Dear William

This morning I was cleaning up my kitchen while Alice napped and Helen played at my mom’s house, and the phone rang. It was the mother of one of my tutoring students; she needed to reschedule our appointment for this afteroon because of William’s funeral.

William died?

She had assumed I would know, because she knew I had taught him. No one had called or emailed to let me know, so I had no idea.

I taught William Honors Algebra I for the first half of his 8th grade year. The second half, he was in a different class to separate him from his best friend. William had requested me as his advisor, and so I also spent extra time with him on Friday mornings every week, talking with him and 9 other students about any issues that they might be facing with parents, teachers, or friends. I also met with his mother twice that year to discuss issues that William was facing, his other classes, etc. And we cried together.

William was an artist and a comedian. He was always laughing. He walked with crutches, to keep the weight off of his right knee and tibia. William was in remission from a very aggressive form of cancer that had attacked the growth plate on his right leg when he was 12. He almost lost his leg from mid-thigh down as a result of this cancer, because his bones were starting to crumble. With several surgeries they were able to save his leg, but it was very obviously malformed and shorter than his left leg.

18 months after I left school to be home with Helen, William’s cancer was back. An inoperable tumor was found in his chest wall, so they treated him aggressively with chemo and radiation, and he pulled through it, even though he lost part of a lung in the process. This past January they found cancer again. Everywhere. This time they opted against aggressive treatment, and just encouraged William to live life the best he could in the time he had left.

Wednesday night, even with final exams the next morning and even though William had pneumonia, he and several of his best friends went to see a midnight showing of “Star Wars.” It was William’s idea to poke fun at the people who take all of this too seriously: they dressed in irrelevant costumes. William went as Harry Potter, another boy went as the Cat in the Hat, and another as Bart Simpson.

18 hours later, at dinnertime on Thursday, William was gone. He was 17 years old.

I went to the funeral today. It was packed — over 1000 people were there. I watched by closed-circuit in the parish hall. Most of these kids have more final exams tomorrow. It was so, so incredibly sad to see these teenagers gathered to say goodbye to a friend they had known since kindergarten.

If you pray, please pray for William’s family and classmates.

Grown Up

I went to see a play last night. I went BY MYSELF to see this play. It wasn’t a children’s play, it wasn’t something Jerry would enjoy, and it wasn’t one of those plays that was particularly thought-provoking as far as making one think, “Gosh, this is something I’m going to remember for a long time.” It was just entertainment.

I even paid for a ticket, something I haven’t done in probably over three years. Pathetic. I’m the world’s worst theatre patron.

Many years ago, I discovered that I enjoy live theatre much more if I go by myself. This way, I can’t lean over to the person next to me and say snarky things about the actors and actresses or directing decisions. I can’t make comments about the set, and I can’t complain about the lighting if there’s no one listening to my commentary. So I just sit back and enjoy the performance. And that’s exactly what I did last night.

During intermission, they had ballroom dancers doing some swing out in the middle of the floor, and after their dance, people from the audience could go down and dance. I know the male dancer — he’s one of my brother’s friends — so I decided to go down for a dance so I could say hello. I’m a horrible dancer because I always try to lead (it’s the control freak in me), but Mike is a GREAT dancer and a great lead; he can make a terrible dancer like me look like I know what I’m doing. So it was a lot of fun. And we had a nice visit, too. Always a nice bonus.

The show was good, too. The director made some great casting choices and the ensemble was strong. In some ways, it made me ache to get back on the stage, but that’s just not where my life is right now. Not a problem… I’ll get more chances.