I got an email late Monday and the unusual subject line - "My friend, Zeus" - was the only reason I didn't immediately hit delete. I read it.
And read it again.
I kept staring at the screen. There were names I recognized but somehow...well, the facts just didn't fit together. "William," the email said, "is no longer with us."
I wrote back one word, all in caps. "WHAT?"
A reply came from a stranger, a thousand miles away, offering details of what he knew - which really wasn't much more than any of us could have guessed.
Slipped away in the night.
That's all I know.
Not that any of it matters, the details of how and why he came to that final breath. He should more be remembered for how he lived.
I was welcomed into that life for a short time and didn't know William nearly as much as I would have liked, but I knew for certain I liked him, even from the moment we met.
I try to console myself knowing that the last time I saw William, he was happy, had his rifle in hand and was shooting
alongside those of us who had somehow, amidst all those bits and bytes, found
each other and formed a jolly little tribe of gunny geeks. If you're reading this now, know that there's been a death in one of your families and we are all quite a bit poorer because of it.
It's odd how my brain works, how I'm left with these mental snapshots of those few and far between times I spent with William. How handsome I thought he looked in his sportcoat and tie the evening we spent on a restaurant patio, the first of a few local William the Coroner dinners we were lucky enough to attend. He had style, although quietly, and in small ways. A smart-looking watch, a nice pullover, those wonderful round glasses, a bit of flair on his walking stick. I found out recently that he owned a bowler hat and I honestly can't imagine anything that might suit him better.
The times he'd meet us at the brewery, we'd laugh and laugh. I always made sure to sit next to William because I loved his wit and his stories (& oh, he was so brilliant I kind of sort of hoped that I could soak up at least a little of it by osmosis). I never wanted to miss anything in the din of a crowded pub. There were times, after a pint or two and plenty of puns, that he'd be sly, let slip a naughty comment and then give me that grin. He had a way about him, an old-fashioned gentleman scholar navigating the modern world and quite enjoying it, besides.
He invited us over to his home for a small cookout this past summer. He was learning how to smoke meat, he said, and could we bring a side dish? So we sat together on a bench in his backyard, soaking in the warmth of the late summer sunset and shared smoked shrimp with one of his cats. Conversation as usual, about everything and everything else in between, and there were lovely boozy grilled plums with whipped cream for dessert. I'll never forget William's big hands, covered in dough, as he made bread on the grill. He never did send me the recipe, but now perhaps I think it's best left as part of the memory of that golden evening.
After one of our outings, William gave me a toy turtle which has ever since sat in the windowsill above the kitchen sink next to a dish of droopy succulents, a curious brass chime and a special rock I collected from the banks of the Chagrin River. He presented it to me along with a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. I never knew why, if there ever was a reason beyond "just because" but it was wonderful and unexpected, like William's thoughtfulness. I'm sure someday I'll see it and be able to smile, thinking of the friend I wish I'd known better. But not today.