Wrong place, wrong time. Words so often used they’ve become cliche. We don’t think about them very much when we hear them on a TV broadcast, or read them in some random article in a newspaper or on a website. All we know when encountering them is that something bad happened to someone. A freak accident. A fatal encounter. Whatever.
It wasn’t until David was murdered that it came to me that they are probably four of the most horrific words ever. Four words used to describe a life snipped short, in some fashion, usually thanks to a horrific confluence of circumstances. And to the rest of the world, thats the summation of a life: wrong place, wrong time. The person becomes subsumed into the event that ended their life, meaning their life, in some ways, becomes lost in the mix.
David was out on his usual Sunday evening walk. Where he lived was the type of place you’d expect that you could walk in safety from anything that could possibly fall under “wrong place, wrong time.” But that night, he crossed paths with a kid named Byron. A kid who decided he wanted to rob David of his cell phone. And so Byron decided to try and take David’s cell phone.
According to the police, David successfully fended off Byron. And, for the briefest of moments, that may have been it. But, David used that same phone to call the police, while Byron was still in his general vicinity. That’s when Byron pulled out a gun and shot David once, in the chest. And that was that.
Snitches get stitches, don’t you see.
The man who I had grown to love and cherish as a friend, bleeding out on a cold Seattle street. The man who had married my friend Kim and loved her to death, who had raised her son as his own, left to die like a fucking animal all because a punk ass fucking kid decided to throw a tantrum.
There’s something else hidden in those four words: wrong place, wrong time. This hidden aspect is the acknowledgement of the monstrous randomness of this universe. Shit happens, there’s no rhyme or reason, other than the simple fact that entropy is the law of the universe.
But we just forget that, all too often.
I was no stranger to death before David was murdered. It started when I was a teenager, and the man I admired the most, who I looked up to with something approaching reverence, my uncle, committed suicide while he sat in a bathtub in his house in Palm Springs. He attempted to shoot himself in the head, but it appeared that instead he either jerked when he pulled the trigger or the recoil from the gun made him essentially miss. Rick suffered a glancing shot to his head that left him unconscious. He slipped forward into the water and drowned.
My lasting memory of my first encounter with death and horrible randomness is sun shining off snow, a blindingly bright day on which to first have my life stained by the shadow of death.
From there, I lost grandparents to cancer and alzheimers and old age. That kind of death is painful, but manageable, able to easily be comprehended, at least. Even my Uncle’s suicide could be understood, to some extent.
But then, beautiful Ruby was killed by a drunk driver on an icy Alaskan road. One of the sweetest souls I ever knew taken at 28, and her killer served only 90 days in jail. Alaska doesn’t have a vehicular manslaughter law, so the most she could be charged with was DUI.
This fuckin world.
Ruby was followed a couple of years later by my friend Patrick and cousin Randi. Both were wiped out by OD’s, Pat by a heroin overdose, Randi by a mix of opiates and xanax knock-offs. Pat’s junkie friends dumped him on the curb in front of a hospital like a fucking garbage bag, but it was too late. Fucking pussies.
Randi was found in time, and was kept alive on a respirator for a few days. But there was no coming back for her and my aunt and uncle had to make the most tragic of all decisions.
All this is to say Death and I are old friends, and I thought he had served me with almost every possible variety. I knew how to deal with death, how to accept it in what I thought was a wide spectrum of circumstances. But David’s death…I couldn’t cope. My mind could not, can not, wrap itself around the fact that my friend was fucking murdered for something as trivial as a cell phone.
My friend, essentially dissolved into an ocean of crime statistics. Reduced to a number in an official record somewhere at police headquarters. One of the however many that would make up some police bureaucrat’s PowerPoint presentation to a city council meeting, someday.
Speaking of statistics, David’s death was an outlier in every respect. Fatal interpersonal violence that crosses racial lines is on the far edges of the distribution curve..Taleb’s Black Swan event. Monstrous randomness.
Wrong place, wrong time. Four little words that encompass an incredible series of events dating back for however long you want to take it, to bring about things that shatter human lives, scattering those lives like so many leaves in the wind.
What does one do in the face of such monstrous randomness?
I….I got angry. I got angry every time I’d hear the break in Kim’s voice when she would talk about David afterwards. I got angry every time she’d mention him in the present tense still, knowing it meant she was hurting so fucking badly because her mind simply couldn’t comprehend what had happened to the love of her life.
I got angry every time I remembered the feel of Kim’s body next to mine, the feel of her hand, the first time we saw Byron walk into the courtroom. Her hand crushing mine, her whole body shaking violently, almost uncontrollably.
I got angry every time I remembered the late night text Kim sent me with a recording of David’s last voicemail to her. My friend, her husband, reduced to a few brief seconds of audio, becoming a ghost in a machine, thanks to the horrible, terrifying randomness of this plane of existence.
I got angry at this filthy, decadent world that barely noticed the death of a good man. I would burn it all down, just for the chance, the fucking chance, to give David back to Kim. And I got even angrier because I knew I never could.
I got angry because I could see the smallest of smirks on Byron’s face sometimes when we’d see him in his so far interminable court hearings. I got angry that it seemed as though the few extra officers from the prison would accompany him to the courtroom, and set themselves up around him, fucking seemingly protecting him.
I got angry that I knew my daydreams of rushing forward suddenly and bashing his head into the table, and then trying to gouge his eyes out, would accomplish very little. And besides, like I just said, they were fucking protecting the scumbag.
I got angry that I had to watch Kim try and rebuild her life at a time where she and David were meant to be sailing towards the final part of their happily ever after. I got angry as I had to watch her frantically search for any man who could match the man David was, a particularly difficult thing in this vacuous and decadent time.
I got angry because suddenly I became a horrible person to people I have known and loved for half my life, if not more, at this point. I got angry that my friend was dead, his widow barely holding on, and I was somehow the asshole for talking loudly about what our sampling of the universe tells us about who kills whom most often.
I couldn’t help it. The shock to my concsiousness brought about by my encounter with monstrous randomness and its particular vehicle as far as David’s death was concerned was as strong as any LSD you could take. It felt like cold water had been poured over every ounce of my being, my perception altered to see everything in hard, sharp, glittering lines. The world was now full of constant threat, and my mind had shifted itself to perceive things in terms of friend, foe or neutral.
There are predators and prey, and if you try and pretty it up any other way, well then, you’re just deceiving yourself and increasing the risk to yourself all in one go. And like I said earlier, I got angry that somehow I was the asshole for talking about who was most often the predator and the prey anymore, at least here in these good ole United States of America.
Wrong place, wrong time. We hear these words all the time, but rarely think about what they truly represent: the monstrous randomness which governs our lives, no matter how much we might like to think otherwise. Able to strike with devastating and deadly effectiveness. And there’s not a fucking thing we can do about it.
She misses you desperately, David.
We all do.