In Junior High, I knew a boy who was very special. Okay, I didn’t actually KNOW him, know him. But I knew him in a sense that he was popular and his antics always drew attention. By antics I mean he’d make loud, borderline mean jokes at the expense of others during class. I had two classes with him: math and science. Something drew me to him, and it wasn’t just his clear blue eyes, or the way they turned down at the sides. It wasn’t his dark brown hair that fluffed over his forehead, or the sprinkling of freckles across his nose. It may have been a combination of his naughty sense of humor, plus his reckless tendency to try and make me squirm while looking me straight in the eye. In a sea of American adolescents trying so desperately to conform, he made it a point to stand apart. He simply didn’t give a damn what anyone thought. His eyes told me that. They looked bored… lazy. He had better places to be.
It was common knowledge at the time that he’d been the first boy in our class to have sex. While the girl he slept with (let’s call her Jan) was instantly labelled a slut, he attained the status of a hero beyond his years. They dated on and off for several months. But back to me. So there I was, in biology class, when something strange happened. The boy (let’s call him Shane) was suddenly standing in front of me. With a goofy grin, he asked if we could be lab partners. Caught off guard by the fact that he had something to say to me that wasn’t a blatant insult, I was speechless. I managed to nod yes. I don’t remember many more encounters, besides the day we had to dissect a frog. Terrified, I stood several feet away while Shane pulled the frog carcass (or whatever it’s called) out of a box. With a mischievous laugh, he flung the dead frog across a row of desks. It bounced over the wooden surfaces as though it were alive. I remember squealing in terror. The following year, Shane was expelled from school because he got caught doing drugs. I’m not sure what happened after that, but I heard he seriously cleaned up his act afterwards, and while the rest of us were finishing up high school, he was excelling elsewhere. He shed the junkie lifestyle and got serious. I heard he was dating a sweet and pretty (but kind of nerdy) girl from our school. I didn’t know her. I don’t think anyone did. But I saw them having dinner at the cozy Italian restaurant I worked at. It was too cute for words. The bad boy gone good, and the good girl who had captured his heart.
They looked serious, though, that night. It’s what I remember most. While they were clearly very “together”, enjoying each other’s company, there was a grimness about their expressions. They were only teens, but they looked like two adults with something serious on their minds. Months later, I found out why. Because that’s when Shane died of cancer. If I could go back, just for one day, to seventh grade math class, I would look Shane in the eye and tell him how beautiful I thought he was. I’d tell him how sorry I was that his life would be cut short; that he’d have to squeeze his whole world into a few more fleeting, unrelenting years. What if he’d known it was only a matter of time? What if everyone knew? Would our math teacher still have yelled at him for making fun of my stupid hat? Yes, Shane stands apart from the rest of us, even now, after his death. But we’re all going to follow, eventually, aren’t we?