As it turns out, I was wrong. Shock and disbelief robbed me of them for at least 24 hours but, at last, the machinery in my head is clanking again. During my 25 year career as a teacher, I figure that 3200 to 3500 students passed through my classroom. There were kids of all types. I think the best part of teaching was meeting kids of different ability levels, personalities, life experiences, challenges, etc. No two were alike. The students who were seniors when I began teaching high school English are in their mid-40’s now.
During my career, I taught all four grade levels of high school and all ability levels. I was fortunate to teach a wide variety of courses. Many students have gone on to live productive lives, to create careers and families. A few have made bad decisions and are incarcerated. Others have dealt with different demons. In my mind, these students remain teenagers in my head; they are perennially full of youthful exuberance and hope, no matter what has happened.
The other evening I was texting with a former colleague. During the course of our texting, we exchanged some of the local “news.” Since we both live in the same community where we taught, we often pass along the latest info on former students. To paraphrase a text that appeared on my phone screen, “So and so OD’ed the other night.” I asked if the individual had died from the OD. He had. A sour liquid traveled into my throat and I briefly thought I might vomit.
I remember this young man well. Almost every day he entered the classroom with a grin. It’s not every day kids actually seem happy to enter English class, so it’s easy to recall the happy faces. This particular young man was quick to laugh and we conducted endless discussions of sports. He was a nice, normal, all-American kid. More the fool was I. I never saw in him the quiet desperation displayed by some students, I never saw that the good cheer may have been a facade, I never saw any inkling of the battle that was to come in this young man’s life.
I really didn’t have any words. In fact I kept seeing the same sentence imprinted in my head. I.Have.No.Words.
I feel I don’t have any of the “right” words, whatever they may be. What could possibly have caused this young man to die from a drug overdose? There are no definitive answers. Genetic imprints would cause a pre-disposition. Many will wonder what they could have done. The sad answer is they most likely could not have stopped this. I received this news on the night of a day when I had attended the funeral of a 97 year old woman. The whole circle of life thing ran through my head. Life isn’t supposed to end at 33. I’d participated in celebrating that woman’s life and so I will celebrate Marcus’ life, despite his leaving so soon. My heartache is deep but I will continue to focus on my memory of his smiling face.
In his obituary, his family shared he’d battled for 10 years with addiction. To quote from his beautiful tribute, “Addiction is not a moral shortcoming and does not define you.” Only the ignorant would think otherwise. In another paragraph it says, “All Marcus wanted was a normal life, free from the chains of addiction.” I applaud his grieving family for sharing these thoughts with us in an attempt to help others who battle in the same manner.
And now my words fail me. I.Have.No.Words.
“Now cracks a noble heart./Good-night, sweet prince;/And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” William Shakespeare, “Hamlet”
In memory of Marcus Kaplan, 1986-2019. Sweet dreams, kiddo, you’re free from those chains.