I worked in a bookstore once. The assistant manager hired me because I loved to read. He had also been an English major, and he wrote about Japanese film on the side. His shirts were always blue and he had a sandy mustache and sandy hair he was always brushing out of his eyes.
Sometimes he had food in his teeth when we counted my till at the end of the night. I didn’t usually say a lot during these times, but I laughed at his jokes and listened to his stories. We had more in common than most of the other people who worked with us. Oddly enough, we were two of the few true book nerd booksellers at the place.
I didn’t have a crush on him, not even a friend crush, but his presence was gentle and familiar, and I was usually relieved to see him. When I saw his blue shirt, I knew that day at work would go more smoothly than others, that there wouldn’t be a tax on my spirit. One time he called me in and I came in drunk. He asked me if I was ok. I said I was as we stacked magazines, and nothing else was said about it.
He talked about his wife often. Little things. One time I pulled out a breath mint, and he said she had a breath mint addiction, that he had to make a deal with her about it. The story I remember most vividly, though was that his wife had saved up money to go to a concert alone. This was a rare occurrence since they were now adults scrambling up a life from the meager fruits of liberal arts majors, and it was a big deal. She wore a velvet purple dress to the concert, and it ended up being splattered with mud. Of all the hours we spent together, this is what stayed with me: his wife’s purple dress, ruined in an attempted night of fun.
Several years later, a customer at the coffee shop I worked at told me the bookstore manager was dead. Learning about a death, especially a young death, smacks you like a brick. I thought of his baby face, the food in his teeth, my version of his wife’s purple dress. I saw him in the stacks in his blue shirt, smiling, coming in for a night of work after spending the afternoon writing about Japanese film.
It was a car accident. It had happened the year before, and I had not known. We weren’t friends on Facebook. I didn’t keep up with people very well, anyway. How could I have known? I tried to imagine the pain in his wife’s life as if it was something I could understand. Does it feel like the bottom dropping out of you, descending forever? The coldness of the world is constantly announcing itself, but it numbs just as it hurts. Loss can be a hot horror that lets you feel the cold anew.
PHOTO: Natalia Romay