It happens every time someone of note dies. Sometimes that someone is a celebrity who shaped my life in some way, (think Peter O’ Toole)sometimes that someone is a musician whose work changed the way I saw the world, made it a little bit more liveable at a time when I really needed it, (Elliott Smith, Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse) but every once in a while, that someone is a student, a high school student, sometimes that someone is a student at the high school I teach at.
A few years ago I had a student pass away unexpectedly. There were details: a party, a heart condition, the rest dipped in mystery, but dead of a heart attack at 18 years of age. I knew him well, he took my video classes several times. In creating a tribute for him for our video announcements, we discovered footage, we re-watched footage, old videos he made in a new light. He was the ghost of David Bowie, that’s the role he played. He had a sparkly wig, he said, “I’m not dead.”
But yesterday it was a student who had been battling a severe illness for several years. This one I thought would be easier, as if it ever can be. I never had this student in my class, never even saw this student in real life. After the email went out yesterday, I tried to move on with my day, I swept it under my mental rug.
At lunch, I tried again to not think about it. This time burying my interest in an article about an air car. This wave of what I will call nostalgia but really was a direct portal to fifth grade and watching Blade Runner for the first time, and I was 12 again.
Then came fifth period. The students that knew him, that were friends with him, they were broken quiet, shaken. I had moved on, they moved me back.
Me, I was still going on about an air car. When a student came in, sat down and just couldn’t be in class anymore, and ask to leave, then it hit me. This kid, this friend of hers just died, and here I am going on and on about an air car.
I wanted to fly, and she was mourning her dead friend.
Death. It’s so easy to sweep it under the number of rugs that one individual stores up throughout life, but it always comes back.
It’s not just about the one that’s passed, but all the ones who passed too young. The ones I’ve lost, that year where two close friends of mine, two friends who helped to define me died, lost to drugs in two different ways, both a couple at one time, now both dead while the rest of us got married and had kids and tried in vain to grow up.
So we’re back here, and I’m feeling this more than I thought I would because I am trying to be more clear, call it New Year’s Resolution, or whatever, but whenever this happens, no matter how distance the death’s grasp is from mine, there is something about the nature of it, that we, I, me, who is now more clear can now feel, that we are all connected in the realm of memory, and we wear it on our bodies, and it twitches into muscles and makes us whole and human, and there is no brushing anything under the rug, it only comes out five times uglier.