It was the night of the Writers Showcase at the library. I was nervous, in that jittery way I am when I’m hosting or leading a discussion. I thought I was prepared when I made my opening remarks.
“I lost a former coworker Saturday when Forrest Little died.” I paused to choke back the emotion.
“Many of you may know him, or read about him in the Courier.” I could hear my own sniveling as I tried to get my emotions in check, but the audience was quiet. I looked at my brother Steve, who had come by to listen to the slate of readers for the night. Then I glanced at my wife Susan, who was taking pictures, and I took a breath.
“Thanks for the moment of silence,” I said, and added, “Forest was a writer too.”
I found out about Forrest’s car accident through Cheryl, who had known him since he was a baby. She found out through Carole, who was told by Forrest’s classmate, and a former coworker of ours, Jenna.
I’ve seen a picture of my late dad at my mom’s apartment recently. It’s not in a frame, but she keeps the snapshot tucked into the side of another picture frame. He’s on a job site, carrying his Playmate cooler, the red and white hard side, where the gable slides down over the side at the press of a button. Forrest brought the same cooler to work every day at the library and I want to share a few stories about the time when we were the library guys.
One day I asked Forest, in his skull t-shirt and jeans, to cut up some bookmarks. He started using the paper cutter at the reference desk, where we were pilot and copilot of the library’s day to day.
“Naw, don’t use that one, it’s dull,” I said.
“Let’s go use the one in the Youth Services workroom.” We walked into the room, with the green tabletop cutter in the corner under the window.
“Be careful, this one’s sharp.” I don’t remember if I said to use the guard or not. The blade locks after every slice if you drop the handle down far enough, but it also slows you down because you have to unhitch it after every cut.
He sliced a few and I left him to it. I didn’t think he needed any further training or OSHA clearance to operate a manual paper cutter.
A moment later, you guessed it; he had a paper towel from the bathroom wrapped around the top of his index finger, if I recall the correct digit.
All the female staff at the library, which was everyone except Forrest and I, seemed to go into mother and nurse mode simultaneously. Cheryl was the one who took him to the first aid kit, which happens to be in the kitchen. I think the gauze on the top of his finger could have been mistaken for a baseball. By the time his mom, Grace, came around, it was wrapped up tighter than King Tut. Grace, being the actual Mom, and not the library staff, of course, wanted to see the cut. So all the bandaging and molly coddling went for not. Forrest, for his part, shed not a tear, and managed to show how brave he was by not being completely embarrassed by his own mishandling of the paper cutter. Anyway, a decision was made that it did not need stitches nor did he need to go to the hospital, at least according to his mother, and the library nursing staff, now too many to name, who were milling around in the back hallway near the director’s office.
As I remember it, he came in the next day with a Band-Aid on his finger carrying his Playmate cooler.
Around Halloween, Melody and Jillian brought their war paint chest to get us ready for our zombie close-ups. I think we all came in dressed up. I had overalls, Jessica was vampire-like, and Forest wore his black hoodie, skull t-shirt, and blue jeans. It was Cheryl who turned heads, people didn’t recognize her with her teased hair, which had leaves and sticks stuck in it.
Well, we each got a turn in the Youth Activity-turned make-up room and we came out transformed with blackened eyes and streaking blood. We were zombie-fied, including Taylor, who looked more like Glinda the good witch, compared to the rest of our Thriller crew.
We have a photo of Cheryl, myself, Forrest and Jessica that I thought about sharing. Jessica and I are sort of leaning on each other and Cheryl’s got Forrest in a choke-hold, and his eyes are wide open.
The classic photo is of Jessica and Forrest at the circulation desk. Forrest is hamming it up for the camera with his eyes rolled back white, flashing sclera.
“I was thinking about Forrest on Saturday,” Taylor said, when she stopped by the reference desk. We got to talking with another patron, who also happened to take a few photos that day.
A lot of words have been written about Forrest, on Facebook, and elsewhere, but I’m going to miss Forrest’s writing. I had encouraged his writing, because at the time I was in the throes of attaining my MFA in creative writing. He wrote short poems, observations, and he especially liked writing lyrics. I told Forrest to stick to it, and enjoyed reading his creative posts on Facebook.
I like working with young people. They possess raw talents that are often un-directed. I’d like to think I had an impact on Forrest’s life in some small writerly way. But when someone’s raw talent is taken abruptly, I can only share how much of an impact knowing him had on me.
It’s been two weeks since Forrest’s passing. I hope his family will collect his writing, and perhaps his friends, including myself, can help too. I imagine those writings filling his Playmate cooler.