By SEAN DIETRICH
I thought I saw you today. I was walking through a crowded place. A Trader Joe’s, if you can imagine. You bumped into my shoulder. Then you walked past me.
It was you. I was momentarily stunned. I thought to myself, “Hey, that looked like my…”
But no. It couldn’t be. There’s no way.
So I followed you through the store. I pushed my buggy around, skulking behind aisles, pretending to read labels on ridiculous products that no sane person would ever buy. Such as a package of gluten-free barbecue-flavored seaweed.
I stole glimpses of you. I peeked around corners. I stalked. And well, you turned out to be — big surprise — someone else.
As it happened, you were just some random shopper filling their cart with cheap wine and obscene quantities of cheese.
When you walked past me again, I felt like a Grade-A fool when I said, “Hi.”
The person who looked like you sort of glared at me like I was Kathy Bates from the 1990 movie “Misery.”
Writing this now, I know I was foolish to follow some poor sap around a supermarket like an Amway representative. But sometimes you can’t help yourself. Sometimes the memory of the dead is so precious that you’ll do anything to keep it alive.
You’ve been dead for a long time. You’re Up There. I’m down here. And I still grieve you, although you’ve probably forgotten all about me.
I wouldn’t blame you for forgetting me. Life on earth isn’t nearly as memorable as what you’re doing. You’re probably happily taking in the sights, playing bingo at Heaven’s Community Center, drinking fruity drinks festooned with ginormous chunks of pineapple, umbrellas and live parrots.
You’re attending huge potlucks beside the River of Life, making new friends, eating potato salad alongside Henry Ford, Don Knotts, Abraham Lincoln, Bud Abbot, Lou Costello, Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle.
But I still think of you. And whenever I replay our memories, I’m still a child who speaks with a high-pitched voice, who is afraid of the dark and who occasionally, but not very often, pees the bed. My memories are like home movies. In my movies, you’re still beautiful.
One time, I thought I heard you call my name.
Isn’t that silly? I actually thought I heard your voice in a public park when I was walking my dogs. I just knew it was you because your voice had that familiar lilt.
I remember your voice. It used to have this “I never met a stranger” tonality to it. Which is probably why everyone at your funeral sincerely believed they were your best friend. You made them feel that way with your voice.
So anyway, I looked around the entire Avondale park for you. High and low. But I never found the familiar voice. I finally gave up and sat on a bench beside the sculpture of an elephant and I felt pretty stupid.
I watched a dad play baseball with his son. I watched a mother and her daughter feed mallards, tossing smooshed pieces of Colonial bread into a pond.
I watched two young parents teach their son to ride a bike without training wheels. After the boy fell onto the sidewalk and split his eyebrow open, his mother helpfully rushed to her son and, in a moment of pure maternal love, videoed the whole thing on her iPhone.
And I thought about our lives together. I thought about how our paths intersected briefly, here in the medium of time and space. And I realize how little I knew about you.
In the great scheme of existence, within the scope of history, nobody really knows each other. Not fully. We don’t have enough time to know one another entirely. We’re like fireflies who spend one amazing summer together, and then, poof, it’s all over.
Moreover, the older I get, the more I realize that I am forgetting even what I did know.
I forget the way your hair smelled. I forget the way you’d politely laugh during conversation with people who told non-funny jokes.
The way you loved black licorice. The way you sang louder than anyone during the national anthem. The way you always answered, “Sir?” after each question because you were 90% deaf in your left ear.
The striped shirt you wore on the last night I hugged you. Your reading glasses. The way your chin stubble felt on my face when you kissed me, your son, goodnight.
The dead are always alive in your thoughts. You dream of them. You hear them speaking. You feel as though you could touch them. Sometimes you smell them.
On a clear night, sometimes you feel them standing behind you. Sometimes you see them in your mind. Or in your heart. Or in your feebly written sentences.
Other times you’d swear on your mother’s eyes you saw your father in the grocery store.