I was ten years old when I saw it for the first time. We'd moved to a new neighborhood, and I'd met a kid that lived down the block from me. His name was Kirk, he was also ten years old, and he had leukemia.
I knew that that was a serious illness. And I understood that it would kill Kirk at some point. I was old enough to grasp those concepts. But I'd never given much thought to how the disease would affect his life on a day to day basis, prior to his death. At ten years old, the idea of "day to day life" was so automatic, that it never seemed to warrant any conscious thought.
Kirk was small for his age. When we played, he often ran out of energy. When we rode our bikes, he went around the obstacles that I would jump. He was quiet and soft spoken.
There were times when we were playing with large groups of boys, and the play would turn loud and rough with the collective energy of the pack. Kirk would head home when that happened. It wasn't that he didn't like the rough play. He just couldn't do it. He'd never say goodbye, or let me know that he was going. He'd just disappear.
A lot of our play happened inside the house, with action figures and toy cars. We'd mimic the chase scenes that we'd seen on TV, or jumble the identities of the action figures, combining characters and story lines from pro wrestling, Cold War era action movies, and the NFL. Like a lot of young boys, we idolized grown men that were stronger and faster than the next guy. I think the wistful aspects of that play were especially acute for Kirk. He was never going to grow up to be a man. Strong and fast, or otherwise.
A year passed. His trips to the hospital became longer, and more frequent. Sometimes he was at school. Most of the time he wasn't. And then one day I looked out of my bedroom window and saw an ambulance driving slowly down the street, coming from his house. I really think that I knew at that moment that it was over. A few hours later, his older sister called our house. Kirk had passed away.
I was sad about his death. But I wasn't grief stricken. There was a general melancholy lingering about my thoughts and feelings, but it was a quiet and peaceful sadness. Maybe that came from Kirk himself. He'd seemed at peace with his fate since I'd met him. He accepted his illness and its consequences with a soft dignity and humility. If he was suffering through any internal torments, whether physical, mental, or spiritual, I never noticed it.
I remember one night that he'd come to my house to sleep over. When I woke up the next morning, he was already gone. My mom explained that she'd heard the door shut in the middle of the night. She looked outside and saw eleven year old Kirk walking down the dark and empty street by himself. He'd gotten cold, and rather than ask us to turn the heat up, he'd quietly made his way down the block to his house. It was just a few months later that he left this world in the same manner.