Are you okay?
It was a simple question I could have asked. A simple question I didn’t ask. Looking back, I honestly don’t know why.
The first time I wanted to ask, I saw him standing perfectly still in the hallway, looking more like an effigy than an actual breathing being. He looked sad, utterly dejected, and I had been about to make a move towards him when Tara showed up all excitement and smiles. A short exchange passed between them before she planted a kiss on his cheek and went back the way she had come. I called out to him just as his happy-go-lucky girlfriend turned away, but he simply waved and followed her into the hall to re-join the festivities of his birthday. He seemed fine when I finally found him in the hall, having fun with his guests and laughing a lot, so I decided the question could wait another day.
The question could wait till we went out to the movies, three months after his party, much longer than I had expected. But there had been work, family, and to-do’s that never seemed to end. I meant to ask him immediately I saw him, I had done so in my head a million times. Still, it was a night out with friends, each one of us narrating our comforts and woes: I had bought a new car, Mope’s daughter’s fees were getting too high, and his own business had acquired new investors. Why ruin the mood? There were two instances when he seemed far away from our conversations: a distant laugh that was not quite a laugh, and a louder one offered a minute too late for a joke I doubt he heard. Yet, for most of the night, he seemed happy, so I decided we could talk the next day.
The next day came, but he was in a meeting, about to take a call. Our call must have lasted all of one minute, just enough time for a quick greeting: “Nice seeing you. How is the wife?” “Nice seeing you, too. How is the business?” I could have snuck the question in there, but I didn’t think I would get a truthful answer, so I decided we would get together and talk over drinks; I decided the question could wait till that day.
That day would have been today, after work, just as soon as I could arrange it, but Tara called this morning to tell me I will never be able to speak to him again.
Seeing him now, I desperately want to ask, “Why? What was wrong? Would you have told me? Could I have stopped you?” Only he is lying on his bed, eyes closed, as still as the day I had seen him in the hallway. The pills he didn’t swallow are scattered below the pillow beside him. And my questions, unasked, will have to wait forever.