Three years ago one of my colleagues, whom I consider a friend, uncharacteristically stopped coming to work.
Mr. Padewski was in his forties and was well-respected. Health-wise, he was a runner, and in impeccable shape. He had been working toward obtaining his Master’s Degree so I figured he most likely succeeded in taking a position elsewhere. I just thought it was odd that he didn’t tell any of his lunch buddies goodbye or anything. Some of us had known him for ten years.
His empty chair at the lunch table often evoked questions of his disappearance. “Hey, did Padewski win the lottery or something? Lucky prick doesn’t have to work anymore? Does anyone know if Padewski took another job or something? Did he die? What the hell happened to that dude?”
Nobody seemed to know anything. They knew what I knew. He never came back to work. I googled his name and found nothing. No social media presence, no criminal record, no newspaper articles, no obituary…nothing.
I literally ran into Mr. Padewski yesterday as I was entering and he was exiting a gas station. As we shook hands, he appeared pleased to see me, but his eyes were dull and teary. Quite frankly, his physical transformation all together was beyond shocking. He was thin three years ago, but has since lost a considerable amount of weight, which, aided in accentuating the wrinkled skin that sagged like melted wax from his face and bones. His once groomed and lively brown hair had turned light gray, long, and wet.
“Hey man, what happened to you?” I inquired with a warm cheerful smile.
Now, Mr. Padewski was a great listener, a sensible man who often gave profound advice on matters, but he was never known to be an elaborate story teller. However, what he confessed to me outside of this gas station yesterday had every hair on my body flaring. I haven’t been able to think about anything else, and usually nothing really affects me.
He said, “Brandon, this is going sound strange, but it’s the horrible truth.”
I just smiled and shrugged not really knowing what else to do.
There was indescribable anguish in his tone, and so much pain poured from his face while conveying the following:
On the morning of December 4, 2012 I was taking a shower before work, just like I do every morning. Well, I heard someone pounding on the bathroom door. Brandon, I mean REALLY pounding. I could tell it was my oldest son as he began shouting, “Dad! Dad! Let me in!”
I yelled back to him, “Come in! The door shouldn’t be locked.”
I finished as fast as I could. While rinsing the last of the shampoo from my hair, my son’s voice echoed repeatedly throughout the bathroom, or maybe just my head. I kept hearing, “Dad! Dad! Let me in! – Dad! Dad! Let me in!”
I dried off and got partially dressed. I went straight for his bedroom. And there he was, my sixteen-year-old son, nestled gently underneath his cocoon of covers with his eyes closed.
I laughed a little as I said, “You know the door wasn’t locked, you could’ve just come right in.”
He didn’t stir.
I cleared my throat and made my voice more authoritative, “Wake up, Son. It’s time to get ready for school.”
He didn’t budge. He remained completely still. I got closer and shook his shoulder. He wasn’t breathing at all, and his body was like ice. I sat and stared at my son for several minutes before calling for my wife. He died unexpectedly and honestly Brandon I’ve had a really difficult time dealing with it ever since.
Mr. Padewski paused. He used the bottom of his shirt to sop up the streams on his cheeks.
I know my own son’s voice, and I heard it loud and clear. I heard it not even two minutes before entering his bedroom, yet the coroner said that my son had been deceased for several hours.
Author’s note: The family’s actual last name was changed to protect and respect them.