When I was fifteen, Ryan, a boy in my art class, was hit by a car. He died almost instantly. The incident turned me inside out. I began having odd brain spasms. I’d think, “He’s dead,” and I’d get used to it, but then I’d remember something about him, his laugh, and it would break what closure I’d found in half. I began to wish I’d known him better, lent him a pencil or said hi in the hall, anything that would have made his life as real to me as his death. Although two years later I’m still grappling with the meaning of this tragedy, it lead me to believe that in this mind-blowingly fast era of nuclear warfare and Quentin Tarantino movies, many of us have forgotten what it means to be alive.
I heard the news from a friend while walking back to class from the bathroom. I was so shocking, and, admittedly, exciting, I told the girls on either side of me through notes. Then the principal came. My teacher cried as he read the notice. For the first time in my life, I was seeing football players sobbing. I asked my teacher if I could step out for a few minutes. I stood right outside the door, trying to cry because I wasn’t sure how right then and it seemed to be what all the good people were doing. Mrs. Leeds, the Spanish teacher, walked up to me, literally looking straight up she was so small. “Whas wrong, mija?”
I looked at her face, all sweetness and concern, and my heart broke. My eyes grew blurry. “Ryan’s–dead.”
Her leathery face crinkled up like a piece of paper, “Ai, angelito!” She fell into my chest, her arms around my waist because she couldn’t reach my shoulders. She was so light, so breakable, like an injured bird in my arms.
Afterward, Mrs. Leeds talked to me about Ryan. She’d known him since he was five. At his father’s Celtic concerts, he’d carry the instruments to his dad, grinning proudly and occasionally tripping. The stories made me wish that this were all a nightmare, that any second he’d walk in and yell, “Okay, guys, joke’s over!”
So many people were crying in the halls that day. The cloud of grief lingered for weeks, like a second 9/11, this time only in the little bubble that was my school. I’d never felt so tired, so beaten, so plain sad, in my life.
With the war in Iraq going on, with all the numbers of deaths and casualties in such-and-such explosion, it’s easy to think those are just numbers. But, because I came so close to a death, embraced it, you might say, I’ve come to believe that it’s crucial to find every reason you can to love those around you, those miles away from you, those you’ve only seen in National Geographic. Love them all.
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