I woke up this morning and I checked facebook, as I often do. One of the first status updates I noticed was that of a Five Towns student. "RIP," it said. I wondered who died. Then another Five Towns student. And another. And another. "RIP. RIP. RIP." Concerned, I texted a recent graduate who I know particularly well. I braced myself for news of the death of a faculty member. Or an administator. Or something silly. Like a costume or a prop. I was not, however, prepared to get the real news. That it wasn't a teacher or an administrator or a costume. It was a student.
Brian is a student who I knew. That's all. I knew him. I didn't know him well, I didn't teach him privately, I didn't have him in class. I did work with him on one production, but his first semester was my last, so I never got as close to him as I did many others. So why, then, was I crying so hard?
I called Ryan at work and told him the news. He couldn't quite remember Brian, but was sad to hear of the loss of someone so young. But it wasn't until I returned to facebook that it hit me what had happened. All of those students who I care about so much. All of them hurting.
The October after I graduated from college, my marching band friends and I suffered a similar loss when Frank and Jud Lawler were killed in a car accident. I'll never forget how I fell to the ground when I heard. How we all sat at the funeral dazed. And each year when we return for homecoming, we remember. We pass by their memorial on campus- they had made quite an impact on that school. We tell stories, and we laugh, and we wonder what they'd think of us now. All grown-up with kids and jobs.
As the day went on, more and more Five Towns students changed their profile pictures to shots of them standing next to Brian. On stage. At a party. In the courtyard. And I wondered if I might have a similar picture. I wanted to show solidarity for a community that had meant so much to me. So I searched. And sure enough, there we were. Christmas. Brian in a full Santa costume. Standing their smiling, just the two of us. I don't remember taking that picture, but I wasn't surprised to find it. Because that's the kind of kid Brian was. Life of the party. Everybody's friend.
And that's when I realized how much Brian was like Frank and Jud. And I had to ask the same question all those Five Towns kids are asking today. The same question we all asked ourselves eleven years ago.
And of course I don't have an answer. We'll never understand, and trying to explain it in any definitive way doesn't pay enough respect to the real loss. But I wonder. When people so young. So full of life. So happy doing exactly what they're doing. Kids who have been so important to their peers. When those kids are taken? Maybe it's to preserve youth for all of us. We will always remember Brian and Frank and Jud exactly as they were. And we'll remember how we were when we were with them. And that has to mean something.
I am devastated for Brian's family today. I held Lily extra tight and gave her extra kisses and chased her around the bedroom for an extra long time. I cannot begin to understand what they're going through, and I would never attempt to offer them consolation. And I can't explain the loss to my Five Towns students. But I can say that I've been there and I hurt like you're hurting today. I am so sorry for what you're feeling. But it will get easier. And in the years to come, you'll look at those pictures you have of Brian. On stage. And in the courtyard. And in his Santa Suit. And you'll remember him, and you'll miss him, and you'll smile.