Memories of the Peripheral Dead

A friend who keeps her Facebook locked down pretty tight shared about how a 31-year-old man was found dead of methadone overdose in his cell not too long ago, and how the man was once a boy whose file came across her desk when she worked in a law office. “He didn’t stand a chance,” she said.

I suddenly thought of a face I hadn’t pictured in a few years. For a few weeks, I taught ESL to an student staying with an Asian family in the mid-late ‘90s on a cul-de-sac in Surrey. Some years later, I saw a photo of that family on the front page of the paper. The father killed himself and his four family members in a murder-suicide.

I’d never liked being in that home. There wasn’t anything evil going on, but sometimes unhappiness is so thick it’s like trying to walk into a windstorm. It slows you down and defeats your balance. The gloom in that home was omnipresent, but I never imagined it could have that kind of outcome.

I don’t know why I felt like writing, and the words aren’t coming now. I’m lost thinking about how some people seem to both live and die in vain, and their legacies ripple further in death than they might have in life, but those legacies are more of how wrong things can go, and how many of us on the outskirts sense the trainwreck to come, but are defeated before we can even get involved.

I know I pushed my student, who seemed as depressed as the family she lived with, to step outside the language bounds, get creative, and try to find some kind of passion to write about, but the futility of it was crushing, and I was, in the end, dismissed of my tutoring duties because I was focusing more on ideas and communication than I was on nitpicking grammar and teaching an endless list of rules.

In those fleeting moments when worlds collide, one person on an upward trajectory while the other’s on the down, there’s no telling how long which of those influence plays out. Maybe years later, like the dozen years I have lived past that family, a shadow of our connection will linger.

Somewhere inside, I guess, the idea of that family dying in vain, for a stupid moment of complete despair and rage in the father’s mind, has long struck a sad chord inside, and the fact that I’ve even thought of them, though I can’t remember their name or locate a news story about them, is something I feel obligated to record.

Even that sense of obligation makes me a little sad right now. How many people forget about this family altogether? Like they were just vapours floating through a limited life?

But there you have it. Some people live in vain, die in vain, and are a struggle to remember after the fact. I suppose there’s a part of me feeling like I’d like to be anything but a struggle to remember.

I like to think I’m succeeding.

I’m sorry I can’t remember more of her, the family, or that sense of omnipresent gloom in their home, the memory of which gives me chills as I type.

Do not doubt the range of pathos and trial that some people live with. Don’t delude yourself into thinking the awful stories are uncommon.

And don’t think that you’re likely to change their stories either. We can’t make people change. All we can do is jump out of the way when the existential shrapnel starts to spray.

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