When they came into my brother’s bedroom to tell me the news, I was sitting on the bed listening to the radio. All I could muster was a faint, “Oh.” That was all. What they had told me was that my classmate – a kid I had known for all of my childhood – had shot himself. We were juniors in high school at the time.
Suzie was away for the year in Denmark. There was no one to talk to who might understand how to deal with death. We were all struggling, trying to find a way. A star athlete, a future with such promise, and a boy I used to tease (and who teased me in return) from first to sixth grade. Back then I was brave – braver than I was in high school. Yet for all my cruelty, he never turned the tables on me when he grow a foot taller and put on more muscle than my entire body weight.
As I sat on the bed, and my parents reluctantly left the room – because what more was there to say? – I thought back to the last time I’d seen him. In the hallway of high school, near the end of the day. Our lockers were near one another, and I was hurriedly trying to get what books I needed when I caught him staring at me. I looked up and scowled. “What?” I asked dismissively.
He looked at me. Haunted. Vacant. A little sad. At least, looking back that was the look. At the time I don’t think I saw the sadness in his eyes. He said nothing, only shook his head slowly. I studied the cross he wore around his neck. He felt far away. Far from our days growing up together at McNulty school. Far from the kid whose Mom threw him birthday parties with old-fashioned games like a clothes-pin drop.
On the radio that month, this silly Vanessa Williams song played over and over again. To this day, whenever I hear it, I remember that time. It instantly brings me back. For many reasons, I don’t like listening to it. Once in a while, however, it’s good to remember. It’s necessary not to forget. And it keeps a friend alive in my heart.