Saturday, December 31, 2011

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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