The night was nearly as dreadful as Mitchell Keiren felt. The trees seemed to give up in the early fall breeze, limping in a way that allowed silent kisses to the streets bordering the half-lit bus stop.
What Mitch would give to be able to erase the passing of time, to be able to have done something that would have prevented the news he just received on the cell phone dangling from his right hand - the dangling like a mimic of the sad trees.
Nothing felt right anymore. Eight minutes had passed since the call, and nothing felt right in the world. His face - which appeared flawless and smooth an hour ago in the hotel mirror of his best friend's wedding venue - now somehow felt both scrunched up and frozen. His clothes felt itchy, which matched the feeling in the back of his throat.
His movements toward the bus stop from the latter part of his trek on had become more and more mechanical. They remained the only thing in his life that hadn't changed since the call. Everything else was changing and moving around in his mind in a way that made him nauseous.
His phone vibrated, but it was like a distant call that a child would make to their mother in a grocery store. So insignificant to himself that he wasn’t bothered by it and it was soon forgotten.
Eventually, the too bright headlights and hissing exhaust of the city bus re-activated Mitch's auto-pilot; his obedient and uncannily unaffected legs propelled him through the motions of boarding the bus, even placing him in a suitably distant seat from the driver and a group of Chicagoans which proved to be his social accompaniment.
The ride was painful, as the short trip made the changes that the call enacted more real and sooner-approaching. By way of subsiding the anxiety of reaching an empty home, Mitch redirected his attention to the Chicagoans in the front of the bus. Were they from Aurora like he was? Were they having a conversation that would be worth joining in on? Inevitably, Mitch's thoughts took on a different tone, as row upon row of houses began to signify that suburbia - and home - was quickly approaching. Do they know what real loss is? Or do their smiles and laughter entail that they have never felt what I feel now?
Every unanswerable question pulled him deeper into loneliness.
Mitchell Kieren departed the city bus in Aurora in the same stupefied trance with which dominated him whilst boarding. His phone in his front pocket provided a constant urging nudge, but he was unprepared for the questions that must be rolling in from the rest of his family, and answering it would make everything too painfully real. He probably had a few calls from his best friend Jonathan, as he had just been leaving Jon’s wedding when the world changed—No, by the looks of the people on the city bus, it was only his world that had changed. It felt to Mitch as though, in the instant that the call ended, the world didn’t make sense anymore. But there were other people in the world who didn’t know Adam, who Adam’s life was never able to touch.
A single tear ran down Mitch’s cheek. Finally it seemed that his emotions were catching up with him. Instead of walking in his mechanical and dreamlike fit down the sidewalk toward his house at the end of the street his body finally woke up all at once. His legs buckled under his weight so that he appeared drunk, but he could hold himself up no longer. The homes around him went topsy-turvy, until he made his way to a bench and sat down with his head between his legs.
He breathed in…and thought about Adam’s smile. He breathed in and thought about teaching him to ride a bike, to build a sandcastle, to read, and then how last week Adam asked him to teach him to impress his girlfriend with proper dining etiquette on their first dinner date.
Just last week. Mitch’s stomach clenched and he let out a soft moan.
Seven billion people on this earth and Adam had to die. Adam. Little Adam. Adam. His pride and joy. Adam.
Adam. Adam. Adam…
The feeling of nausea that Mitch had on the bus returned, even while his head was still planted firmly on his knees.
It was as though Mitch had gone back in time, to a moment before Adam was born. Before Adam was born Mitch had no real responsibilities. He and his girlfriend Jane had decided to keep the baby months before high school graduation. By September of that year, when Mitch was handed his son for the first time, it was like his life goal was inevitably to see to it that Adam had the best life he could give him. That was only minutes after Jane had expelled her last breath.
Adam was his responsibility, and just like that - at the same age Mitch was when he was given full responsibility of him - Adam’s life ceased to exist.
In that same position on the bench Mitch cried. Once the fit of disbelief subsided a fit of uncontrollable sobbing followed. He was in physical pain. The feeling of losing half of your heart was a feeling like being kicked in the stomach with so much blunt force that he could only breathe in small huffs, yet it was too much for him and he threw up.
He threw up violently between his legs and the pressure on his head, mixed with the shortage of oxygen to his brain, kept him from being able to move away from the puke. Besides, he didn’t even register the smell.
For about an hour he stayed there on the bench. He cried silently and rocked back and forth, trying to get back in touch with his body and thanking God that no one was out in the neighborhood at this time of night. He was a block from home, a block from reality. A block from a home that no longer included Adam, a home that would no longer echo his laughter throughout it.
At four a.m. Mitch finally picked up his cell phone with a trembling hand. His mother answered and asked him where on earth he was, deciding not to directly speak about Adam until they were in person, Mitch thought. His voice hitched a few times as he answered but he was able to tell her the truth, and asked her to please take care of his body until he could call again, and that he would make arrangements for the funeral when he felt better.
Mitch felt like he was eighteen years old again. He felt the same as the day his mother told him he would need to take responsibility for a real, living human being. He wanted so badly to be able to go back to that day, to start everything over.
“Adam,” he said to Jane’s pregnant belly one August evening, “Dear Adam, because of you I will grow up.”
Mitchell Kieren stood up from the bench and walked home.