The One That Got Away

I don’t know how anything is OK right now.

Bobby was always nice to me.

A quiet boy. A shy boy. He wasn’t in band, he wasn’t a drama geek. He didn’t have a *thing,* he just sort of… blended in. (A chameleon quality I’ve always envied.) He didn’t stand out in any specific way, but he was always there, somewhere, in the background, and he was always nice to me. And, among the panoply of High School Standouts, ANYONE who was nice to me had a special place in my heart.

You’ve heard that story about the little boy on the beach, after a storm. He goes along the shore picking up all the stranded starfish and flinging them back into the sea one by one. But it was a big storm, and there are millions of these starfish, so when a jaded adult sees what the boy is doing, he says “you’re wasting your time — you can’t possibly save them all. Don’t bother, it doesn’t matter.” And the child defiantly flings the next starfish towards the waves and responds:

“It matters to this one.”

I met an old friend for drinks and dinner in that order last night, and he told me in the course of casual conversation that Bobby had killed himself.

And I don’t know how anything is OK right now.

Bobby and I were never close. I remember some rumors after graduation — dark rumors about him, involving a thing he shouldn’t have done with children. But this was pre-internet and there was no way to confirm, so rather than speculate or god forbid ASK, most people just… avoided him.

My best friend and my boyfriend both lived on the same street as Bobby, in a subdivision named “Punta Gorda.” It sounds so nice in Spanish until you learn that it means “Fat Point.” As the boyfriend inevitably on-again-off-again broke my heart, I’d bounce between his parent’s house and my best friend’s parents house, alternately ecstatic and morose. Bobby’s house was on the way.

I remember looking at his window once. I’d seen him hanging out in the driveway once so I knew it was his place, and guessed about the layout based on my own intimate knowledge of the other homes in Fat Point. I guessed which window was his. A painted cinderblock home, his window had the standard Florida Shrub and big metallic block of Air Conditioner right outside, and faced a similar window/shrub/AC setup about 10 feet away at his neighbor’s home. I imagined what it might be like to look out that window, listening to the humdrone of the AC and seeing an identical sight as the neighbor might see if he or she looked out. I wondered if Bobby ever looked out his window at the same time as his neighbor. I wondered if he ever felt like a vampire, peering into a mirror that reflected his surroundings but not him.

Then I thought of me, and my boyfriend, and my friend, and me again. And those thoughts consumed my life for the next decade or so. Bobby had reached out to me once, on Face Book or Christ maybe even MySpace. Or maybe he’d texted. I don’t really remember what he’d said, just that he was sad and “going though some stuff and needed to talk to someone.” But I was going through stuff too — the boyfriend had broken up with me and my world was ending, yet again. Plus I didn’t really know Bobby. Plus those rumors. So I didn’t really respond in any meaningful way. Once the boyfriend moved out of that neighborhood, I did not think of Bobby again until last night. Twenty-one years later.

When my friend told me what had happened, I did the thing where I reacted with a concerned expression, said something along the lines of “I’m so sorry to hear that.” I touched my buddy on his shoulder and ordered another drink.

Somewhere in the space ship of my brain, though, this asteroid struck hard and a Scottish space Engineer began to panic because the shields were down.

I should not have ordered another drink. I now know I should not have ordered the FIRST drink, because I’m on a new medication and had no business mixing it with alcohol. Usually I can tolerate drinking just fine — after all, I have a SCOTTISH Engineer in my brain. But as we waited longer and longer for our meals, and *someone* kept ordering drinks for herself (ugh) the background processing in my brain kept taking more and more damage until SHE CANNA TAKE ANYMORE CAPTAIN and I just checked the fuck out.

I remember my friend dabbing my face with a napkin because I was suddenly sweating profusely. This must have been a fun new side effect from the meds because that’s never happened to me before. I managed to text my very worried Fiancee who, bless him, came to get me and drove me home. I remember paying for drinks and leaving half my delicious dinner on the table. It was mussels and now I’m even sadder just thinking about it.

I still couldn’t figure out what was wrong, though. Not until I got in the shower. Then I just burst into tears. Will came in and saw me ugly-crying in a heap on the shower floor and immediately stripped and got in the shower to hold me so I could ugly-cry on him.

Because Bobby had reached out to me. To ME. The girl he’d always been nice to. The girl who walked past his house a thousand times. The girl who’d wondered about him and what he saw when he looked out his window. He’d called for help and I didn’t hear it because I didn’t want to hear it because I was so very caught up in my own bullshit YA drama.

That starfish is gone forever. Drowned in neglect in the air of a storm-ravaged beach. Drowned in rumors. Drowned in loneliness, staring out a window into another empty window. And I could have made a difference.

It mattered to that one.

Bobby was always nice to me.

And I don’t know how anything is OK right now.