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why?

January 12th, 2003

Two hours to get here. Two hours in a car, in traffic to stare at a grave. An unmarked one at that. No real headstone, just a flat gray square with some dates on it, sunk down in the grass. If you didn’t know it was here you’d miss it. Joe wanted to be cremated, but his mother decided she wanted to be able to visit him. She moved across the country a few years ago. I wonder if anyone else visits.

I don’t know why I come here. I wasn’t going to come this year. I’ve been here every year since ’97. I just stand here. I don’t believe in the afterlife so it’s not for Joes sake that I come here. So it must be for my sake. But all I do is stand here. I look down at the marker for a while and stare out across the other graves, marked by tombstones, across to the woods in the distance. I usually stand here about 40 minutes.

I stand here and I remember the influence Joe had on my life. Joe pulled me out of my shell. When I met him I was the quiet introverted kid who sat in the corner of the room. I didn’t have many friends, I was always reading some fantasy book trying to escape reality. I met Joe because I sat in the back of the class, right by the windows. Joe was chronically late to class. When he did show up he would stand outside and tap on the window behind me till I opened the latch. Then he push it up and try to crawl in while the teacher had her back to us. Sometimes he got away with it — most times he didn’t. He’d take too long and she would turn around or he’d bump his guitar on the windowsill and the loud hollow thud would alert the teacher that Joe was here. Then when she tried to scold Joe he would ask if he could recite a poem for the class. No, Joe did not have his homework but could he sing a song?

Joe was full of life. Sitting in the grass out in front of the school at lunch time, with a dandy lion in his curly hair playing his guitar. There where always four or five other people around him, listening, talking, playing games or eating lunch. People just gravitated to Joe.

I spent most of my junior year’s lunches with Joe and met a lot of people I became good friends with; Frank, David, Christy, Agnes, Tony, and many other. We did stuff in the mornings, after school and on the weekends. We went to coffee shops and talked, we saw movies, we went on trips. It was the first time since elementary school I had a real group of friends that I saw outside of school.

Our senior year Joe played Macbeth in the school play. He floored the crowed. The theater crackled with his personality and the power of his performance. Every soliloquy ended with a standing ovation. All of Joes friends asked him for a signed play bill — he signed them ‘just your average Joe.’ We all joked about the Scottish play and it’s curse. A month later Joe was dead. No one talked about the Scottish play and it’s curse then

It happened in January. On the twelfth. It was a Friday but there was no school. It had snowed on Tuesday night and we had not been to school since. I talked to Joe at noon. He said he was going crazy, not being able to get out. He talked about planing a ‘battle of the bands’ at school. Everything seamed normal when I hung up.

The next morning my mom asked me if I know a Joshua. I said no, why? Her friend Doug, who worked for the police had told her at a student from my high school had hung himself the afternoon before. She did not know how old he was, but I did not worry too much — I did not know a Joshua. But the name was not Joshua, it was Yoseph which was Joe’s real name. I found out when Frank called me. The drama teacher had called him. Joe had hung himself in his closet sometime before five on Friday. No one ever figured out why.

By the time Joe left my life I was no longer the shy introvert. I was, am, not the most outgoing person. I still talk a long time to meet and make friends but now I push my friends into living. I Tell stories, take them places. I have experienced so much more of life since I met Joe. Every time someone quotes the old saying; ‘the candle that burns brightest burns fastest,” I think of Joe. Joe wasn’t just a brightly burning candle, he was a bonfire that everyone else gathered around to be warm and to see the world in his light.

I guess this is why I come here. Joes grave reminds me what life is. It puts it all back into perspective. How fleeting everything in our lives is. Here now, gone now. We just travel from one fleeting encounter to another. Every encounter with Joe stands out in my memory because, to Joe, every encounter was precious. He pored his soul into every moment of life.

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