A letter written, never sent.
Your family came into the store tonight. When they finished shopping, they went through my line. I took some time to study them.
Your dad is very handsome with his dark hair and chocolate colored eyes. I always look into his face, searching for similarities between the two of you. You look so much like him, it hurts. Your sister will be very pretty when she gets older. Your baby brother is a total cutey.
Your mom came with them tonight, too. She hardly ever shops anymore, I usually see your dad. I guess it's too hard for her. I had never noticed before, but someone told me she only wears black now. Indeed, tonight she wore all black, with a black veil around her face. She didn't speak, she looked so old and tired.
Seeing them made me think about you tonight. I mean really think. I thought about all the stuff I try never to think about.
It was only a few weeks after I'd met you. I had just been transferred to a new store, in a different area, and I knew no one. I think you were the first person I really got to know.
You'd never let anyone else bag for me. You'd tell all the other box boys you'd beat them up if they bagged for me and if one of the girls came up, you'd go send them on a fake errand or clean-up so that you could box for me instead.
But we had fun. I'd always play basketball with the customers' gum, shooting for their open bag of groceries. It didn't happen often, but you'd rag on me when I'd miss. We would banter and joke, and you would make me laugh.
I remember the day you took me to lunch. I didn't know the area, and was afraid to go out in downtown Santa Ana, so you took me with you. You paid for lunch and wouldn't let me pay you back.
I remember then asking you if you were afraid of walking through the neighborhood. I had seen you walking home at night after work before. Of course you played it off and said you weren't afraid.
The whole store knew you had a crush on me. You told everyone we were going out, even though you knew I had a boyfriend. Honestly, it had started to bother me. Too many people were saying things, and I hated thinking rumors were going around about me.
We worked together all the time. I remember the last week in February. We both worked Monday night. You walked me out to my car and you talked to me for a while. You were going to have the next few days off. You had a wedding rehearsal to go to one day and you were going to get braces on one of the other days. You were so excited.
I had a few days off, too, and it was Friday when I came back to work. I remember I was running late. When I entered the breakroom, our boss, Larry, was standing there, looking at one of the bulletin boards. I nervously punched in, worried he would notice I was late.
I asked how the day had been and he said it had been long and hard. He left the breakroom and I went to the schedule to see who was working that day. I noticed that you weren't working and I was glad. It had been getting stressful working with you, knowing that you liked me so much, and having you hang around so much.
I went up front and started checking. I could tell something was up, but I just assumed Larry was in a bad mood so everyone was on their toes. I had only been checking for a few minutes when Sandra came up and started bagging. I was talkative and in a good mood. Sandra studied me for a second and then said, "Nobody told you, did they?" She had such a sad look on her face.
"Told me what?" I asked.
Nothing could have prepared me for what she said next. "Jose was killed this morning."
It was like a bomb going off in my face. She then told me that that morning you were shot to death in your car while you were driving your sister and some of her friends to school. It was a gang member and he had mistaken you for someone else.
I collapsed in the checkstand. I sat on the floor, crying, all these thoughts going through my mind. No, no. Not Jose. You were the nicest guy around. Everyone liked you. Everyone knew you'd never be in a gang. I couldn't believe it.
I kept flashing back to that last night we talked and how I was wishing you'd just leave. I recalled how just minutes earlier, I was thankful that you weren't working this day. Guilt wracked my body. How I wish I could take those thoughts back.
The last time I saw you, you were being so nice to me and I was just concerned with getting you out of my hair. Now I would do anything to have you back at work, goofing around with me.
God, it's so unfair. Why do these things happen? You were only seventeen. You were making plans for your prom. You were to graduate in June. That very day, your high school was holding a Friendship Dance and you had worn your brand new red cowboy boots. You died in those boots.
You were so excited about getting braces. You were glad your teeth were going to be straight; I never thought they were that bad. You only wore them a day and a half. I never saw them.
God, I felt so bad. I felt so bad about wishing you away. Please forgive me. I'll never get over it. That night I had a dream that you came to me and left a letter for me. In it, you told me everything was okay, for me not to feel bad, that you understood. Was it real? Did you really communicate to me in my dream?
I went to your wake that following Sunday. The little mortuary was overflowing with hundreds of people. Somehow I made it inside and up to your casket. Behind you, there was a choir singing in Spanish. I could barely hear the singing over the sound of everyone crying.
It was so beautiful. I hope somehow you could see it all. So many people came to see you. It was really amazing.
I couldn't go to your funeral on Monday because I had work. I'm really sorry I missed it, but I'm not sure I would've been able to handle it if I had gone. I hope you understand.
It took a while for everyone at work to adjust. I had only known you for three weeks, but everyone else had known you for years. You still come up every now and then. Sometimes Art or Maria or Victor or Myrna will say something about you, or someone will do something that reminds me of you. All of us remember you each time your family comes grocery shopping.
Your eighteenth birthday was a couple of months ago. A few people from work went to visit your gravesite. I was invited, but I had school and work. I'm sorry I didn't make it.
I decided to write this letter because I felt like I needed to think about you. I also wanted you to know how I felt, and to apologize.
I'll never forget you, Jose. I hope you're in a good place.