Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The post I wish I didn't have to write

I can remember almost every syllable of the last real conversation we had, two weeks ago today.

It hadn’t been his semester. One thing after another had gone wrong from the very beginning, some of it his own doing and some of it stupid dumb bad luck. He was without job, without money, without car (all problems seemed to revolve around that last missing item, an unfortunate necessity in our area). He was begging rides to school and it wasn’t always working out so sometimes he missed class. He wasn’t making excuses, though, just providing explanations. He was willing to take his lumps. He planned to take the summer off school, reluctantly go back home to mom and dad (who live on the local outskirts), get a job near “home,” and essentially push his reset button. He had applied for a student loan and was going to start afresh in the fall.

He hadn’t had these kinds of troubles when we first met last fall. He showed up for every class, got things in on time, and presumably had a job, car, and at least enough money to eat on. He was one of a boisterous posse in the back of the classroom, boisterous in the right way. Some of them already knew each other, some of them didn’t, but they were full of energy and always had something lively and pertinent to add to the discussion. This semester he sat front and off center, directly in front of the teacher’s desk. In the fall he took my class by chance; this time he took it by choice. He liked me; the feeling was mutual.

And now something had gone haywire with his laptop and he couldn’t get it to come up and he couldn’t get his paper out. He was going to interface it in some way with someone else’s computer and read the hard drive. So, would I let him e-mail the paper late? Sure, I said. Sometimes this stuff is true and sometimes it isn’t, but as long as any one student doesn’t take advantage, the answer is sure.

We were stuffing this “conference” into the time between two of my classes because his ride situation hadn’t allowed him to come to his scheduled conference. I gathered up my stuff and we took it to the room next door, my next classroom. I mentioned being thirsty and he offered to go down to the machines and get me some water. I handed him a dollar and off he went. I’d have bought him a drink, too, but I only had a dollar. Now I wish I had found some change somewhere and treated him, too.

When he came back, we chatted some more and then he asked if he could use my cell phone since he no longer had one of those, either. Whoever it was he needed didn’t or wouldn’t answer the phone, perhaps due to the unfamiliar number.

We chatted a little more, he asked me to say hello to Tiffany K, who was in this next class, and we said our goodbyes.

The last time I saw him was two days later, Thursday, but that was our last real day of class and it was chaotic. Everyone had some sort of business they wanted to conduct before and after class. The only thing I can say for sure is that he said hello to me when he arrived in class and he said goodbye when he left. Only now in retrospect do I realize that he is only one of two students that I can say that of: he always said hello and goodbye.

The paper didn’t show up as promised. I was so busy that I decided to just process his grade – probably failing without it – and we could get together about it and do a grade change later. I had to get the grades in and didn’t have time to stop and play private investigator, tracking down missing papers.

One of the things he said in that last long conversation was that his luck sure stank this semester, and I said to him – dear god – that sometimes having all the bad luck at once is a good thing. You get it and you live through it and you get it over with and maybe you learn from it.

But I guess sometimes you don’t.

He was killed in a car accident just over a week ago.

How did I find out? I may never forgive my school for this. I was checking student numbers for his class, and his entry had changed: he had withdrawn because he was deceased. That’s how I learned he was dead: his electronic record changed. Usually when students die or otherwise meet tragedy, we get a campus-wide e-mail. Not this time for some horrible reason. I had to find out by data entry.

He was a passenger in an SUV full of kids and apparently the only one not wearing his seatbelt. When the vehicle flipped, he was ejected. I missed hearing it on the news because I hadn’t had time to watch the news lately. He had been dead almost a week and buried for three days before I knew. I didn’t get to go to his funeral.

Now I have two more things to do. I need to write to his parents and tell them what they already know, what a really terrific guy he was. And because I forgot to do it that day, I ought to send an e-mail to Tiffany K and tell her he said hello.


Madame X said...

What a sad story.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

That is so sad -- sometimes I think the death of a young adult is as sad, if not more sad, than the death of a child.

When she died, my sister was a student at a big, chaotic commuter campus. I often wonder if any of her instructors were notified of her death after her husband called the registrar's office.