When I was nine, a large family moved across the street. Five brothers and sisters. They were gregarious, feisty, loud, and gorgeous. Their mom was an exotic dark-skinned beauty and dad was a blonde athlete, and the kids inherited all the best genes. But they were a bit snarky. I guess they had to be tough-skinned with so many siblings afoot. The eldest, J., who I alluded to in previous postings, was a wild kid. My brother and I were not. But my brother and J. were friends, and J. and I were friendly, or so I thought, until I turned 13 and he was 14. Overnight, it seemed, he became mean and targeted me for teasing, bullying, and even threw acorns at my head (ever been hit by a shower of acorns thrown at you hard? It hurts. What felt more miserable was being tormented for no discerning reason).
Before he turned horrible that summer J. gave me my first 'real' kiss - just a brief peck -- but still it was exciting and confusing. Then school started and we began circulating in different worlds, and he immediately took up with a girl with the largest breasts in 9th grade and developed even more of a reputation for wildness. As the year wore on, we pretty much ignored each other unless he singled me out to say or do something mean.
We still rode the bus together, though I tried my best to keep a low profile. Being singled out by J. meant being a target. By the end of our bus route, most of the kids had gotten off and only a half-dozen remained. This particular Friday afternoon, J. sidled up behind my bus seat. I tensed for whatever was coming next, but he seemed pretty mellow. He sat behind me and started singing almost under his breath the same lyrics over and over from that song "Bye, Bye, Ms. American Pie:" "this will be the day that I dieee....this will be the day that I die..." That's all of the song he'd sing. It was really getting on my nerves. Our stop came and we got off. We were standing behind the bus and he asked what I was doing that weekend. All the sudden the bus surged backwards, and before it hit me, J. lunged and shoved me sideways. I was shaken, but he quickly shrugged it off and walked up his drive. It was the last time I saw him alive.
The next afternoon, the neighborhood was abuzz with rumors that J. was in the hospital from an accident the night before. I went over to ask his sister if he was alright, and his mother answered the door. When I asked her, she paused a long moment, smiled sadly, and said that he was alright now.....
Later on we heard the whole story. J. had tried to see his girlfriend who was baby-sitting, but she wouldn't let him in. He met up with some friends and they began drinking with an older guy - an 18 yr. old. J. got sick from the liquor and threw up in the backseat and the guy got mad, pulled over, and dragged J. out of the car and hit him. J. fell backwards and hit his head on the curb. The other boys got out of the car, and took J. over to another friend's house. J. was disoriented and they put him on the sofa and began playing poker. When they went to check on him, he was in a coma. They dropped him off at a hospital, where they left, never revealing more than his name. The hospital began calling all the similar last names in the phone book. My SIL has the same last name, and after her dad received two calls from the hospital, he figured out what W. had a kid that age and called J.'s mom, who got to the hospital 10 minutes after he died.
His family decided not to prosecute the driver, and the judge suggested he leave; he joined the Army. J.'s parents divorced a few years after that, and his mom stayed in the house. When the rest of the kids were out of the house and off to college, it was sad to see her rattling around in that big empty place. She never recovered from J.'s death. Once my mom showed her a short story I wrote about J. in college, and she remarked she thought everyone had forgotten about him. I heard she began drinking more and more. And one afternoon, her third-youngest son found her hanging in the garage.