A School Story

February 27, 2011
Its amazing how one can know habits about someone that even they don’t realize. Such is the case with Brian, who sat in front of me for three classes. The previous year he sat in front of me for four classes. Naturally, I noticed things about him over the time I had with him. Though, one could not say we were the best of friends, or even friends in general; I still considered myself one of the select few who he let into his life. Of course, he knew about his interests and desires far more than I could ever hope to learn. But I knew more, I knew his habits; I knew his character.

A good example of Brian’s habits was his sleeping patterns. On a normal day, Brian would come to class, lean his head on his left hand, and remain silent for the entirety of the class. Slowly, I began to piece together the idea that he threaded headphones through his shirt, up his sleeve, to the final resting place of the cuff of his left sleeve. In this manor he would lean on his left hand so as to listen to music throughout the class. This belief was proved true when I heard the faintest sound of the sweetest rift I had heard in a very long time. I wouldn’t have taken Brian for a Jack Johnson fan at the time.

On days when Brian was tired, he would look over his left shoulder to check for the teacher, followed by the twisting of his body to the right. Cringing his neck to the right, he would brush his long brown hair to the side of his face look me in the eyes, and whisper, “Wake me up if anything cool happens?” His voice was a raspy whisper, and there was always the smallest smile stretching across his face. His teeth were bright white, and his eyes were a deep brown. I would often find myself lost in his eyes. They were of a unique color, and such a deep tone that it is hard to find a way to describe them. They seemed to shine in the light like a gem, a sight that dazzled me. They were true and clear, and easy to understand, unlike his deep persona. They became a constant in my life, something to look forward to every day. His cheek bones were defined, making his face look chiseled, and his nose appeared to be positioned perfectly on his face. Brian’s question was always followed by a shy nod of my head. For the longest time this was the extent of my relationship with Brian; he asking me to wake him up, and my sheepish nod.

After my nod, Brian would go through a series of stages on his journey to sleep. Unlike his normal habits, Brian would rest his head on his right hand. After a few minutes he would gracefully lift his left hand and rest his head in the middle of the palms; rapping his long fingers around his cheeks for support and comfort. This was the longest stage, and appeared to be the most comfortable. I had always pictured his eyes flutter and begin to close in this stage, but of course I never saw. The next stage, he would collapse his arm on his desk and rested his chin on his elbow. He was always careful to keep his face toward the board, as if giving a last warning to the teacher “Call on me now, or I’m going to sleep.” If everything went well Brian would progress to the last stage. He would slide his chin down until his forehead rested on his forearm. It never made particular sense to me how he slept like this, as I had once tried, and found the solitude of rapping my head in my elbow far more comforting.

Brian would get tired often, yet when the teacher was clumsy enough to hand him a paper with the grade in my direction, he always had received a higher grade than me, and I wondered how he accomplished this feat. He was new to town, only there for two years, both of which he sat in front of me for the majority of our classes. After his first year, in the summer, our fathers became friends. I learned of his mother’s tragic death to cancer, and how his father had moved Brian and his sister here to try and make a new life. It baffled me how different Brian was from his father. His father had long red hair, which contrasted Brian’s long brown hair. He had the same chiseled face, but softer eyes; easier to look at, but less captivating. He could always find the better side of things. He was outgoing and upbeat. Brian was reserved and quiet, which is why I was surprised to meet his father.

I will never forget the night Brian’s father showed up at our doorstep. His eyes were engorged and watery; I had never seen this friendly man so sad. I remember he asked us to watch Brian, who sat slouching in the car. I hate remembering when he told us Brian’s sister had passed out. How he couldn’t wake her.

Brian came into our house that night, but within an hour my father answered the phone to who I assume was Brian’s father. Without saying a word my father waved us into the car, and shuttled us to the hospital with amazing speed.

The worst scare of my life was when the doctor mistook me as Brian’s second sister, and came out with Brian’s dad and told only him and me what had happened. My father had gone to sign the three of us in, and I had no one to hide behind, no one to comfort me. The worst part was the terrible feeling in my gut when the doctor asked if Brian and I were the siblings of Lucy. The worst part was the grief that came with the assumption of my being part of the family, when ironically I was the closest thing to a sister Brian would have in only a few weeks.

The night didn’t only hold that terrible memory though. We stayed there for hours, grieving over Lucy’s diagnosis of a severe version of cancer. I remember Brian’s father’s prayer. I remember how he had to stop in the middle because he was sobbing too hard. Later, Brian and I sat on the bench by ourselves. I received the most terrifying and saddening speech I had ever heard.

“It doesn’t matter, really. What you do, I mean.” He had said, constantly wiping tears to hide his grief. “You can be healthy, you can avoid unhealthy things,” he sobbed briefly, “you can be the best person in the world, but it doesn’t matter. People smoke all day and some of them live fine. What the hell did my sister do? Why?” At this point he looked me in the eyes. The scariest part wasn’t him searching for answers from me; it was realizing there was something different in his eyes. The scariest part was thinking how his eyes looked different. He got up, furious, and screamed, “What the hell did my sister do?” He had broken down, and tears streamed so quickly it was hard to make out his face, “It’s not fair! She was a good person, she was….she was, god damn it!” He sunk against the wall opposite me. I realized he was talking about his mother when he started using the past tense. “Cancer doesn’t discriminate, it hates everyone.” He whispered, trying not to let me hear his last sentience. I sat on the bench shocked at Brian’s outburst for what seemed like an hour. Eventually my dad and I went home, leaving Brian’s family to their sorrow.

Brian didn’t go to school on Monday. But he was there Tuesday. He didn’t rest his head on his left hand, or ask me to warn him if anything happened. He just sank in his seat, and rested his head on his forearm. After about a week, Brian started resting his head on his left hand again, but the music wasn’t the same. I figured it never would be again. There was something different in his eyes.

Lucy died a few weeks later. Brian moved a few weeks after that, and I never saw him again. But I had lost him that night at the hospital; there was something different about his eyes.

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