For Shawn

Nick Baker

When someone walks in your living room and says, “I have bad news,” it could range anywhere from LeBron James twisting his ankle to the death of a friend. “Bad news” is pretty vague. And something along the lines of the latter never really occurs as a possibility, perhaps for no other reason than we do not want to believe it possible.

When three friends walked in Friday night, as my biggest concern was how I would face the weather and walk to 101 Bottles, we were met with that old cliché.

They were looking for another one of our housemates and then presented that bad news when they told us why.

A guy named Shawn Wilkes had been in a car accident. He was in critical condition at Robinson Memorial Hospital. They knew his injuries but not his chances. They had to go. We offered our best wishes. It was all we could do.

We get bad news all the time, to the point that we are almost impervious to the effect of those words.

The 21-year-old Kent State student was driving his Dodge Neon in Streetsboro on state Route 303 when he slid on a patch of ice and snow and collided with an oncoming snowplow. He was taken to Akron City Hospital from Robinson Memorial, and it was there that he died.

My roommate and I got a call while we were at a friend’s house. No one there knew Shawn, and we decided not to say anything about it. There was nothing we could say.

When news like that comes, it changes all your surroundings. The beer in your hand is not as good and the joke you just laughed at is not that funny, and neither feels right to enjoy.

I knew Shawn through mutual friends. I won’t pretend that I knew him well at all, but he was a cool guy who grew up with several people I knew. Shawn and I gave salutes a few times over $3 pitchers of beer at the Brewhouse, and we offered each other the occasional handshake when I saw him around town.

But he was only 21 years old. When someone your age dies, you cannot help but reflect, and this reflection realistically leads to little comfort.

Sometimes people try to provide answers they can stomach, like it was God’s will or that everything happens for a reason. Others simply try to celebrate a life while mourning a death, be it over drinks or hugs or stories or silence.

On Friday, the reality had not set in for me. I was distant from the whole thing.

But on Saturday, several of Shawn’s friends gathered to mourn. I joined to pay respects the best I could to a person I barely knew. A scene like that is so hard. People cry, salute, sit and stare blankly, hold each other, tell stories and try to deal as best they can.

More than anything, my condolences go to his family and those who knew Shawn best. They are going through something not easily imagined by someone who has never experienced it.

When I was 16, a friend of mine passed away after an overdose. I had never been to a funeral or calling hours, never saw a body or spoke to the parents of someone my age who had passed. I won’t lie. When I saw his body, a knot formed in my stomach that has been unparalleled.

Last month, I visited friends in Las Vegas, and my trip unintentionally coincided with the birthday of another friend who graduated from my high school a year before me who had passed away. I was not very close to him, but as I slugged down a shot of his favorite drink, the initials adorned with angel’s wings tattooed on my friend’s right arm reminded me why we were taking that drink.

We do what we can to get by, to remember and to celebrate.

All I know is that in the past month, I’ve had drinks in tribute to two fallen friends roughly the same age as me. And the only thing I can say for sure about that is it was two drinks too many.

This is for anyone who passed too soon. I’m sorry that this is the best I can offer.

Peace, Shawn.

Read the story about the accident.

Read more.

Nick Baker is a senior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.

Contact him at [email protected].