It’s March. The last time I saw you—alive, in front of me, sitting in my classroom—was in November. The last time I saw you was January, but by then you had been killed. I was at your funeral. You were wearing a suit, and your red, double Dutch braids that I last remember you with were absent. You looked so much older than the 15-year-old boy who sat in the back corner of my classroom.
The day of the service came on the tail-end of a massive winter wind storm. A lot of the schools in our area were operating on delays or had canceled classes altogether. It was the first day that we were returning from winter break, and you weren’t returning with us. So, I took the day off. As I was driving to your funeral, the wind blew my car back and forth on the road, and I couldn’t help but feel like the weather was appropriately angry for what we were being forced to do. When I walked into the church and saw your body situated in the cold, gray casket, the breath was sucked from my lungs. I stood there, with my hand over my mouth, unable to move as I looked at you for the last time.
There’s something surreal about knowing that you are about to see someone for the last time. I think I saw this in your family members, too. When do you say, “I’ve had enough,” and let the funeral attendants close the casket, formally recognizing that you’re no longer here? That we’ve lost you for good? That there’s no going back?
I’m trying to remember you, but it’s hard. I have always used student work to help me know things about my students: their abilities, their reasoning, their personality. These artifacts have always been important, but now they’re all I have of you. When I look at them, I am not looking at the spelling or the grammar or how you met any particular objective. I’m looking at them because they’re evidence that you were here. That you contributed to the world and my life and our community. I am going to give them to your mom at the end of the year.
At the beginning of the year, we listened to the children’s book, The Day You Begin. Then, I asked for you to respond to it. I didn’t give much more instruction than that. You said that a detail that resonated with you is that people can get along or become friends over the smallest things. You said that everyone is unique in their own way, and that everyone has a story and a lifestyle. I also laugh reading this entry because you talked about how everyone has cultural differences: “Someone from Africa may eat rice and different types of beans while I eat ramen noodles and hot pockets.” What could be more all-American teenager than a lanky, basketball-playing, Dragonball-Z-loving, Twitch-streaming hopeful who eats ramen and hot pockets?
I like remembering you this way, and I think you deserve to be remembered this way: as a kid.
You also wrote that your favorite person to hang out with is your sister. She still goes to our school. I hope she’s doing well. Her class raised money for her after you were killed.
You had a flow to your writing that I loved. One of your pieces still stands out to me:
If you really knew me, you would know I’m from the streets, from nothing to do and nothing to eat. I’ve seen people get killed, left on the street like GTA V. Use to jump over fences just to play basketball. Wise, and carefree.You
I didn’t read this journal entry until after you were gone. It left me stunned and shivering. From your words to the unintended prophecy, it’s a line I’ll never be able to shake.
One time I was teaching your class about allusions, and I used “Blessings” by Chance the Rapper. There’s a line in that song that says, “Chisel me into stone, prayer whistle me into song air/Dying laughing with Krillin saying something ’bout blonde hair.” You knew immediately what Chance was alluding to: Dragonball Z. “Saying something about blond hair,” as you perfectly explained to the class, was about someone going Super Saiyan. In this specific reference, you explained to the class that Goku “levels up” after the death of his friend, Krillin. When Goku goes Super Saiyan, he becomes more powerful and his black hair turns blond. This is a moment that maybe I’ve read into too much after your death, but I like to think you’ve achieved your own form of Super Saiyan: instead of turning blond, your bright red hair shows the world your power. Or maybe, in a different interpretation, your loved ones have leveled up, gaining more strength after having to lose you too soon. I don’t know. Life isn’t a book that you get to neatly analyze.
In another entry, you mentioned that your favorite song at the time was “Carry It” by Juice WRLD. You said you felt like you could relate to it and you liked the rhyme. Maybe you related to the specific lyrics or maybe you felt like you could identify with Juice WRLD. One time Juice WRLD was talking about his songs in an interview and said, “Sometimes I thought some of the songs I drop were too personal, like I was going to meet up with a person who relate to this shit. That kind’ve prove to me that muthafuckas aren’t alone going through the same shit.” That makes sense to me. I don’t think Juice WRLD was glorifying anything, he was being vulnerable. That resonated with you. He didn’t create the conditions for you to relate to his music, but his music was there for you when you needed it. It made you feel less alone. Juice WRLD also said, “I feel like sometimes music has to be a little dark because the world is not really a light place. It’s not really a happy place, not to sound too pessimistic. Sometimes being optimistic ain’t it.” I wonder if you knew this about the world, too. You saw things about the world that existed in the shadows people don’t like to talk about. Maybe that’s why Juice WRLD resonated with you. Either way, you were both gone too soon.
One day in January, after your funeral, we had a teacher workday. I didn’t know what to do to honor you, but I knew I needed to do something. I spent the entire day rearranging my room so your desk could be put at the front. I also found the last book you were reading in class, Birds of Prey. I put that on your desk along with your cultural mind map that we did at the beginning of the year and the name tag you created for me on the first day of school. On your mindmap, you put your name and then “AKA Local Redhead.” You believed in justice and equality. You valued basketball, success, and your family. You told me you want to skydive at least one time. I found a notebook so your friends and classmates could write notes to you and process their grief around your death. I don’t think that is enough, and I wish we all could’ve done more, but you’ve never been forgotten in our room.
A good friend shared a poem with me, “Here I Am” by Anis Mojgani. Part of the poem, in particular, was my inspiration for writing this to you:
So, let your smile twist
Like my heart dancing precariously on the edge of my fingertips
Staining them like that same high school kid, licking his thoughts
Using his sharpie tip writing
I was hereAnis Mojgani
I was here, mothafucka
And ain’t none of y’all can write that in the spot that I just wrote it in
I’m here, mothafucka, and we all here, mothafucka, and we all mothafucka, mothafucka
Because every breath I give brings me a second closer to the day that my mother may die
Because every breath I take, takes me a second further from the moment she caught my father’s eye
Because every word I carry is another stone to put into place in the foundation that I’m building
Because the days can erase something that I never saw
What all of us wanted and what none of us got
What we all had and have and what we all forgot
That we all wanted to be something
That we all became something
And it might not be the shit we once thought we’d be when we were kids, but something is still something
And like some cats say: something is better than nothing
Feet are smarter than an engine
And dreams are stronger than thighs
And questions are the only answers we need to know that we are alive as I am when I have the mind of a child
Asking, why is 2 + 3 always equal to 5?
Where do people go when they die?
What made the beauty of the moon?
What made the beauty of the sea?
Did that beauty make you?
Did that beauty make me?
Will that make me something?
Will I be something?
Am I something?
Brodrick, you were here. Like a kid tagging a desk at school, no one will be able to take your place, ain’t none of them can be in the spot you took up. You wanted to be something and you were, to so many people.
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