As it turns out, it was a matter of life and death.
I know that when my roommates wrote that note, they were trying to be polite. As polite as any three young men in their early twenties can be expected to be. But neither one of them really wanted to sit around waiting for me to get back from my class until we could all head up into the mountains for one last glorious blast of Indian Summer. I got left behind.
When I came back to the apartment after my afternoon class, I was expecting to decline their offer of driving up to Estes Park, ostensibly to pick up the faux-vintage photograph that was the last remaining piece of evidence connecting our household Lothario to his most recent lady love. I was going to do the noble thing and tell them that I was going to stick around and head back up the hill to my evening class. They should go on without me.
They already had.
When I returned home after that second class, night had fallen. The two of them hadn't returned. There was just that note, right where I had left it, mocking me. Now it was nearly seven o'clock, and they still hadn't returned. They must have had some awesome time up there in the Rockies. Beers, darts, maybe even a water slide? I gnashed my teeth just the tiniest bit and vowed to skip whatever class I had the next time the fun bus was headed out.
That's when I noticed the blinking light on the answering machine. I was sure it would be the sounds of the debauchery I missed. Instead, it was the weary voice of my mother, imploring me to come straight to her house. Not to call. Just to come. As soon as I could. I had never, before or since, heard my mother's voice sound like that. It scared me.
I don't remember driving across town, and all the day's antagonism drifted away as I began to imagine what cruel fate must have come to my father. Or older brother. I couldn't imagine anything bad happening to my younger brother. Anyone younger than I was indestructible. At least that's what I thought right up until my mother gave me the news. There had been an accident. One of my roommates was going to be fine. The other one had died.
Now it's been nearly thirty years since that crash. I forgave them for leaving me behind, but I still wonder what might have happened if I had cut class that day. I still flinch when I see notes on the table. I always prefer to speak to someone face to face when there's bad news. The road from Boulder to Estes Park was almost completely destroyed during this September's flooding. If that road hadn't been there twenty-eight years ago, I wouldn't be writing this. They never would have written that note. They might have gone out for a beer or two, but it wouldn't have been a matter of life and death.