I’d fallen asleep on the couch that night- the television left on. It was cold in my apartment, and I struggled to make the tiny comforter fit all 5 foot 4 inches of me. I could still hear the television in the background. Bits and pieces of a Fox 2 Channel News broadcast drifted into my dream. 17 year old. Black. Alley.
I turned my head in the direction of the television and angrily searched for the remote. I quickly found it and hit mute. I awoke at 1 am. Restless. Cold. Finally, I peeled myself off of my couch, walked to the hall, turned on the heat, and headed to my actual bedroom- the couch having left a pain in the middle of my back.
Out of habit, I checked Twitter as I waited for the cool bed sheets to warm against my skin. I scrolled. And scrolled. And across a tweet from my ward’s alderman, I came. Hours earlier he tweeted: “My prayers go out to the family. No one should lose their life at 17 years old.” This caused me to pause, but I thought to myself “it’s too early for this mess.” I got off Twitter immediately and went back to sleep.
That sleep ended at 5:30 a.m when it was time to begin my morning routine. I took a shower. I washed my face. I slicked down my baby hairs to polish off my look for the day. I wanted to look and feel good because work had been draining every ounce of energy from me. This time of the year (the Autumn season) was always difficult. Kids were fully “comfortable” with teachers and the routines of the school at that point. Consequently, students tested established rules and regulations. I wanted to have at least one good day that week. But that was not meant to be.
At 6 a.m my cell phone vibrated and falling from my bathroom sink, it hit the hard tiled floor. An intense feeling of nervousness paralyzed me. Too early it was to be calling. Something had to be wrong. Standing over my iPhone, its face upright, I peered at the name that scrolled across my screen. My coworker. Then I instantly knew. My restless night had not been without reason.
He had been shot and killed, and his body had been dragged through an alley and left for dead. He was a student in my 2nd period African American Literature class. He wrote eloquently. He was passionate about life. He always smiled. He was polite and generous. He took up for people who did not have the strength to take up for themselves. And now he was dead. The pain of his murder cut me like the sharp edges of the high-top fade he was known to wear. The pain cuts me still.
No one was allowed to sit in his seat for a while. This action wasn’t a rule I’d put in place- his peers forbade the action. They felt to sit in his seat would be disrespectful; I silently concurred.
My last act as his teacher was to turn his class journal over to his parents. I selfishly wanted to keep it. It would be my own special connection to a life that had so much promise. Nevertheless, I handed over my last piece of him to the rightful owner: his mother. But I remembered something he had written in one of those one-page journals my students hated to write. On his life’s contribution he wrote: “When I die, I want people to remember me as a person who tried his best to be good.” To me, he accomplished just that.