Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Yesterday's moment of disbelief

It's funny how life works sometimes.

You meet someone, maybe for a day, maybe for a week, and you never see them again. You never think about them again, really, but you know if you do, you'll think of them fondly.

Maybe stumbling across a photo in an old album. Happens often enough.

Maybe hearing a name on the radio. That, not so much.

Eric Wishnie, a man I barely knew, died yesterday.

Depending on how you read between the lines, interpret news articles interpreting what people aren't saying, he may have died alone, jobless, despondent.

He may not have. It may have been an accident, a foolish moment too late to take back.

Either way, he's dead.

And even though I barely knew him, I hurt inside. I'm shocked, stunned. There were times, yesterday, I literally found myself with mouth agape, wondering what the hell had gone wrong.

Because I'm afraid, reading between the lines, he died alone, in despair. And I remember him a different way. I'm trying to cling to that.

My photo albums are packed for the move, but I know he's in there. I can see his face. I remember vividly when we met, though the details are a little vague to time and memory.

But all those years ago, he was happy, and proud, and friendly, and funny, and full of life. And I never saw him again, except in those albums, though we lived not far apart. And I never thought of him again, except when I glanced through those albums, until I heard his name on the radio yesterday.

Perhaps I've mentioned the baseball tours I've been on.

On one, a long time ago, I met a man. He traveled with a friend, and we wound up, as men on baseball tours might do, in a bar, drinking beer. We had the same first name, we were, in a way, in the same profession. He worked for NBC, his wife was an anchorwoman he was meeting at the end of the tour, he and his buddy were getting away on a trip they'd long dreamed of.

We had a few beers. We sat next to each other at a game. At the end of the tour, he introduced me to his wife. He was happy. He was proud of her. I remember those things, clear as day. They spring to mind, unbidden, when I read more and more about his death.

It might have been 1998, it might have been 1999. And at the end of the tour, this smiling, friendly man, and his big, bearded friend, and his lovely wife, they went one way, and I went another.

And so, years later, I sat in my car at a traffic jam, listening to the radio, listening to them talk about a man hit by a car at 3 a.m. and dead in New York City. An NBC producer. They said his name, it sounded vaguely familiar. Maybe I knew him professionally, had heard of him through a mutual acquaintance. Then they mentioned his wife's name. And I knew.

Later, reports said he fell from his roof, no car at all. A quote said he was "on leave," another that he'd lost his job. Another, that he and his wife had separated.

I wonder. Did he jump? Was he drunk, and it was an accident? Or drunk, and it was on purpose? I can't know what happened in his life, the secrets he and his wife shared, what went through his mind. It's not my place, not my business to do anything more than grieve and wish the best for her, for his family, for his friend who shared that tour with us.

But I can't help but wonder. Because the man who died with so many questions unanswered, so many things unsaid, I just can't see as that friendly, smiling man I knew on a bright summer day at a ballpark.

The one I captured in a snapshot, the snapshot I keep seeing in my mind.

A snapshot of a happy life, at ease.

A snapshot I try to focus on, no matter what I read.

It's funny how life works sometimes. I wish I could have told him, reminisced, about those happy days. How he laughed, how he loved life. How he made my life a little better that week.

Baseball tours make friends, then you go your separate ways. Big Tex, who cracked a joke with Roger from England: "In Texas, they think 100 years is a long time, in England, they think 100 miles is a long distance." Dr. Rothfeld, who treated not one, but two friends. Roger and Mark, two dear friends I've traveled with again. The Pitt Hitt Crew, the kid from the OC who ended up in Hooters on his birthday, being made to dance on the bar. The crazy lady who kept trying to get on TV.

People you make memories with, and never see again. People whose faces, lives, are frozen forever in your mind, a certain way, always smiling, never to change.

Until one day, in a traffic jam, you put on the radio. And everything unravels.

How I wish it could have been different. For him, a good man who made me laugh, and for that, I can't help but think, no matter what's happened since, deserved better than to die at 44, alone.


Freak Magnet said...

I'm sorry to hear that about your friend, Ace. It's hard to lose people in our lives, even if they're only a small part.

Anonymous said...

What a great tribute to a man I knew well. My wife and I lived in NYC for several years and Eric was a friend of ours. We left the city a fews years ago but tried to stay in touch.

Eric was one of the kindest, most caring people I've ever met and this was a tragic end to a life with so much potential.

Good speed Eric.

jin said...

That was a really nice post munkee!

(I sent your interview q's to the addy in your profile ... if that wasn't right let me know & I can resend elsewwhere!)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind words. Well put. We miss him terribly.
And they did remember you.
Mrs. Big Bearded Friend