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I used to skip first period a lot. I would sneak away to the gym, it was always left unlocked, and sit on the bleachers and read. The room seemed immeasurably vast when it was empty, it smelled like pine sol and, underneath, vaguely of sweat. I liked it that way. What can you do?
That was where I saw someone die for the first time. A whole life drain on to the floor, in a red that was almost black. Wait, I don’t want to mislead anyone, I didn’t witness any terrible gang retribution or hazing gone wrong or anything like that, it was just an accident. Maybe destiny, or maybe nothing.
His name was Kevin Barragan. A real all American teenage athlete. Strong, good looking, popular, and surprisingly nice. Not very smart and had a bad home life I’d heard, but what can you do?
He came in a little after I did, it was maybe 8:30 or maybe a little after. I don’t know why he came to the gym that morning, he never had before; I know why I did. I just could not sit and listen to Mr. Green, my science teacher, and the rest of the class recite the periodic table one more time. I might have had to kill someone myself if I did.
But even after I left, to “go to the bathroom”, I couldn’t get their almost tribal chanting out of my head.
Helium, Neon, Argon, Xenon, Radon…wait, did I skip one there? Were those gases? Or halogen elements? I was thinking stupid things like that all the way to the gym, when I got there, and even up to the point when Kevin came in. Stupid things like that. What can you do?
I was a little startled when he came in; I thought it was a teacher or maybe the janitor. It wasn’t though, it was Kevin Barragan. He had a basketball under his arm, he was wearing shorts and an old T-shirt and old worn out gym shoes. He looked a little sad. But maybe I made that up.
The sad part.
I heard an interesting metaphor for life once, or maybe I read it somewhere, it doesn’t really matter. Here it is, as I can remember it anyway,
Human’s lives are like little streams of paint, running down a gentle slope. The streams are all different colors and do not run in straight lines, they snake and twist wherever they will, and when they meet, however briefly, their colors mix and change. All, of course, run toward the ocean of all colors and light.
As I can remember it. Anyway.
We looked at each other, Kevin and I, for a moment, there were no expressions on our faces, nothing in our eyes. Why should there have been? Our paths never crossed, our lives never mixed. Our colors were as different as red and green, or purple and yellow. Things that don’t really mean anything to each other. Neither of us felt love or hate or anything for the other. Not even for the idea of the other. Really blank, that’s all. Never could have guessed that mine would be the last voice he would ever hear. What can you do?
He nodded to me and started shooting free throws. One after another, swish, swish, swish. He had perfect form really, but I got board of watching pretty quick and went back to my book. Maybe he noticed and maybe he wanted an audience because he stopped shooting free throws and started doing something else. He was stomping as he ran, which made me look up as he lightly tossed the ball against the backboard and jumped for a slam dunk.
Then something ridicules happened. Something so ridicules that it was funny, so funny that I laughed. That laugh was the last thing Kevin Barragan ever heard. What can you do?
The hoop broke. Not the backboard, the hoop itself broke in half as his hands grabbed it and he pulled his body forward so that his back was almost horizontal to the ground. And he fell, oh God did he fall. The net tore under his weight and he took half the hoop and most of the net with him as he fell and turned cat like in mid air and reached out with his left hand as if to grab something and not just break his fall. Half of the jagged rusted metal hoop was still in his right hand, under his chin.
He did manage to break most of his fall. But the hoop still ended up in his neck, and his life still ended up draining out on to the floor in a red that was almost black. What can you do?
And me. What could I have done? Nothing. What did I do? Nothing. What did it mean? Nothing. We all reach the ocean eventually.
But what did it mean? Kids wonder about these things. Things like why pine sol smells stronger than blood. Or why Xenon precedes Radon? Or why two lives may never touch. Or why’d the hoop had to break now? Or why is he dead, and why am I alive?
Well, what can you do.