I was sitting in my eighth grade English class, first row, third seat back. The intercom rang and Mr. Grayson picked it up with his usual cheery voice. It was a very short conversation and when he ended the call, his eyes were wet. As he walked to the front of the room, he took out his handkerchief, took his wire rim glasses off, wiped away the tears, blew his nose and tried to go on with class. He struggled for the next ten minutes, losing his place in the lesson, mid-sentence. Finally, he gave up and told us he was giving us the rest of the period for free time and asked us to keep quiet and to ourselves. We asked what was wrong. He told us that the call had been bad news. A former student who was now a sophomore at the high school across the street had collapsed in gym class and had died. The student had been a favorite of his, that’s why the Office staff had called him.
This was really scary to me. Tenth grade. Two years older than me. My sister was at that high school across the street. Could something happen to her? Why had the boy died? It didn’t make sense. I tried to read my book but I couldn’t concentrate.
Today, forty-six years later, his sister posted on Facebook and talked about how much she missed her brother and how she regretted not knowing him in his adult years. His sister is now my friend. I became friends with her when I got to the high school later the same year that her brother died.
He wasn’t my brother but I have thought of him often and of his death, which was later discovered to have been caused by an aortic aneurysm. I think that’s what it’s called. I’ve often wondered how that could have gone undetected during his annual physical for the athletic program (he was a basketball player for the high school). It did happen and it impacted so many people, not just his family. I’m sure we all thought about him often over the years.