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A waitress on her way home from a Denny’s graveyard shift found Babyface a block away from the parking lot. He was face first in the dirty water of a roadside pothole, body twisted to near abstraction and only visible in the glow of the headlights of a passing car. She shook him, pulled his head from the water. His nose was crooked, cheek bare to bone, and forehead dented in like the front of his car, half a mile back at the base of an oak tree. She screamed, grazing her hand over a bone jutting from his left arm. When she called 911 she was nearly incoherent, saying something like, “Help—Accident—So young, a kid.”
It would always be a mystery what Babyface was actually doing. They didn’t know where he was coming from or where he was heading. He was drunk, that was sure. The police found open beer cans littered throughout his car, along with a St. Anthony medallion and his old high school parking pass, then 3 years expired. His parents swore he never drank, and his old classmates agreed. He was a month away from graduating from college. They sent the family an honorary degree in the mail—Electrical engineering.
They stuck a cross in the grass where he landed. Anthony, who carpooled with him junior year, said that Babyface hated the whole roadside memorial trend.
“What do they really do anyways,” he had said. “If we start marking every bad thing that ever happened, we’d be up to our asses in crosses. I don’t want to be remembered that way.”
He always chewed gum in high school, usually a few sticks at a time so that he had a mound in his mouth like a baseball player. When he was trying to make a point, he’d spit it out in front of him and open a new piece.
He spit his piece out the window and pulled out another.
“When I die, just put my ashes in Father Matthew’s coffee.”
He wasn’t cremated, though. In fact, his parents had an open casket wake, much to warnings of the funeral director. Maybe they wanted everyone to see him for what he was now. People lined up out the door to pay their respects to the man lying in the mahogany casket, dressed in his black suit and St. Dymphna tie, nose and jaw realigned, makeup only somewhat covering spiderwebbing gashes and a vertebrae clearly out of place. Those who were looking for the handsome baby-faced boy found a stranger. Parents shielded their children’s eyes as they said a final prayer, but Anthony stared until someone led him away into the lobby. Besides sniffles and apologies, there was silence.
For the first year after Babyface died, his parents kept a picture of him from high school graduation and a fresh set of lilies next to his roadside cross. There was a cross around the corner as well, but that one was nameless.