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“Did you know a boy named Max Hendrickson?”
Good question. Did I? Hendrickson? From where? Sunnyvale, you say. The name sure sounds familiar. Maybe Kaylee Hendrickson? Oh, that was his sister? Well, then there you go. Wait, what do you mean “was”?
What? Hit by the Caltrain? How old was he? I don’t understand. How? When? You mean this last Saturday, like 3 days ago? How did you find out?
And I’m running into the basement, pulling out boxes and loose papers, rifling through certificates of academic achievements and old Scantron tests to find the 2011 yearbook. If he was a year younger than I am, then the year we moved from Sunnyvale, Max would have been…
Yes, sixth grade, third page in, wedged in between Hammond and Herrera. A little boy looking out at me from a page full of faces. When this picture was taken, he had just over four years left. Did he know? I search the brown curls lazily looping over his forehead, the mischievous spark in his brown eyes, the peaceful smile resting calmly on his face. He doesn’t look like someone who knew. He looks like a sixth grader, like a kid. He looks like a little brother and a son. He looks like a friend. So this was Max Hendrickson.
Google scrolls out a long list of results, the first headline catching my eye. “Teen fatally struck by Caltrain in Sunnyvale identified.” It’s about Max, but it’s not. There’s no way Max was just this, just another teen struck by Caltrain, just a mystery boy until someone got him identified. He must have been so much more.
So I go to his Instagram, and I watch the pictures flip through, of him and his girlfriend. His status reads, “Isabelle is my forever.” I guess she really was…. I click on a shot of him with his bike, flipping off the camera next to a caption with more hashtags than words. My mouse jerks to the right, and now I’m staring at a gorgeous photo of him and the girl who must be Isabelle, kissing in front of a San Francisco landmark. On the right, friends leave their condolences.
I click on the first guy’s name, wondering if I will recognize any of Max’s friends. The desperation builds, to know this boy, to connect the name to more than a face. He’s gone now. Did I ever have the chance to meet him? I’m looking for a memory. I don’t know the friend’s name, but I catch sight of the picture above his status post. It’s Max. Just like the one over the next guy’s status. And the next.
I search through the pictures, the comments, the friends. Everyone is remembering Max Hendrickson. They’re all talking, endless words peppered with “I miss you” and “I didn’t want to believe.” Every comment another mark of “RIP” or “ima skate for you.” There’s a hashtag already, and they’re asking each other to call, to text, “if you need anything.” It’s almost an open invitation, extended to everyone… except me.
Because I’m sitting here racking my brains, flipping through every memory of the sixth grade class, wondering if I ever saw him. Did I bump into him in the halls, sit next to him at lunch, sing happy birthday to him when the whole cafeteria erupted in “Happy birthday, dear Scxdermufls” because no one except a few close friends actually knew who had started singing and for whom?
Maybe. But probably not. So I’m sitting here, heart breaking, tears slowly spilling out, and I’m coming to terms with the fact that in all probability… I didn’t know Max Hendrickson. Not Max the little brother, not Max the boyfriend, not Max the friend, not even Max the “BMX rida,” as he called himself. So why do I feel like I’ve been hit just as hard?
I scroll further down, and my eyes rest on a quote he reposted a few months ago, scanning the words over and over. “Don’t count the days,” Max said. “Make the days count.” And I want to know: did you, Max?
I don’t know.
But I want to. I will. Because Max is gone, but as I go through the pictures a second time, I look at how many people are still here. Isabelle, his friends, the classmates, the family. And me. And maybe I’m not the only one who heard and said, “Who was he?” because doesn’t he deserve to be remembered?
So I’m going to remember you, Max. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t know me. I don’t care. I’m going to remember you. When I’m walking down the hall at school, C+ paper in my hand, wondering why I bother. When my little sister runs out the front door and screams my name because I just got back from school, and my heart just totally overflows. When I’m with my own little brother, and my own best friend, and one day, maybe with my own son. I never want to forget how short it is. I never want to miss another moment, to lose out on one more second to spend in this beautiful life.
So RIP. And I miss you. And I didn’t want to believe. And ditto to everything else your friends have posted. But more than that. Thank you. I’m not letting any more time pass me by. One day, when all is said and done, I hope to have the privilege of meeting you for real, in a better place. I’d like to thank you then for reminding me now to live.