Current/Recent Reading List

05 September 2006

Notes from a rough day

You're almost 17, a pretty girl with a great smile. You're not brilliant, not in the in-crowd, but popular across a wide range of students. You're known as a benign partier, very energetic, most always happy. Perhaps your judgment in friends isn't the best, but it's not like you are hanging with gang-bangers. You're taking Early Childhood Development classes which might lead to a worthwhile career, and you are a co-captain of the color guard. You've got a younger sister, a freshman, who looks to you to help her out and guide her along in her first year of high school. As with most fairly well-adjusted high school seniors, the world and the future look as fresh and shiny as a perfectly ripe apple.

It's a typical Friday night, and you and your girlfriends, out later than most parents might be happy with, stop in for a drink at a service station at 1:00 am. You've all annoyed the clerk for some reason - perhaps for being too loud, and certainly for loitering. Your mouthy friend has a lot to say to the clerk, and vice-versa. Out in the parking lot you all continue to stand around and talk, and a few boys you know drive up to join in. Suddenly, a man who knows the clerk - maybe a boyfriend - appears and lets you know he's not happy. Many words are exchanged, and maybe your instincts tell you that this isn't really the best place to be, or the best argument to have. Your mouthy friend can't seem to let it go, however.

And then, within seconds, all that life is- a universal drama- is concentrated on this little section of ashphalt in the middle of small town North Carolina. The man, you see, has a gun, and it looks like he's aiming it at your friend, who won't shut up. You're sure he's aiming at her in fact, but when he pulls the trigger, the bullet strikes you, right in the neck. All your friends' tears, and all their love poured out for you as they see you lying there, won't bring you back. Never - not once - did you think it would go like this.

Left behind you are your mother, father, an older brother, and that younger sister who won't have your guidance anymore.


There were over 1200 that came to the visitation - more than twice the population of the school on a given day. I was not sure what to do, since I never taught the girl, or had any meaningful dealings with her. I ended up not going, and I'm still not sure if that was the right decision. Strangely (vainly?), part of me is jealous that I can't fully participate in the grief that so many others feel. Not to the extent they can.

It's impossible not to be affected, however. Nothing can compare to the unified grief of a small community.

The students, for the most part, were quite composed today. Classes still went on, and work still got done. Some of the girl's friends made their own t-shirts with messages on them, and other kids had R.I.P messages written on their hands or arms. One car had "In Loving Memory of..." painted on all its windows.

In the media center, a table was set up for memorabilia - mainly pictures students brought in. I was struck mostly by her smile.

This was also the area where the school counselor team was set up. Forgive me for being rude and negative - I know they are good people - but they just seemed like a sort of Counselor Venus Fly-Trap, waiting to immediately pull in any student that stepped toe in there. I'm aware, it wasn't really like that for them. But I just find the existence of such a "team" creepy.

One of my students, a very emotional girl on a good day, must have known the deceased fairly well. When we had a moment of silence during 2nd period, I heard sobbing, and saw it was her. I persuaded her to walk out in the hall with me, but once we were out there, she made it clear that she didn't want to talk to "those people." Instead, she went in the bathroom with another friend from my class.

At the end of the day, as I was looking at the table, another girl, one I didn't know but vaguely recognized, walked up as well. She just started talking, telling me that she thought she was o.k., but almost lost it a couple of times that day. She also told me that her grandfather had a heart attack on Saturday, and that she was just starting to get to know him after not knowing him for years. Not sure exactly what to say, I just kept the talk up for a few minutes, and told her to hang in there. Tomorrow I need to find out her name.

I promise lighter fare tomorrow. Thanks for staying with me.

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