I spent the better part of the evening looking at my high school yearbook. It was like sticking my head in a pubescent time machine. I was young and my hair was perfect. Apparently, I was really into INXS.
I was in a lot of pictures. I was popularish, in a non-jock, class clown, official emcee of all events and reader of morning announcements sort of way. I’m not sure how any of that happened, but that’s how it was.
There was plenty to read in the yearbook, the stay cools and have a good summers and a seemingly endless sea of words that must have once held meaning—promises of friendships that last forever and the innocence of seconded emotion. I found that I didn’t quite recognize a few of the names, and the faces were only familiar in a fleeting sort of way rather than solid memory. In fact, I could easily pass many of them on the street without any notice. Time is funny like that.
Twenty years ago this month I was enjoying my last summer of high school. It was the final tour of bowling alleys and desert parties, cruising in crappy cars with crappy cassette players blaring crappy music. Senior year was on the horizon and beyond it the great unknown.
It seemed a good summer. It showed promise.
Twenty years ago this night I sat on the floor of my father’s house with a handful of my closest friends. Someone may have brought pot. Someone may have brought beer. We sat on the floor in the kitchen and we told stories of times we had all shared and some that we didn’t. We laughed and we hugged and we were happy to have each other.
That was the day that Curtis died.
Curtis was my cousin. You may remember him from an earlier story—he was one of the boys armed to the teeth with BB guns and dull Rambo knives. He was the one who ran the fastest and he was the one that led the cops back from which we came.
We sat in a circle on the floor of my father’s kitchen and we told stories about us to us, and we talked about Curtis.
I spoke at the funeral. A 17-year-old boy standing beside a casket that held a 17-year-old boy, and I told stories of times we had all shared and some that we didn’t.
The service was standing room only. They said it was the largest they had ever had. I told that crowd of heavy hearts tales of silly things, of dares and truths, and I stood there with tears in my eyes and I heard them laugh and I felt their hugs and we were happy to have each other.
I wrote things, something for the yearbook and something for the paper. I used clichés and words of heaven, just days, it turns out, before I stopped believing in such places and spent time wishing they could exist.
I wrote that 17 was too young to die, and it still is.
And twenty years is too long to be gone, for anyone.