I hadn’t thought about him in a long time. A sudden unexpected pulse of static electricity and there he was right among my list of People You Might Know.
He would never be a Facebook friend of mine.
He was the person who killed my dad when I was nine years old.
Somehow he – this person, I might know – was the friend of a friend of a friend. Or perhaps it was because we were both from the same small town in New Jersey. Maybe he also rooted for the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite his flaws as a leadoff hitter, he liked Jimmy Rollins at the top of the batting lineup. I wanted his name on my Facebook page to make sense.
I lived three thousand miles away. Twenty-eight years had passed. My dad had been riding his bike to work when he was killed in a hit and run. This person later returned to the scene, but only after the time to do the right thing had passed.
I wondered how it happened. I wondered what was he thinking when he finally came back. Was it only his personal welfare? Was it the fear of living closely with criminals? Did he already know the damage that he had done?
It was the miracle of the internet. All I had to do was hit his inbox. I could instantly send a message that would find its mark. My finger was poised to click the launch button. Searching for a reason to abort, I aimlessly swirled the mouse around and around.
I realized for the first time that I had never stopped seeing my father’s death through the eyes of a nine year old boy. Everything I knew about the accident had been overheard from the conversation of grieving, angry, and heartbroken friends and family.
I don’t recall what brand of cereal I was eating for breakfast. But I was at the table when my brother burst in and howled, “Dad’s dead! Dad’s dead.”
“No he’s not.”
It was stupid. It was Candid Camera. It was the cruelest of joke of all time. It wasn’t even real.
Then Mom staggered into the room with an ashen expression that didn’t register in my world. Deaths, disappointments, stinging regrets, she was older and wiser. It was a direct hit. She knew what we were in for. The Family was going down. There wasn’t anything she could do.
When the prayer cards, flowers, and food arrived I lay at the top of the stairs and listened. Sifting through piles of Lego, eyes turned towards the television, I tuned in to everything they said about him.
Some said he left the scene because he had drugs in the car. He only lost his license for six months because his family was connected. Some said he was a loser. He didn’t feel remorse. He was a soulless zombie who liked to scare the living to death from behind the wheel of his wicked jacked-up Ford F-250 truck.
He was a sociopath.
He got away with it.
He was still out there.
I never thought to question what I knew.
Perhaps he was haunted by the image of my father lying on the side of the road.
His Facebook photo stared at me and I didn’t know what to do. But was I certain that it was even him? He was the right age, with the right last name, from the right small town. I should have remembered the first name of the man who killed my father. But I didn’t.
I thought about picking up the phone and calling Mom. I thought about what Dad would want me to do. I thought about whether I was thinking about it too much, or not enough.
I also thought about how social media brings us closer together--both to the ones we want to connect with as well as the ones we'd like to forget, but never can.
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published 9 February 2013