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Life happens: Death in a small town

June 23, 2011 at 1:23 a.m.
Updated June 26, 2011 at 1:26 a.m.

By Aprill Brandon

So far, I've been approaching turning 30 in my typical fashion, which is to mercilessly make fun of growing older.

But this past weekend, I realized it's all fun and games until someone your age dies.

It all happened so fast. One minute I'm out having drinks with friends and the next, my Facebook newsfeed is filled with "R.I.P." messages, and I'm frantically calling friends on the phone to try and figure out what happened.

Yes, it's true. Motorcycle accident. Late Friday/early Saturday. That's all we know right now.

His name was Benji. Classmate. Neighbor. Third-grade crush.

Only 29-years-old.

This is the dark side of getting older (and social networking ... nothing is quite as jolting as finding out about someone's death via a "R.I.P." message on your newsfeed). Suddenly, you are no longer invincible. Nor is anyone else.

By Sunday, friends were calling me to see if I was OK. I kept giving the same answer. "Yeah ... I think ... I just feel ... I don't know ... weird."

From the outside, his death probably doesn't seem like something that should affect me this much. Sure, we ran around in the same circles, used to live on the same street, and the last time I visited home this spring, I ran into him, and we had made tentative plans to meet up later with those aforementioned same circle of friends.

Not exactly the stuff BFF's are made of.

But for those of us closer to the inside, those of us who, just like me, spent 13 years going to the same school together, it makes more sense to be shaken by this tragedy.

My graduating high school class was comprised of barely 70 people. And 90 percent of that 70 had gone to kindergarten together. And with that comes an intimacy that only a small town can provide. Regardless of whether you had ever actually talked to Benji, chances are you knew his parents, siblings, where he lived, his dating history and his preferred brand of beer.

And only in a small town like that can you have anecdotes like the time I mowed down his mom's mailbox while driving home late one night (something which became neighborhood lore and something which he never let me live down).

So, I'm not really sure how to grieve. I haven't cried. But am I supposed to? I'm sad and confused in that way that only a senseless tragedy can make you feel. But am I sad and confused because Benji died or more because we're the same age and this could just have easily have happened to me? Or a combination of both?

Should I be sadder? Less sad?

It's the same way I feel anytime someone from our close-knit community passes away. These people are intricately linked to my past. And even though I haven't actually lived in Ohio in more than five years, I still feel that connection.

I think what it comes down to is that we lost one of our own. That's how it is in a small town. No matter how close you were or weren't, no matter the last time you talked, no matter whether you got along in school or not, the overwhelming feeling is that this person belonged to us. We all belong to each other.

And losing one means losing a small part of all our pasts.

Aprill Brandon is a columnist for the Advocate. You can check out more of her writing at http://aprillbrandon.com.

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