Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Death a Genuine Article
“You meet people who forget you. You forget people you meet. But sometimes you meet those people you can’t forget. Those are your friends.”
I am writing to you because this seems to be the most natural, most approachable method. After all, you were a born conversationalist, an easy-going spirit who exuded confidence and charm that many of your peers either coveted or relished. And that was back in the day, stretching into 10th grade, when I first learned who you were as a person.
Yeah, I know. You weren’t the model student in my academic English class. Right? Right. I remember I feigned shock when you told me that you were in honors history. And you didn’t do your double-entry journals for that class either, did you? Well, this weekend I went back to my old grade book to verify this, your decision to sacrifice grades for a social life, for matters that are far-more pressing than SAT vocabulary or a persuasive outline. Friendships. Wrestling. Girls. And not necessarily in that order. My pages clearly show there are a couple of assignments that are still late. But you know I never judged you by that. Never would, never will.
Those things are insignificant in our lives. They are often mere trappings of prescriptive education—and of life in general, these expectations placed on all of us to which we should subscribe. But you didn’t. You carved your own path. Instead, what you did impress upon me immediately was your gregarious spirit, your ability to command a room, your wherewithal to effortlessly connect with others. Your zest for life.
You were the Genuine Article.
It’s that simple. Walking into the classroom (late, most likely), you flashed that Peppermint-Chiclet smile, the million-dollar shit-eating grin that could only make everyone chuckle in response. Quite often, we’d digress in class, and usually you were to blame. You’d interrupt us, sit back, ask some esoteric question or make some random observation of life—anything to change gears. Wry sarcasm peppered everything, but it never offended. It just drew everyone closer to your flame.
I clearly remember talking to you one day after school; you asked me what my plans were. I said, “I’m going running.” You flashed The Grin: “Running? I’m proud of you. Way to go, Ms. Reaman.” I distinctly recall it because I had always told my squirrels how proud I was of them, and here you were—handsome, popular, outgoing—telling the old lady that you were proud of her. Proud of me? For crying out loud, you were 15. Still, your words stuck with me. I remember getting home, tying my Asics, and heading along Willow Lane, the wind flying across the cornfields. And my thoughts along the path? “Tyler Takach is proud of me! How cool is that?”
Since that run, I’ve logged, I don’t know, about 4,500 more miles. But whenever I cross that patch of Willow, I think of you, those blue eyes that made many a teen-age girl swoon, those ringlets the envy of women everywhere, and those words that made me realize how damn lucky I was to have met you. I think about how fortunate I felt to watch you flourish when you fell in love, tripped over a few hurdles, grew into a man at Freedom High School.
Every year, I always tell my friends and family who my “sons” are in my classes, squirrels who may need some direction, who challenge me, who want to connect with me. It’s a teacher thing, I guess, but you were one of my sons, figuratively speaking, during your sophomore year. And I wanted to see you succeed, to be happy. And you were on your way.
This weekend, I passed your spot again. But for the first time in a long while, I didn’t want to. That’s because you are now gone. It had been almost 12 hours since fate robbed us, since I learned that you collapsed, died unexpectedly just six weeks after your 20th birthday. It angered me, crumbled me into heavy sobbing of realization that battled my disbelief.
But I am not alone in this conflict. Far from it.
You know that; we all know it.
Many arrived early on Monday, the hundreds of people—some of whom would wait perhaps an hour—who came to pay their respects to you and your family at Long Funeral Home in Bethlehem. They wept solidly and continuously as Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin—songs that must’ve been among your favorites—played in the background. Grown men, young girls, friends, co-workers, cousins, neighbors, teachers—they poured in patiently to gaze at photos of you sprawled across three display boards, across the scrolling flat screen. By the time I left, the line began to extend down the street. As others approached, they whispered in disbelief at the turn out.
Still, I wasn’t shocked by the crowd. People loved you, T-Tak. You were the magnet to which so many people were drawn. Affable. Lovable. Memorable. And as I look back, you were one of those people that we meet who we cannot forget. Today, when my 9th grade “son” walked into my classroom, your face appeared, and I lost control—for all I could think of was the tragic ending to your all-too-short life. I rushed out of the room in tears.
In all honesty, you weren’t the Genuine Article, Tyler.
You are the Genuine Article—and always will be. You may not walk this earth any longer, my friend, but you will live on until every one of us follows your path.
Rest in peace, my 10th grade son.