High school wasn’t my favorite experience, but at least it was a strong motivator to move on to better things. This is a story that I’m not sure has a point, just got me thinking, so I’m going to play a wandering thoughts chip tonight, relieving myself of the duty to say something meaningful. If that makes it boring, you can skip it, and even if I knew, I wouldn’t mind.
When you go to school in a town of less than a thousand, with a high school of 50-65 depending on the year (my class graduated only eleven), everything involving the school is big news. Everyone knows everyone–not just in the school, but in the whole town. If you’re from it, you’re related to a bunch of people, and if you are not, you’re always something of an outsider.
Sometime during my junior high years, probably eighth grade, a couple of high school kids broke into the school, vandalized the woodshop and stole a bunch of stuff. I don’t think it was ever proven, and in any case the law didn’t visit town short of a homicide attempt, so I doubt they ever paid a legal consequence. They did, however pay short- and long-term social consequences. Vandalizing and ripping off the school, in a town where one could just about quantify one’s personal share in the cost of a stolen router or broken window, was serious stuff. I think they were both sophomores, about two years ahead of me. My guess is that their parents ended up having to pay for at least some of the damage, because they must have confessed under some circumstances.
The older one, whom let’s call Donny, reportedly faced vigilante justice in the form of being forced to swallow a whole can of Copenhagen, which (also reportedly) didn’t stay down long. The younger, whom we might call Mack, I’m not sure faced any direct consequences. Before it was over, though, I think they would both rather have swallowed several cans of chew than what transpired.
The town was in a valley, at least half an hour from any shopping of even modest note. The 35 mph road down the valley had potential for danger if one were reckless or inattentive, with sharp curves and blind areas. Locals knew these and would pass without much hesitation, but if one got incautious, well, we’d lose one or two a year that way. There was one turn in particular where drivers were prone to overcorrect to the left. Within one year, we got word that Donny had done this. He’d been driving back from one of the shopping towns, probably going too fast, overcorrected, rolled, flipped and crashed top first on a sort of berm below the road. If he wasn’t dead when he hit, he probably never had a chance to extricate himself before the gas tank or line ruptured.
For a couple of years, every time I passed that spot, I could look down to that berm and see the burn mark where he had incinerated. He wasn’t much mourned, with memories of the vandalism still fresh in the civic mind.
Not many months later, we learned that Mack was involved in an accident, one rather more tragic. In our town, nobody bought Christmas trees. One went up in the hills and got one’s own. Mack and his father were driving back from a Christmas tree expedition, and I never learned the details, but since it happened on a company road that wasn’t normally cleared, I’m guessing that they hit a patch of ice at night. Their SUV somehow wrecked. Mack’s father did not survive. Mack did, paralyzed from the waist down.
For the first time, our school had to adapt itself to a disability. That meant wheelchair ramps at all the pertinent locations, but I don’t think anyone hassled Mack after that. The consensus was that he’d paid the dues, however involuntarily. I’m not sure if he graduated or not, or what he did with his life. I barely even thought about him for nearly forty years.
I do know that he died nine days ago, aged 53. No idea how he died. There is no obituary, just the death notice in the area paper from where we attended school, saying that a private celebration of his life will be held at some point.
I checked the mortuary posting tonight. Not a single condolence has been posted there. Right now, I’m thinking that said private celebration of life will not need a very big facility.
Checked his home area newspaper, which is in a different state than where we went to school. Not even a death notice, much less an obituary.
I don’t feel anything for him–it’s not like we were ever friends or even enemies–but damn. That’s cold. This is how it goes down when everyone’s relieved that someone finally moved on from life. Maybe that was the case. I can see where paralysis for life could embitter one, and make one less than pleasant to be around. I don’t know, but usually when someone gives a damn, there’s something.
This is where I’m supposed to say something profound that ties it all together, give the moral of the story, at least offer some deft closing, but that’s not coming. The only thing that keeps coming back to my mind is: now that’s a hell of a way for two kids to damage or destroy their futures before they were even old enough to skip registering for the draft. When I was in school two years behind them, they seemed so old, virtually adults. I look back now, and they seem so young, so clueless, just dumb kids in a crappy town getting into trouble.