Ren walked over to the kitchen sink, drenched his hands with paint thinner, and then washed them with soap and water.
I found a plastic box on his drafting table while I waited and popped the lid open so I could look in it.
Inside were old glass photo images. I picked up one of the frames and ran my index finger across it, examining each photograph as it slid into view.
They were all pictures of Ren and Laura and the trips they had taken together during college a few years earlier.
I found a close-up of the two of them.
Ren looked almost the same, except in the photo his eyes gleamed with a glow of contentment and happiness I had only seen glimpses of in the short time I had known him.
His smile was wide, almost childlike, their faces pressed together set to the background of a rustic mountain view.
I then examined the woman I had only heard about until now, studying Laura’s face in detail. She was beautiful, her face tanned and glowing, heart-shaped, her dark hair in a pixie cut.
Her blue eyes seem to jump off the glass, staring directly into my eyes, pleading with me to take care of the man she had left behind due to her tragic death.
She had delicate features and a slightly upturned nose, all proportioned perfectly, adding to her wholesome look. I didn’t notice Ren behind me until he spoke.
“That was my Laura.”
I placed the glass frame down on the table, and Ren picked it up, staring at it as studiously as I had done moments earlier.
“She was beautiful.”
“Yes, she was,” Ren said.
We said nothing for a long time, minutes. Ren put the glass frame back on the table, then turned to face me.
He hesitated, then picked up the glass frame from the table and threw it as hard as he could against the concrete wall. The frame shattered into pieces.
Then he broke down, dropping to the floor as he sobbed. Ren looked much younger in that moment than I knew him to be, not 25, but a boy who was desperate, disillusioned and hurting.
I knelt down beside him and put my arms around him.
“God…” His screams were gut-wrenching and loud, pulled up from a place not many could reach, a place of pain and grief. A place I knew all too well. “Why did Laura have to die?”
I sat motionless, not sure what to say.
“She didn’t deserve to die! Why did she have to die?”
I wished I’d had an answer for him. I had asked this question countless times about my parents and had found no answers.
And I knew then Ren still lived in a dark and dismal cave of memories, haunting memories dragging him back into the past rather than pushing him forward toward the future.
I couldn’t answer his question.
Because I didn’t know the answer either.