3.19.2009

hang on tight, this is a long one....

I watched the last fifteen minutes of the movie Stepmom on Saturday. By the time the credits were rolling, I had tears pouring down my face. Sure the story was sad (Susan Sarandon was dying) but I felt that so many tears weren’t warranted when I had only watched the last fifteen minutes. (Not that crying during movies is at all unusual for me; I’ve been known to tear up multiple times during Armageddon.) Anyway, it put me into a funk for the rest of the day. A serious funk. I was irritable, restless, and generally unpleasant to be around.

Anyway, much later Saturday night the cause of the discontent hit me. The last time I had seen the movie was the day after a friend had killed himself. We watched it in health class, as the teachers were aware that nobody, even them, could possibly focus on anything other than the horrible even that had occurred the day before.

I was a sixteen-year-old high school sophomore on April 20, 1999. I remember sitting in the biology classroom, watching the news in disbelief as they showed pictures of kids, who looked and seemed just like me and my friends, huddled together as rescue workers pulled victims out of the library window. I still get goose bumps every time I see this picture.  The next day a giant yellow banner appeared on the wall of our commons, and we were encouraged to send words of comfort, or hope, or general support to the survivors. Many students, myself included, sported rainbow ribbons on our backpacks to show support. Later that day, that Wednesday, someone called a bomb threat into our high school. Teachers and administrators attempted to corral us into the outdoor commons while police cleared the building. It was a beautiful spring day in Moscow, and it was almost a party like atmosphere. Very bizarre. Luckily they found no bomb, but I remember teachers had a difficult time keeping our attentions on our studies for the rest of the day. Some never even bothered to.

Prom was the following Saturday. I wore a beige dress that I had worn to the Frosh Ball the year before, had to arrange my bangs so to cover the huge burn I had on my forehead (had yet to master the art of the curling iron) and lost my shoes about 2 minutes after arriving at the dance. All and all it was an unremarkable high school dance, except for 2 key points. 1. I FINALLY danced with the boy whom I had loved for the entirety junior high. 2. My friend B and I danced to “Lady in Red” all the while mocking our other friend J (who happened to be wearing a red dress) as she danced with her crush of the moment while her date glowered in the background. B was wearing black pants, a black shirt and a red tie. He smelled deliciously masculine, and I think about him every time I hear that song.

Would I think about him every time I hear that song if the following Tuesday had never happened? I danced with several boys throughout my high school career, and certainly don’t think of them whenever I hear those songs. I can’t even remember what songs they were, even with the boys that I really liked. I have a feeling that dance is only memorable because it was followed so shortly by B’s death. Like three days later. Three days.

It was a Tuesday. I was wearing new jeans and a Stanford swimming t-shirt. My hair was, for once, not slicked back into a wet ponytail, but down around my shoulders. I had slept in, there had been no morning swim practice, an optional afternoon practice and the sun was shining like it only does in Moscow in the springtime.

Then, once again in biology class, everything shifted. I was standing at the front of the classroom talking to Joe, coolest bio teacher in the world, about some paper I had written when I looked up to see a Police Officer walk by our classroom. His face was white, and his jaw seemed to be clenched. His eyes caught mine, and then he looked away as if he couldn’t focus on anything other than simply walking down the hall. I looked quickly back to Joe, who seemed to have blanched as well, and he told me to go back to my seat. “What about my paper?” I asked, ever the anxious student. “Just go sit down.” He said. I don’t’ think the rest of the class noticed anything, but I sat at my desk for the next 5 minutes feeling very unsettled. Something was wrong, I didn’t know what, but knew I was going to find out soon.

Eventually the entire high school was paged overhead to go to the gym, as I walked through the halls, with my jubilant classmates who were happy we free from class, I couldn’t help but look at the faces of the adults. Every one of them had earnest, set, fixed expressions that I couldn’t read. The face of the principal was so close to anguish, as if it took every fiber in his body to hold himself together. Like he was steeling himself to say something terrible. As I sat on the bleachers, next to a friend, my mind raced. Surely I would have heard if the elementary school up the street had been bombed, my brother was a student there, they would have told us, wouldn't they? Was it the junior high, it was a mile away, we couldn’t have heard that, could we? Where were my friends? Did I see them all? Were all my friends there? What happened? Why were the teachers so upset? G and I grabbed hands. I watched a senior boy walk out of the gym, and then the Principal told us. B had left suicide notes in the office for some friends, and had been found, less than an hour before, successful in his attempt. I don’t remember the collective gasp that surely happened, or the reaction of the students around me. I remember the icy feeling as if I had been plunged into a bucket of water, I remember I had to keep reminding myself to breathe, I remember staring intently at the face of the principal, as if I looked at him hard enough he would stop crying and tell us all it was a joke.  It was an utterly bizarre out of body experience. They must have released us back to our classrooms, or said something, but I’m not really sure. I think G and I sat there for a good 20 minutes, holding each other’s hands, unable to move. And when I finally did go back to the classroom, I had to focus very closely on every movement I made. I walked down the stairs and passed doors that looked out on an outside area and saw the same senior boy who had left the gym with his twin brother and their friends, counselors close by, all of them crying. I remember thinking to myself how odd it was that they could be feeling so much when I couldn’t let myself feel anything. How could they be crying when I couldn’t even breathe? How could P possibly stumble into the arms of our vice-principal and breakdown when I couldn’t even focus on walking? How could a person possibly feel so numb? Somehow I made it to the swim pool, having apparently decided what I needed most was to some distraction, managed to put my suit on and to dive into the water. Somewhere 20 minutes into the practice my numbness was erased by an awful anguish. I sat on the edge of the pool and sobbed while my coach sat beside me awkwardly, not knowing what to say to comfort a hysterical 16-year-old girl. Luckily red eyes and a pale face can easily be written off by serious training, so my mom didn’t ask many questions when she picked me up from practice, in fact I don’t think I even told her or my dad until my friends came to pick me up shortly after dinner.

It’s bizarre, isn’t it, the way our brain perfectly preserves some things but not others. I remember most of the details from that day so perfectly, I remember saying hello to B as I passed him in the hallway at lunchtime, I remember what I wore, and I remember how the sun was shining. But I don’t remember my immediate thought, how I got to the swim pool, whether or not I went back to my classroom, or if anyone else was at swim practice. In my memory I am the only one there, alone at the end of my lane sobbing. There must have been other people there, my parents must have said something comforting, but I don’t remember any of it.

B’s death was a defining moment for many of us at MHS, and as I watch the high school students that are flitting around the library, I can’t believe how young we were. How young they are, about how I would never wish a week like that on any of them. B’s death was the first time I had seen a grown man cry. It was the first time that I had ever seriously felt fear, the first time that I realized my parents didn’t know everything about me, the first time I realized that sometimes adults felt just as lost and hopeless as we did. I can’t believe it was 10 years ago.

I wish I had a point to end this long (looooong) reminiscence. But I don’t. I guess I just feel better now, having let this all out. For the third time in a week. I’m attempting to be healthier emotion wise, and am learning that bottling everything up doesn’t allow you to heal. So this is the third time since Saturday that I’ve thought of that awful week in detail. My roommates (who were in my class in high school) and I talked about it on Sunday night, and it was interesting to hear their perspectives. Another friend and I talked about it in detail on Saturday night. It’s bizarre, because he was the senior boy I watched walk out of the gym before KC told us. I didn’t know him at all then, and now I consider him one of my favorite people. Isn’t it funny how you kind of circle around some people until finally making any sort of real connection?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

it's amazing how vivid a memory can be after a decade has passed. You captured this moment in time incredibly K...i can hardly breathe.

K

D-pain said...

I loved that man. He got some of the upper class guys to quit picking on me.