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11:40 am - Sat 6/4/05
Death Shops At Borders

Death Shops At Borders

Got quite a shock when I went in to work yesterday--There was a note by the time clock saying that Chris M., the 19 year old kid who worked in the cafe, had died.

My first thought, knowing he'd had a rough home life growing up, and was under a lot of stress in his personal life (His girlfried had recently told him she was pregnant), was that he'd committed suicide.

But apparently not--The story I got was that he was helping a friend move, and had an aneurysm; I guess he basically keeled over...and that was that.

Nineteen years old...

Chris and I talked, and were on friendly terms, but weren't really friends. I am, literally, old enough to be his father, and there didn't seem to be much common ground between us (Chris was a good kid, but he "wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed", as they say).

But when I was thinking about him after having gotten the news, it occurred to me that we did have something in common...

Chris joked, more than once, about acting dumber than he really was, so people wouldn't make him do stuff.

I admired his honesty--I've often been very embarrassed by my own laziness--but yesterday, I realized what Chris and I had in common ran a lot deeper than "laziness".

We both came from "difficult backgrounds", backgrounds that left us feeling like we were "wrong" or "bad" somehow. We blamed ourselves for a childhood that really wasn't our fault.

And I think one way that sense of being "bad" manifests itself is feeling, for the rest of your life, like you're going to let people down, that you're going to not be good enough, that people are going to be disappointed or mad, and when they are, they'll reject you.

And rather than risk it, better to act dumb (Or helpless in some way), better to keep your abilities under wraps, better to not volunteer, better to joke about being "lazy" (So people know not to depend on you). Better to keep people at a distance, any way you can, rather than risk failing, risk feeling bad about yourself, risk being rejected.

But then, ironically, you get rejected out-of-hand. "He's lazy" or "He's not dependable" or what-have-you. But at least you've "controlled" the situation. If you don't "join" in in the first place, you can't be rejected.

Maybe I'm making too much out of a couple of jokes. But I don't think so (I have a pretty Freudian view of jokes, especially self-deprecating jokes). And the idea that Chris went through his all-too-short life thinking that he "wasn't good enough" makes me more sad than the shortness of his life itself.

Beyond this little bit of psychoanalysis, I don't have anything particulary profound to say about Chris's untimely demise. It seems like this sort of thing, when it happens, always brings out the same stale, rote responses.

People try to make sense of what is essentially senseless. People try to find some sort of comfort in cliches like "He's in a better place now". You reach for profundities that aren't really there, and end up mouthing banalities that don't do anything but fill what would otherwise be a gaping silence.

And the cliched thought that hits me at a time like this is "You really could die tomorrow, so you'd better be doing what you love at any given time. Cause if you think you have forever, life has a nasty surprise in store for you...".

And I guess that's as positive as I can get.

(The funeral is this coming Wednesday. I'm still debating whether I'm going to go.)


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