Walking awayIt’s a still morning, the grass a vibrant green from yesterday’s rain – a torrential pour that washed out my seven-year-old nephew’s planned pool party – and at 7am, the view from my library is peaceful, calm. Outside the early rising side of life rustles in the leaves, flits from bird feeder to tree, scampers onto branches and nibbles at the earth. At my desk, the strands of R.E.M.’s Nightswimming keep me company, as I look back through my cache of mental Polaroids of years past, the focus honed in on a specific person who died too soon, early yesterday morning.

The images aren’t necessarily remarkable. If you were a stranger peeking over my shoulder, you’d see bright eyes, an exceptionally wide grin, and hands caught in motion – a clear sign the person was always moving, talking, going, being. You’d see hints of someone who loved nearly every moment he met, laughed loudly, and was a master at being the life of the party.

Inevitably, you’d stop on a photograph of two people sitting on stools, side-by-side in front of an open window in a very crowded, lively bar. If you looked closely, you’d notice the girl – around 20 – wears a bulky, black walking cast. The boy – around 25 – holds a plastic cup, points into the streets, and beams a knowing grin out at the world.

What you can’t see is what brought them to this perch – this young man and young woman. The circumstances of one girl on the verge of feeling left out because her friends hurried off to dance upstairs, and the young man who, without hesitation, prevented the girl with a broken foot (who, let’s face it, had no business being in a bar full of drunken kids) from feeling alone and lonely. What isn’t captured is moments before when he shrugged, his eyes twinkling, said he didn’t feel like dancing, and announced it was time to people watch.

The rest of the images from that night are nearly all the same: varying angles of the young man talking animatedly, the girl’s head thrown back in laughter.

This is what all the Polaroids in my mind show, as I continue to flip through the images. They capture someone who made others feel like they mattered, that they were worthy. They are of a person who was loved well, well-known, and unforgettable.

Yesterday I stood in the rain outside my seven-year-old nephew’s newly-themed cupcake birthday party. Inside the sounds of laughter were interrupted by the loud vroom of a motorized Swiffer as my nephew tidied the floors. He’s partial to cleaning, you see, the Swiffer in particular. As this was explained to one of the guests, my father-in-law, who did not yet know of the loss we suffered early Saturday morning, recounted a story of another young man who loved to vacuum, a boy who once lived in the house my nephew now lives in.

He was talking about a boy who grew up to make a mark on the world he would leave far too early, and send shock waves through a town filled with people who cared deeply for him. A boy who became a young man who saved a girl one dreary night in Nashville, who left a lasting impression on nearly everyone he met, and will forever be greatly missed.