Forty-five years ago, when I played Monopoly in Brooklyn with my friend Allen, we had no intimation of our future lives, no hint of the joy or grief that would befall us. We sat on Allen's back porch arguing about who would be the banker, eating slices of watermelon and seeing who could spit the seeds farthest. I was 11, Allen was 8. Our sisters, who were 4, were best friends. In the summer, we all played in a canvas wading pool that Allen's father set up in his driveway. When the ice cream man came by, we ran out front, dripping wet, to buy Popsicles.
After I read in the newspaper that a madman gunned eight people to death in a San Francisco law firm, including my friend Allen, I got out my crumbling photo album. There we were: Allen and I shoveling snow after the great Brooklyn blizzard of 1947; Allen and I dressed for a Halloween party, he as a cowboy and I as a princess; Allen and I with our parents and sisters on the cruise to Bear Mountain, I with my new sling-back shoes, Allen with his arm around my shoulder. We were next-door neighbors and we knew everything about each other, what our mothers were making for dinner, what arguments our parents were having.
After my family moved away from Brooklyn, I don't know how Allen fared, or with whom he played Monopoly or rode his bike or skated. I find it hard to make the leaps in time that grew him up, matured him, made him a widely known lawyer. I don't even know the faces of those left bereft by his murder.
I don't know what do do with this news that Allen is dead, or where the blame lies. On every side I hear "explanations" and "causes." There are too many guns in this country, too many revenge-bent lunatics. Violence on TV. Lack of moral education. Lack of love. Lack of jobs. Lack of hope. Desire for fame. But in the end, as in the post-office shootings, the restaurant and school massacres, none of these explanations seems to serve. What we are left with is pain and confusion, not to mention fear.
I have a carved wooden dog that Allen made for me with his wood-burning set. On the back of it, he printed in pencil, "For Merrill from Allen J. Berk." I never knew Allen in a business suit in his glass-walled office on the 34th floor. But I remember him in a seersucker playsuit on his back porch, buying a house on Park Place. I remember him happily counting out his play money, playing for dear life, a smile on his face and all the hope of being a winner in his eyes.