He Died; I Skipped School

I don’t remember where I was when I found out he died. Information like that seems to move through a community telepathically. I was in eighth grade and he was in eleventh, I think. I don’t remember his name. Charlotte, North Carolina is a small community and the private school I attended was even smaller. I think there were around 1500 students. I graduated with 109 people and I would say that was an average size per grade. When 1 out of 109 out of 1500 dies, it resonates. It touches everyone in some way.  

I think it happened on the weekend. Memory is fuzzy. Maybe it happened on a Thursday night and the funeral was on Monday? I don’t know. The kid died in a car accident. Drunk driving. They hit a tree. One poor guy survived and had to live with survivors guilt ever since. I’m embarrassed by what I did, but he, he had to live with that moment. One second they are having a good time, enjoying their youth, taking a risk (but you never consider it a risk until you hit a tree), then, wham. Over. He was a handsome kid too, which seemed to make it worse. 

We really get primal when it comes to the looks of the deceased. If a girl is beautiful or a guy is handsome and they die, we act like it’s worse than some ugly sod buying the farm. Of course, not if you knew the unfortunate-looking person. From afar though, we judge attractiveness, even in death. 

I was sorry the guy died, but I was 14 and my mind was flooded with hormones and the excruciating challenge of fitting in, especially in a small community. I have to save my grief for people I know and love, not for pictures in the paper. I made a mistake. But feeling nothing for the loss of some guy I didn’t know just because we attended the same school wasn’t it.  

The day of his funeral was beautiful. It must have been spring. Or early fall. I see stunning blue sky and blooms in my memory. The only bit I can still picture is standing outside the church and the yellow tie I wore. Not exactly funeral-appropriate. Neither was bringing clothes to school to wear to the funeral of a guy I didn’t know so I could skip out early. 

I couldn’t drive then, so someone had to give me a ride to the church. I’m sure they made an announcement at a special grief assembly about the funeral and if you would like to attend, make arrangements with your teachers. You can’t dangle that carrot in front of me and expect me not to eat it. Half a day? Hell yes. Because this place sucks and I’d like to leave for any reason. Even fake grief. I didn’t sit down and have a conversation with myself like, “Think how you will feel about this when you are 32.” I didn’t give a rat’s toot. I wanted out.  

Maybe I wore the funeral clothes to school but I probably stuck the yellow tie in my book bag to put on later because I hate wearing ties. It is a stupid appendage. The pigmies wear loin cloths to protect their genitals while hunting in the jungle. We tie fabric around our necks to show we mean business!, yo. Don’t fight a jujitsu blackbelt while wearing a tie on unless you want to be choked out in half a second. 

Ok, and we are back. 

I wish I could remember the lies I told about grief to get on that glorious ride to the funeral. I never laid eyes on this guy. There were people that knew him and really felt awful. People were destroyed by his death. They felt empty. I had a yellow tie rolled up in my book bag so I could get an early afternoon. 

“Yellow tie.” What an ass. I remember a large woman in a black dress outside the funeral who was distraught. I wonder if she was also acting for the attention. 

Yes, I wanted the attention one gets if one loses a friend to a tree. I wanted the, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” “thank you,” moment. I was so worried I would be caught outside that church. That is probably why that moment is burned into my memory. 

Someone would see me and go, “Hey! You didn’t know him! Get out of here, school-skipper!” That church was packed to gils, too. I hope I didn’t take a seat from a genuine mourner. Some poor woman moved by loss had to stand because I was there in my yellow tie planing what I was going to do with the rest of my afternoon.

I didn’t go to the visitation afterwards. I booked it the fudge out of there. Too sad and too beautiful a day to cry through a platter of Chick-fil-A nuggets. I hope that his family and friends eventually found some peace. I hope the survivor is able to live. I hope he understands it’s not his fault. It is so unfair that one bad moment can define your life. 

I’m lucky that nobody knows that I used a kids funeral as an excuse to skip school.

I was a dumb kid and I made a bad decision. I pay for it every time the memory scurries into my head like a rat. I’m not sorry. I did it, I accept the ridicule, but I am not sorry. What’s the point of being sorry for something like that? 

There is no proof that any of this is true. If you remember this boy and you remember his name and you were stricken with grief for real, you can point out the many mistakes I made in regards to his death. The facts I got wrong. But this is how the incident sticks in my mind. I’m not reporting your truth, I’m reporting mine. If you are judging me because of something I did 17 years ago, ok fine, so am I. But be careful. Lift your past up like a projector slide and let us compare it to mine, side by side. The only person in this story whose record is clean since then is the kid who hit that tree.




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