01 – B
First hand witness of Paul Wilkins’ death
“Barry,” I told him, “Barry, I’m telling you, this is the most amazing thing to ever happen to me. Like, it sucks for Hardent of course, but seriously. Looking back, it’s just unbelievable!”
Barry’s my best friend. I had called him as soon as they let everyone out of the studio. It was so exciting, I couldn’t limit it to texting. We met up almost immediately afterwards at our favourite bubble tea place.
“Man, Sean, I can’t believe I didn’t go with you to this one. Damn social anxiety.” Barry was drinking a watermelon bubble tea, and he chewed the bubbles as he talked. It might have annoyed some people, but I totally do the same thing. You’d hardly notice.
“Hey man, don’t worry about it,” I told him. “You know that would have sucked for you. We had to wait around for hours while they figured everything out. That part was kind of boring, your phone can’t get any bars while in there.”
“Sure,” he replies, “but they gave you free pizza for it didn’t they? Fuck man, I’d do anything for free pizza.”
I know what you’re thinking, and I’m thinking it too. We’d all do anything for free pizza. It’s one of the reasons I was still so hyped from it all. There’s no high like a free pizza high. But I can tell you don’t care about the pizza. Chill. I’m getting there, but I tell you the story my way.
“Fuck the pizza, man,” I told Barry, “I got to watch fucking Hardent die live on stage. Right while the whole freaking internet was still hyping out over his switch to TAM.”
I think think the group of three kids sitting behind us had given up their own conversation and were listening in completely at this point. I didn’t really care, I was thrilled. It felt great to be the center of attention for once. It was like I was holding all the cards.
“You know, I hate to say this like this, you know,” I was worried I might be coming off as a bit of a dick to the people listening in at this point. “I mean, I feel bad for thinking it. But, this is probably the best thing to happen to PJI in forever.” That stands for Polar Judgement Initiative, if you didn’t know. You pronounce it pee-gee though. They’re Barry’s favourite team.
So he says “I know, right? I thought the same thing. Hell, it’s probably the best thing to happen to all the teams except TAM. It’s just more so for PJI, now they finally have a fucking chance to get back on top.”
“Yo, sorry to interrupt. Were you at the LCS today?” We were sitting pretty close to the bathroom, and this stranger had just come out of it. There was the faint smell of mothballs they put in the urinals wafting around every time someone opened the door. It sounds pretty nasty when I say it like this, but really it’s just a general bathroom odour everyone gets used to pretty quickly. Maybe it even improves the taste of the bubble tea. And the guy is like “Did you see it happen?” while wiping his hands on his pants.
Who was I to deny this man a share of my excitement? I knew his face, I’d seen him here before. He was never one to give a dirty look, probably recognized me too. “Yeah man,” I told him. “It was incredible!”
“How did it go down? I heard his puking was instense, did you see it?”
“I did! Well, so I was watching the big screen at first, right, watching the action. Then right after Hardent gets killed on screen, there’s a pause. Everyone had been so absorbed by the action, we just make the usual Oooo because of the pause, you know, but right after that we hear the players freaking out. He had just started to hurl then. It was amazing, I’ve never seen someone throw up like that! And, heh, I’ve been to a few parties, you know?”
I had this guy hook, line, and sinker. His friend had come over too and asked Barry if he had been there as well. Barry just shook his head and pointed to me. That was a nice feeling.
I keep talking. “So, Hardent is there, and he looked to have moved on from puking to choking. The crowd is freaking out, but we’re staying in our seats. You know, Gamers are more respectful I’d say, I’m sure the stage would have been rushed had it been some other crowd or event.” There were nods of agreement.
“Anyway,” I continue, “the announcers go from freaking out, to getting their audio cut, to asking everyone to remain in their seats for now. Pretty much everyone on stage and backstage had swarmed Hardent, and they were taking care of him. We were told that he has a known food allergy, it was probably just a bad reaction, and everything will be fine.”
Then one of my new listeners said “I didn’t know you could throw up like that from allergies.”
“That’s what I thought too! I said so to the guy next to me.” I said, then sucked on the huge bubble tea straw briefly, avoiding any bubbles that would cause chewing to get in the way of storytelling. Everyone around me did the same during the pause. I was feeling it! “But that guy’s friend was a med student, and the he said that it happens sometimes, especially if the concentration of allergen or whatever is very high. So it’s different from like, a peanut crumb in your chocolate bar or something.”
“So what happened next? That’s when the online stream got cut.”
There we go. I was now in the realm of the unknown. Everyone has seen the final moments online, and lived on the wings of rumours and hearsay. Now they had a live witness, and it was me.
“Right,” My voice had raised a bit by this point, to accommodate for the extra ears. “So, it was pretty messy on the stage at that point. Lots of people crowding around, we’re all just standing up in our seats, trying to get the best view of the excitement. The basic rumour floating around was that he would be fine. And honestly, nobody was all that worried. Kind of like when you experience turbulence while flying. There was an EpiPen, an ambulance was called, all that jazz. But eventually we start to clue in that it had been, like, a while. We saw everyone had went from slowly calming down to freaking the fuck out. In that, you know, really quiet way people can freak out. We all pretty much knew he was dead at that point, but nobody knew what to do.
“It’s weird, looking back on it. It felt like it was and wasn’t a long time. There was so much excitement, but nothing was really going on. After a bit, the paramedics showed up, and that was that. It was pretty clear by their lack of involvement that Harden wasn’t pulling through. That’s when the whispers went around that not only was he dead, but there was no way he should have died.”
I was kind of hoping for a semi-dramatic pause right there, but someone just had to jump in with their internet knowledge. “But I just read that it was one-hundred percent accidental! Cops did a press release.”
“Hey man, let me finish! This is a story I’m telling!” I said, playing it cool even if his rudeness annoyed me. “So, the rumours are flying all over the place. There’s so much discussion about it, everybody is making new friends with their neighbours and not noticing too much how time is going by. At this point Riot actually brought us pizza! Now, we had been told to wait in our seats, so Riot employees just went down the aisle and we passed plates with slices down the row. Let me tell you, that was the longest wait of the the day, you know? When you know you’re getting a slice, you can see everyone near you getting theirs, but it’s taking forever to go through the ranks and you have to pass them to the next guy first.”
Everyone nodded their understanding. We’ve all been there.
“And then, pretty much out of the blue, cops start showing up. They didn’t really do anything, just a couple of them came out from backstage, doing that “I’m in uniform” strut. Then a couple more came in through our seating entrance. They didn’t say anything, just did that thing that cops do, where they stand around making you feel guilty for just being there. Things got quieter once they showed up, but then slowly built into some serious discussion, especially when the two detectives came out.
“The people on the stage had cleared out somewhat by then, and it was pretty funny watching the girl detective step around all the puke. Oh, yeah. By the way, the smell from that had started to build up a bit into the whole room. It was bad, but not unbearable. Even combined with some of the fans who were already little rank. Nerd stereotypes, you know?”
“And it was pretty quick from there. Detectives looked around, talked to Gameshoes briefly, then seemed to decide there wasn’t anything there after all that. We got ushered out, everyone was given this card,”
This one here, take a look if you want. So, I took it out and my fans started passing it around looking at it. “It’s in case we saw anything suspicious or whatever. But in the end they just called it a freak accident.”
“I read online that it might even have been suicide.” Said some guy who probably thinks The Onion is real news.
“What? Who said that, that’s dumb.” Said some other guy, someone who gets it.
“No, seriously. Hardent had been under super pressure from his parents and Gameshoes or something. I read it on Per Diem, they said ‘sources close to the victim’ and all that.”
“Man, that’s just the internet trying to be sensationalist, sick pseudo-journalists trying to cash in on a tragedy. Don’t go spreading that bullshit.” Someone else chimed in. I was taking a break to drink my tea and rest my chops. I’m not used to talking a lot, but I can tell you I sounded pretty sexy the next day.
“Seriously. The poor guy had an allergic reaction, and it killed him. Nobody seriously wanted him dead, including himself. This is real life.” Said Barry, and I was proud of him for saying it. He’s right too. People want things to be all exciting, but when shit’s real it’s boring and you have to deal with it.
So, even though I hadn’t been the one to cause Hardent’s death, I felt totally involved in the whole event. I was now surrounded by interested parties, vigorously debating and hypothesizing the details of a celebrity’s passing. Constantly, I was the one they deferred to, when asking about the details and stuff. Barry kept looking at me in jealous admiration, and it somehow brought out his social side. He was one of the most vocal attendants there when the subject related to the potential fallout, such as which team would now dominate the league.
I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life. Barry will probably be telling his grandchildren about it.
That’s why I had to tell you the story that way, you see? That was how it affected me. That’s what I got to walk away with.