Ezra was beautiful and perfect when I was 14 years old and easily besotted. My best friend and I, immediately stuck on all idiot boys who had the nascent metal cred to grow out their hair, saw him across the Greek Theater at our high school. Perfect long, straight hair, all cut one length so you knew he hadn't just started growing it. And we couldn't see it yet but he had a glinty-in-the-sun nose ring, too. He was new, and perfect, and we were swoony and ridiculous.
I don't remember the process, surely drawn out and tedious, by which we encouraged each other to go talk to the beautiful new boy. I remember seeing him sitting alone, and then we were just there, suddenly across the theater where the students all loitered at lunchtime, sitting with him.
He seemed troubled (so perfect) and distant, and he told us his name. Something about a single mom (even better, and highly exotic to two daughters of middle class two-parent families). His nose ring clearly pained him, and his seeming perfection faded in my eyes as he pulled at it and his face reddened from the discomfort. It was a new piercing he didn't know how to take care of; maybe he wasn't so impressive. Maybe something of his personality didn't match what we thought we saw. Maybe he didn't look at us when he talked because he was searching the early-nineties crowd for people more like him. Less protected, with problems more closely matching his.
After that, I didn't try to be his friend; I knew we didn't match. I was busy going through my own nightmares, working on surviving each day without anyone noticing. At the time, the bad things in my life came to me by force, and I thought that probably the bad things in Ezra's life came to him because he looked for them. I didn't really understand why anyone would do that.
But he was so nice, and two years later, for one semester, we had a class together. He would ask me questions my life and tell me jokes, so for a few minutes I'd smile and engage instead of looking blank-faced and staying silent. I couldn't really say, I guess, "you know, actually at the moment I'm being abused by my half brother who just moved home, I'm hoarding razor blades in case it gets worse, and did you know installing a chain lock on your bedroom door is totally not that difficult if you can find a way to buy one with your allowance?" because at the time you just can't say those things, even if you're able to focus enough to articulate them to yourself.
Ezra graduated ahead of me, but after that semester of his kind, unknowing distraction I never thought of him again. Not one single time.
Then a new friend asked me today if I remembered Ezra, and I did, but I'm shy with new friends so "is he still even alive?" never got said out loud until later. Even though it was the first thing I thought. Ezra's story just, in my mind, necessarily involved dying young.
And then it turned out he really had died, and so recently. I even laughed; why? I wasn't surprised.
I wasn't Ezra's friend, and I didn't know him except in passing, and I know absolutely that if the situation was reversed, he wouldn't be writing this about me. Only my really close friends remember be from back then, I think partly because when you go through any kind of abuse, you get so good at hiding. It doesn't matter, though; I'm happy I'm forgotten and ok instead of widely-mourned and gone.
No regrets or wishes, though; nothing I think I could have done to help. As I said, I'm not surprised Ezra is dead, but I am always a little surprised that I'm not. I know better than most people how thin the line can be between making it and coming up short. Sometimes it's not even a choice, and it's never to do with personal merit, no matter how hard we try to comfort ourselves with that belief. Death just happens, and I know there's no reason except luck that any number of my dark nights didn't kill me but one of his did.
No matter why it turned out this way, it makes me even more determined to put everything I have into living a best-ever life. You know, since I've still got one.