Thursday, May 12, 2022


And the class of 1975 continues to get smaller.

I saw on social media this week that a high school classmate passed away last Thursday. The post contained the name of course. It also had what I assume was a recent photo of him. It took me a bit of time before I could reconcile the name with the image. Having moved away from my hometown more than forty years ago most of the people from my schooldays remained fixed in my memory at the age I last saw them. I am quite certain that if I had seen the photo without the name, I would not have recognized him.

After some pondering, I saw a familiar glint in the eyes, even if there were many wrinkles around them. I felt waves of sadness in my heart both because Don had passed away, and because I have no idea what his life had been like. I recognized that my day-to-day life experience will not be different because of this death. And yet the fact that he is gone leaves an inexplicable void from which I write this missive.

This missive is my feeble yet sincere tribute.

Don was in my graduating class, though I barely remember him from high school. My clearest memory of him is from the eighth grade. Don was cool. At least in my perspective. He was so much cooler than I was. He was more worldly. More confident. Sophisticated, though how sophisticated can one be in the eighth grade. Handsome. Savvy. He moved through the halls of junior high with swagger. Seeing him filled me with a combination of admiration and fear.

The memory that most stays with me most confirmed my admiration even as it would come to dissuade my fears.

Gym class was for me the worst of all nightmares. I was and am totally devoid of any athletic talent, at least in traditional ways. The only place that I despised more than the gymnasium was the locker room. I can smell it to this day. Irish spring and mildew.

Group showering was torture for me. I had major body issues. Major. I felt sick every day when I realized it was a gym day. Literally sick to my stomach. I just knew something terrible was going to occur. My athletic ineptitude would be on full display, as would be my shame-based body.

I had started being bullied in elementary school and it only gained velocity when I got into junior high. The playground had been bad, but the locker room was infinitely worse. There was no direct supervision, and the bullies had free reign over people like me. It was a study in vulnerability. Naked both emotionally and physically I felt like prey.

Now Don always swaggered confidently around the locker room. His self-assuredness was unsettling for someone like me. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand it, and I feared it. I secretly prayed he wouldn’t notice me on during my failed attempts at sports. And I wanted to remain invisible to him in the locker room.

He never did seem to notice me.


One day after gym class and after showering I hurriedly dressed, relieved that the torment was coming to an end. One of my choral classes was next and that was my safe zone. That was where I excelled. If there was such a thing as vocal swagger, I could have employed it there.

I was half-dressed when one of my chief tormentors approached me at my locker. He began to verbally threaten me as he had so many times before. He then got me into a headlock. He was inches taller and much heavier than was I. In my thirteen-year-old mind I was sure this was how it all would end.


With the smell of Irish spring pervading and the chokehold tightening I suddenly became in my peripheral vision of the familiar swagger of Don strutting by my impending murder. I saw him stop. I sensed him take stock of what was occurring. And what happened next was nothing short of shocking to me. It has stayed me these more than fifty years.

While I do not recall the words that he used I vividly remember the feeling in my heart. Don demanded that the bully let go of me.



He demanded that the bully let me go and do it now.

The boy that I had prayed would never notice me, noticed me. He took compassion on my suffering. He used his swaggering confidence to put an end to the bullying. And it was the last time I was tormented by outside forces on the court or in the locker room.

So, on social media all these decades I saw his name, and the experience came rushing back. The smell of Irish spring and mildew engulfed me. I felt the chokehold, and the humiliation of once again being exposed as the “sissy” I indeed knew I was. Yet bigger than all of that was the feeling of being rescued by the swaggering, confident, and surprisingly kind boy who became a man I never knew. A man that now is gone.

What a memory. It reaffirms for me how a momentary act of kindness can stay with someone for an entire lifetime. I highly doubt that Don would have remembered such an insignificant moment in time. Insignificant for him. Monumental for me. So very memorable at a felt level. As a bullied sissy I had felt seen by the swaggering, confident, sophisticated guy who clearly had a heart and the caring to use it for good.

I would not have recognized Don from the current time photo. I still see him as a junior high hero that spent one minute of his lifetime helping to release a known sissy from the grip of a not so brave bully. I don’t know how Don spent his life. I don’t know what held meaning for him. I do know how meaningful that one encounter was for me. It is a part of my fabric. I remember it vividly to this day. Someone saw me and intervened for me. I will never forget that no matter how many years I live beyond Don.

I never got to thank him. It felt too awkward at the time to say much of anything. I do believe he sensed my gratitude. And though we had little direct connection throughout the remainder of our schooling, and no interaction since our graduation, that act of kindness lives on in me today.

While I never got to thank him while he was alive, I am using these words to thank him now. It is most likely that no one from our shared experience will see this. I am okay with that. I write this for Don, and I write this for me. I remember, and I am grateful. It meant something then, and it means something now.

Thank you, Don. Swagger on in the cosmos. And know that this once bullied sissy still remembers what you did.