June 1st, 2007


Memorial Day for Mario

I didn’t know Mario, didn’t even know his name. The only thing I knew was that on Memorial Day, I saw a crowd of people standing on the corner of the 7-11 where I stop every morning for my Super Big Gulp. Some had their fingers jammed in the air pointing at something or someone, and then I heard sirens behind me coming up fast. I pulled over just long enough to see a shirtless man lying on the ground, his muscular back covered in a tattooed giant cross of Christ, and as I drew nearer, I saw the sidewalk covered in blood pouring from his head, too much blood. The man wasn’t moving, just the cluster of people who stood and stared, and pointed.

For the past week, there’s been a shoebox sitting right in the middle of the 7-11’s wide glass-top counter that houses twenty kinds of scratcher tickets, but this week the shoebox covers the display. The box is wrapped carefully in paper that suggests mother of pearl with a hand-written plea for help, words of love, and the young man’s name. Mario. Saran Wrap seals the box except for the money slot that cuts into its top. An enlarged photo that’d been taped to the back of the wrapped bank sways every time the front door opens; it’s a snapshot of Mario, handsome and slightly bemused. He couldn’t be more than twenty years old. The box asks for donations to Mario’s family, to help them cover the funeral costs, or as the box reads, “Please help so we can buried our son.”

When I first saw the box, I emptied my wallet of all its cash, all eight dollars of it. I asked the guy who checks me out every day if Mario was the man I saw shot. He nodded without looking at me.

Armed with a twenty the next day, I slipped it in. Yesterday was another twenty, and today being payday, I put in thirty. I’m not bragging; I don’t view my contributions with anything more than the understanding of the horror when something so unexpected happens and the ugly practicality of paying for it.

I look at Mario’s photo every day, and I can’t seem to shake the first time I saw him, lifeless and alone, all alone, except for the strangers that surrounded him.