my dead schoolmates

The first schoolmate I heard about dying was Nikel in middle school. We met in either the sixth or seventh grade. We had a gym class together. In the showers, which, aside from going to The YMCA with my Big Brothers mentor, was my only time having to be naked around other guys, Nikel was the only kid whose chest I remember being flatter than mine. I was sort of insecure about being (too) skinny back then, at least when it came to people seeing me with no clothes on, but it was a relief knowing I wasn’t the only one.

We didn’t have a close relationship, but we were friends. He was cool and laidback but also a tough street dude. One day me and another boy were wrestling. Nikel thought he was really trying to fight me and I think grabbed him by the arm until I explained that we were just playing around. I respected Nikel for that though and would’ve gladly returned the favor if I ever saw him in similar trouble. He apparently died in June, just a few days after the seventh grade semester ended, at the age of 13 from a gunshot wound to the face.

Quentella got shot two years later. We’d just taken English 2 together. I remember Miss Philyaw announcing her death to the class when we came back for English 3. The rumor was that her boyfriend killed her. Carlos also died during those early high school years. For him it was a drive-by shooting. I was talking with John when a solemn Cordell walked up like “Carlos dead”. My last memory of Carlos is him ignoring me after I greeted him outside and my last memory of Quentella is her getting mad at me, whatever that’s worth.

I don’t think I knew Kenneth, but I knew Darrell; the guy who killed him. We were classmates a few years earlier. I remember him collapsing from a probably self-induced asthma attack after the teacher made him stand as a form of punishment for being insubordinate. I also remember chasing him one day outside after school until he couldn’t go any further because of his asthma. It was James, who also went to middle school with us, who told me about the shooting, which Darrell reportedly admitted to in criminal court.

A girl named Keena died a few months later. I don’t know if I knew her; I never got a chance to see a photo; but she was almost certainly the one whose death Miss Gilchrist, who seemed even more solemn than Cordell had, announced to the class. She said Keena, if it was her, had been run over by a car, but she apparently got the early rumor version of the story. She made it sound like just an innocent school accident, but, if we’re referring to the same girl, it apparently had more to do with Keena being targeted for rape.

The only other dead schoolmate I know of who didn’t die by gunshot is Jermaine from college. We never had a class together, but we did work together at a campus library. I was closer to him than the others. We’d hangout sometimes. He used to give me driving lessons. He reportedly died of pneumonia, but someone who should know, the same person who said she suspected he was gay; her suspicion was stronger than mine, though I do remember him going on about how ugly Jennifer Aniston is; told me he actually died of Aids.

Eugene was shot and killed just a few years ago, which goes back to middle school. He went there with me, James, Darrell, Quentella and Nikel. Eugene and Nikel might have even been close friends. James and I detested him though. Despite his shy quiet demeanor, he was a real troublemaker; a bully’s henchman type. James said he (Eugene) once tried to provoke some boys to “jump” him outside of school but was scared shitless when he (James) caught him alone a day or few later and was about to beat his ass because of it.

Those are all the dead schoolmates I can think of, each of whom I can say I knew except for Keena and Kenneth. Darrell is still alive, I assume, and still in prison for killing Kenneth, though, based on his sentence, he could be free soon or might already be. I don’t know what it means that most of these people died by gunshot, aside from living in a notoriously rough city, but it seems Nikel is the only one who wasn’t purposely shot. His killer said he was just “playing” when the gun went off. I don’t know if that boy got locked up or not.

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