A while back a colleague of mine brought up in a conversation that somewhere in the world someone dies with every second that passes by. On the other side of that coin, he said, every second someone is born. He said it so matter-of-factly, as though it made perfect sense that there be some sort of universal scale of grief and happiness, life and death. I dont know for sure that what he said was true, but today theres two particular seconds I cant seem to get off my mind.
I used to have this business associate by the name of James Silver. He was pretty young to be as far along as he was. I cant honestly say that he had much of a life outside of his work, at least not that I knew about. Of course you could see him out occasionally, maybe having lunch with friends or partners, and possibly every once in a while it would be a woman. But men like James simply did not have time for a personal life. Guys like him were driven to succeed, maybe by their own will or volition, or maybe by forces completely beyond themselves. Whatever the cause, he was the kind that couldnt be deterred.
He was buried today.
The funeral was fitting for someone like him. The whole event was surrounded by family, friends, and business associates, the latter of which seemed to make up the majority of the crowd. We all sat in solemn rows, dressed respectfully in black suits, heads bowed down and thoughts elsewhere.
They were both young like James, and old, like me. Those younger ones looked on at one of their own, perhaps even the best of them, cut down when he was only getting started. Even the older members couldnt help but feel a bit more affected than usual by his youth. Years had aged us, numbed us somewhat to the effects of death. Typically a friends passing was sad, but undeniably expected. In front of us now was this young man embalmed and dressed in his last suit, and for the first time in a long while, we felt the shock of an unexpected death.
So many people knew James, but almost none had actually gotten close to him. No one that I knew of anyway. I personally made a few attempts to get to know him better, but ultimately found myself shut out. I couldnt take any offense, I knew it wasnt personal. Work was his life, and there wasnt much room for anything else.
His death made the papers. It wasnt every day that a millionaire pegged as the future of the company he worked for was found stabbed to death in broad day light. There were no suspicions about a conspiracy or any sort of foul play. Just another mugging gone hideously wrong, the only circumstance that made it newsworthy was the victim.
From what I gather out of the papers, I understand that it happened while he was out for a walk. It was a bit of a daily ritual according to his driver. Sometimes I wonder what he thought about on those walks. Personally, I think it must have been peaceful to have that one time in the day to himself. But I cant help but wonder; if he had known that his few minutes of freedom would lead to his death, would he have taken them? I know it sounds silly asking, essentially, whether a man would choose to live or die, but would it have even been worth living the rest of his life without those fifteen minutes?
That colleague of mine, the one I quoted the statistic from, I remember he said that on the day his daughter gave birth to her second child. He said that since someone was lost, we needed to celebrate what we had gained. Just a cheesy way of saying we should celebrate I suppose.
He really was a beautiful baby; healthy, good weight, his fathers nose, his mothers eyes. Every inch of perfection the couple deserved. His mother looked down at him so gently, those eyes tearful with happiness. Sarah was her name. God she looked beautiful that day.
They sat there, taking turns holding him, rocking him back and forth in their arms, whispering in his ear, loving every minute. They were parents, and their first child was there and healthy. For a little while nothing in the world could take away the joy in those moments.
She really did deserve this. It almost felt like this really was her first child. In a sense, maybe it was. After all, this was what she deserved in the first place, and now that she finally found herself where she should have been, maybe that went a little ways to balancing things.
The past is set in stone. I dont think that anything can really go back and fix what was done. Just mend the wound a little bit. Here she was a mother at 26, knowing there should be a 9 year old there to celebrate the birth of a new baby brother. Nothing in the world could shake the love she felt for the baby she now held in her arms, and I know that, but I know that she loved her first child too. She never got to hold him, but she carried him, and I saw in her eyes what she felt. In every glance down at her stomach, I could see it, a glimmer of love that mingled so bitterly with sadness. When that child was thrown to the wind part of her blew right away with him.
Sarahs father, John, and I had worked together closely for a long time. You could say I became sort of a friend of the family. I was young when she got pregnant, only about thirty, but I remember everything so well. I had come to know the entire family; you could only imagine my shock when I found out from another co-worker about her condition.
John had far too much pride to tell me in the first place, but rumors spread and when I asked him about it, he gave me a hard look for what felt like hours and then confirmed everything. I was shocked, and to be quite honest, a little scared. My life, my career, everything I worked for would be over, if Sarah so much as breathed a word to anyone that the child was mine.
Everything was so chaotic back then. Work had completely devoured all my time. I was at Johns house a lot, pushing through paperwork both old and new. Files piled upwards from the table we worked on. They grew up from the polished oak like trees, and when I looked over them, all I could see was a dense forest I still had to push through.
For the record, she came to me. I dont suppose that gets me any sort of absolution. In the end the decision was as much mine as it was hers. I should have made the right choice for both of us and just stepped away, but I didnt.
She would come in and keep me company when John left. Sometimes hed get called back into the office downtown, or maybe he just needed to rush out and get something. Either way, she would be there, popping up from behind the door frame as if on cue. Honestly, I knew she had feelings for me, but I couldnt force her out, so I shrugged it off as an adolescent crush. Looking back now I know, and maybe knew, that I could have gotten her to leave. All I had to do was talk less, ignore her a bit and focus on my work. I could have just asked her for some privacy. But I was younger and I was lonely buried underneath that pile of work. It was nice to see a smiling face.
So we talked. We talked a lot. She was a very smart girl, very mature for her age, but maybe I just wanted to believe that so I could feel better about my growing feelings. It got to the point that I would spend some days just waiting for John to leave so I could talk to her. I hated when he would, but she wasnt there. She was probably out with friends, living her teenage years like she was supposed to. Although that was rare. I noticed that she was typically in the door as soon as her father left, and gone before I even knew he was back.
And then one day it happened, just like I knew some day it would. John told me he was going up to the office and said he wouldnt be back until sometime next morning. Thats just how things were with us. He would leave and let me stay in his house and finish up the work we had left. He trusted me, and realistically there shouldnt have been any reason not to.
I heard his footsteps come to a stop in the hall as he said something to Sarah before he left. I didnt pay any attention. The sound of the front door closing echoed down the hall into the office where I was still surrounded by work. About a half hour had passed before I heard her footsteps coming softly towards the office. The sound stopped at the door.
Looking up, I saw her standing there. She didnt say a word, but her eyes betrayed her. I could see everything in them; a mixture of anticipation, excitement, and fear. I wanted to say something, but I couldnt. I knew what was going to happen, even before she started to move towards me. I wanted to stop her, but I was stuck, like a deer in headlights I was only a few simple steps away from avoiding catastrophe, yet somehow unable to move. That walk was so slow, maybe slower in my mind just because of how much each step scared the hell out of me.
She kissed me and I didnt resist. I didnt push her away or pull back, I didnt tell her that she had no idea what she was doing, or that we couldnt do this. I sat there and I felt her soft lips press against mine. I gave in as her small frame press down on me lightly. I was lost, and every thought I had that told me I shouldnt, every sensible idea was a faint echo in the back of my mind.
I wish I could say that was the only time we slept together. Had I been a stronger man I might have just packed up my shame and left the situation in the past. But I didnt, and once it happened I couldnt just leave.
In the end, its easy to just say I was a sick old man, chasing after a girl who wasnt far from half my age. Its easy to say what I did was disgusting, that you would never find yourself in my situation, and shrug the whole thing off. Most people would, but the truth is that I loved Sarah dearly. All the other times we were together we were alone in her house or she drove to mine. We would lie in bed afterwards, sometimes for hours and just talk, or maybe just relax and enjoy each others company. I knew I should stop and every time after I knew I should hate myself a little more. I should hate myself for giving in, and I should hate myself for betraying Johns trust, but I didnt.
One time, during one of the days we spent relaxing and just letting the hours pass, I rested my head against her chest. I could hear, quite vividly, her heart beating. It reminded me of a statistic rattled off in a high school health class from I dont even remember how long ago, that the human heart only beats a certain number of times in a lifetime. I pulled my head away. It felt too much like I was counting them. Each beat started to scare me just because it meant one less. Of course now that I think about it, those beats went right on whether or not I listened, and so did my own. Days like that were probably the best way to spend the ones I had.
When Sarah got pregnant, that pretty much ended things. John was home all the time after that. Everyone kept an eye on her. She had convinced them all that it was some boy that had gotten her pregnant, but never gave a name.
If a girl her age is pregnant, and theres no father to be found, rumors fly as fast as the imagination can spin them. I can only imagine what she went through. It still hurts me to think about it.
Even if I wanted to come forward it wouldnt have done anything. I would have just lost my job, severed relations with John, and been arrested. Sarah knew that, probably even before I did, because for a while I considered the option, but she never once said a word. She really was a very smart girl.
It was decided, well into the pregnancy, that the child would be given to a family that genuinely wanted him. That was Johns way of saying it, but, of course, I knew Sarah would genuinely want him. John wouldnt hear it. She was too young; the rest of her life was still ahead of her. The parents were found before the baby was even born.
I kept track of them personally. They were good people all around, but they fell on some hard times financially when the boy was growing up. No one knew about me, so there really wasnt anything I could do to help them. He was a fighter though and he worked his way through college all on his own. From what I hear he was an incredible student at that.
When he graduated you could only imagine my surprise when he applied at my company only a few years later. I finally saw a chance to help him, so I pulled some strings to make sure he got in. Had he not been such an amazing employee that might have drawn some questions. But he was one of the best the company had ever hired. James Silver was a damn good employee.
As a co-worker I was invited to the funeral. Since the family knew Sarah from the adoption I suppose they felt obligated to invite her as well. Im not sure of the actual reason, but her husband wasnt there. I couldnt help but wonder if he ever actually knew that his child was not Sarahs first.
So many people were in attendance. There were so many faces but not nearly as many tears as there should have been. I must have looked very emotional, crying amongst all those stony faces.
Sarah noticed me there. I know because I saw her as she turned to look at me. Those eyes caught me all the way across the room. They shined as brightly as I remember, maybe even a bit more now that they were lined with tears.
She caught up with me after the ceremony. For some reason I found myself as speechless as that first day.
We made small talk for a little while. All I could think was that she looked even more beautiful than I remembered. I didnt say much of anything, but I wish I had, if only to keep her there a little longer. It had been so long. I knew I should concentrate on our conversation, maybe then I could have said something, but all I could remember was that time when we were together, when we pulled in close and let the hours fly by one last time. When we made our last mistake, and created something beautiful, that we couldnt care for the way he deserved. Eventually we said our goodbyes, and she left, heading back to her family, her real life.
For the last 3 hours and 26 minutes Ive been sitting here at this little bench on a sidewalk outside the cemetery. Thats 12,360 deaths and 12,360 births. Thats a lot of mourning and a lot of joy in the time Ive wasted dwelling on the past. Thats 3 hours and 26 minutes I cant get back and I dont really know how to feel about that. Although I do remember one place I could have spent this time and no matter what I was thinking about I wouldnt have thought I had wasted it. There used to be a place I could go and just let time pass.
I wonder how James felt about times like this when it was his second. I wonder if he even allowed himself to have many times where he just sat and let the time go, with the exception of fifteen minutes or so a day. Thats the problem, you only get so many seconds and I hope to God James didnt waste a single one of his like I have. I know one thing for certain; Ive already lost too many to waste any more.
My hands shake as I raise the phone to my ear. The receiver on the other end clicks to life after a few rings.
Sarah, I say, I need to talk to you.