How I found out that my next-door neighbor Larry had gotten hit by a bus is that my mom sat down at the kitchen table with me before school, while I was eating a bowl of cereal, and said, “Our next-door neighbor Larry got hit by a bus.” I found out that way. Then I went to school. It was hard being at school knowing that Larry had gotten hit by a bus so what I did was I started crying in the middle of history class, during a pop quiz about the Renaissance. I cried onto my quiz. The teacher saw that I was crying and she called my sister who came and picked me up and drove me away. We bought a box of Mike and Ikes from 7-Eleven, then went to sit by the pond in Bethany park. It seemed like the right thing to do now that we knew it was possible for Larry to get hit by a bus. We didn’t know that was possible before.
Larry was almost forty when he got hit by the bus. He’d retired young from AT&T and become a long-distance cyclist. He rode his bike a hundred miles a day. My dad initialed an official piece of paper verifying the time he left and the time he got back. Larry pulled the paper out of a secret pocket on his chest. It was dry when he left and soggy when he got back. Sometimes when my dad wasn’t around, I initialed the paper for him: a witness. I guess the miles were adding up to something. Later I would learn they were adding up to 25,000. He was on one of his rides when he got hit by a bus, a bus that I began to think of as Larry’s Bus, as if, after you get hit by a bus, you get to keep the bus. As if those were the bus rules. The driver didn’t stop. Later he went to prison. Larry’s fiancé went to the driver’s trial, so that the driver could see her, so that he could know what she looked like.
She looked like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, except that her hair was blonde, like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.
I don’t know what kind of bus it was but I imagine it as a school bus. I know it had extended side mirrors. It was the side mirror that hit Larry in the back of the head and knocked him into a ditch. He didn’t die in the ditch. He died in the hospital. But when I think about it, he did die in that ditch, and the wheels of his bike were still spinning even after he’d died because they were perfectly balanced and they could go on spinning forever.
Larry hadn’t always been hit by a bus. For a long time he wasn’t hit by a bus. His whole life, almost. He spent almost his whole life not being hit by a bus. But when I think about Larry I think: Larry, who was hit by a bus.
My parents still have a picture of him on a book shelf in their living room. He’s standing in front of his house, which is the same thing as standing in front of my parents’ house, and he’s lifting his bike up into the air. The bike is super light because it’s made for long distances and when you’re riding long distances it’s important for the bike to be as light as possible. When you’re riding long distances, it’s important for everything to be as light as possible, even you. Here’s a good rule of thumb when it comes to riding long distances: the lighter the better.
In the summers Larry rode his bike across the country. I watered his plants and opened his cabinets. I found his condoms and put one on. One summer I let all of his plants die and then brought all of them back to life. That’s how I learned that it’s possible to bring plants back to life. All you have to do is water them until the soil turns into mud. Then you do that a couple more times. Then they’re back. I’m not sure it’s possible for plants to really die. Not really. Not for good.
I’d known people who had died before Larry died but I didn’t know anyone who’d been hit by a bus. Getting hit by a bus was something new. Everyone I knew who’d died had died because they were sick or old. It was like their death had come from inside of their bodies, like they’d grown it themselves. But Larry got hit by a bus and that wasn’t the same thing. Now it seemed like death was coming at people from both sides: inside and outside. Soft things and hard things. Stuff made out of cells and stuff made out of metal.
“It’s comforting to think that he probably didn’t see it coming and probably didn’t feel it happen,” my mom said. But I didn’t think that was comforting. I didn’t think that was comforting at all.
Larry was Jewish and for some reason that meant we weren’t allowed to go to his funeral. But we went to the party after and his fiancé asked me to say something. I was fifteen years old and I didn’t have anything good to say about death or dead people or busses so I made some joke about how much Larry rode his bike. That’s what I did. I made a bike joke. And the people there pretended to laugh because they were kind and they understood that I was just a kid who didn’t know what to say about his next-door neighbor who’d been hit by a bus. Afterwards I went into the bathroom and held my hands under the water for a while. Then my dad came in, put his hand on my shoulder, looked at me in the mirror and said, “You stole my joke.”
One of the people at Larry’s funeral, one of Larry’s friends, ended up marrying Larry’s fiancé and they had a baby together right away, a baby girl, and began the life that was supposed to be Larry’s life but was now Larry’s friend’s life. It seemed to me that Larry’s fiancé had married Larry’s friend out of some sort of Larry-fidelity. But now I think they were both just sad, and that sadness is not a bad thing to have in common with someone, especially when your sadnesses are the same.
Now Larry’s been hit by a bus for fourteen years. Someone else moved into his house across the street from my parents. They drive a Toyota. When I Googled what year Larry died, because I couldn’t remember, I found a lot of stories about him but none of them had anything to do with what I’m telling you here, with what I’m trying to tell you, which is just that I knew a guy named Larry and he got hit by a bus. And that I didn’t know that it was possible for me to know someone and then them get hit by a bus but it turned out that it was. That was something that could happen. A lot of things can happen. Not everything. Most things, though.
A bus can change things. Things can be one way and a bus can make them another way. That’s how busses work sometimes. That’s the message of the bus. That’s what they have to tell us. You won’t see it coming. You won’t feel it happen. It’s not a comforting thought. You don’t have to think about it if you don’t want. The year before Larry died he rode his bike 25,000 miles. That’s what it was adding up to. A lap around the world.