A bittersweet New Year's Memory

Back in high school I had two classmates that were unusually cruel in their treatment of people outside of their social clique. They frequently taunted me and my sister and our other friends by calling us names and jeering at all the unique physical characteristics that come with the horrible jr. high years. To make matters worse, we had to share a bus and a bus stop with them and sometimes we had to wait almost an our with them after school until our particular bus to showed up. It was torture. I remember smiling at the boy named Ron, and he called me an ugly dog. He laughed at my attempt to look grown up by wearing panty hose and he said my sister and I were lesbians. I didn't even know what a lesbian was.

We weren't the only victims of the verbal and psychological abuse either. The other boy, Greg, screamed at his father and on one particular morning, I remember he turned around gave his dad the finger before he entered the bus.

I wouldn't say that these were popular boys, but they did have their own group of friend - the kids that hung around smoking in the bathrooms. I wasn't necessary afraid of those kids, but we didn't have a lot in common either. But these two boys scared me and I tried to stay under their radar as much as possible.

On New Years Eve of our Junior Year, a few weeks after we received our class rings, these two boys were killed in a freak car accident. I have to admit that when I first heard the news my reaction was one of relief. My tormentors were no more. My mother reacted with horror and sadness. She had made friends with their parents and felt devastated for them. I'm not sure she ever knew how deeply they had hurt me, although I'm sure she knew some of it. Nonetheless, mom felt that we should go and pay our respects at the funeral home. I remember kneeling before the coffin of one of the boys, in his suit and tie with his brand new class ring and wondering how that judgment thing was working out for him? And I also remember having the thought that if someone out of class had to go through an untimely death, these two were the perfect candidates as their death absence was going to greatly improved my day-to-day existence.

Yet at the same time I remember the grief and sadness in the eyes of their friends, their siblings and especially their parents. Even the father who had been the victim of his son's public display of profanity was genuinely in pain over the death of his son. One of the mothers asked me if I was one of the classmates. I told her that I was and that I was sorry for her loss. That's all I said.

The first day back to school, there was a heaviness and a sadness in everyone's eyes. Teachers wanted us to talk about it, and girls from the smoking bathroom were weeping throughout the day in classes and in the hallway.

Every year since that New Year's Eve I have thought about those boys. At first as a lesson to not drink and drive and to avoid driving on New Years if at all possible. Then as I became a mother and had sons of my own, I felt a heavy sadness know the loss to those families would never be filled.

My sister always prayed for them at mass at the point where we are supposed to pray for the dead. She did this for 35 years without fail, every time she went to mass. When she first shared this with me I was surprised. She had been tormented by them as much as I was, but she said, "You know, they were only 16. We were young teens ourselves. I'm sure what they said was mean and bad, but I'm also sure that the way we perceived it made it much worse. So I just kept praying for them. "

One Sunday this year she had a special sense that she didn't need to do that any more. That her prayers were answered. It was finished. She has felt a sense of completion ever since then.

This year I found the sister of one of the boys on Facebook and we friended each other. Tonight she is remembering her brother and lots of loving words about how kind and loving and wonderful this boy was are filling up her FB wall. To have that much love shown, all these decades later - there really must have been a kind and loving side. I wish I had gotten a chance to experience it for myself.
I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
[Martin Luther King, Jr.]



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Comments

Moonshadow said…
Quite a remarkable story, especially your sister's inclination.

I similarly experienced personal insult, albeit behind my back, as an adult in the workplace. A deaf officemate often mentored deaf college students in the summer. One time, I remember, entering our shared office to find them acting out my slumping gait. They didn't look remorseful about getting found out either.

As much as I tried to friend her, she seemed prejudice against hearing people. She was often frustrated in communicating with me, considered me dense, which I no doubt am. I took sign language lessons from her whenever she offered them to improve our relationship.

Then this colleague got pancreatic cancer and died within months. I wasn't aware of her medical condition, confidential of course, and she didn't share. Our final conversations were terse and spiteful.

Several of us attended the funeral at an Eastern Catholic church in North Jersey. It occurred to me then that we shared the Catholic faith and ought to have been some sort of allies. Family and friends remarked on her generosity and kindness and I expressed regret at knowing none of it. Of knowing her only when she had become so terribly ill and self-absorbed.

For a decade or more, when I was working, I supported St. Rita's School for the Deaf in Cincinnati in her memory. I had began doing so when I lived out there, even before I met Cynthia. The diocese advocated support. But I just switched my annual donation to her memory. Now that I don't work, I've stopped, regretfully, but I think St. Rita's does good work.