fifth of Wild Turkey, we'd gone to my neighbors' across the street, where his girlfriend lived, and had been stumbly and giggly, and touchy, and her dad - possibly drunk as well, probably sensing some tomfoolery afoot and wanting his daughter to play no part - had barked at us to get out, and so we'd crept back across the street to crash on my couch, hugging each other and cuddling almost just like the way we had watching Kiki's Delivery Service and Totoro and all the others in Isesaki five years before, out from under our host family's and my mom's and everybody else's watchful eyes, and, unlike then, when we'd been nervous to buy too many vending machine beers, and much too nervous to do more than cuddle, we faded into each other bleary-eyed, kissing, and giggling as we did.