A few years ago, a writer friend of mine (also a teacher) started an after-school creative writing workshop at what we call a “last chance” high school, “last chance” being one of those places where kids in trouble find one more soft place to fall. It was at that high school, in that after-school group, where I first met Jason. Jason was one of the first few kids who showed up, almost every week, looking to write.
At that time, Jason was living in foster care. He wrote stories about his foster family, about how much they cared for him but had taken to locking the fridge because he ate too much. He wrote poems about his rage and love and longing for his absent father and his addict mother. He wrote a memoir about the time he was sent away, kidnapped in the middle of the night, to one of those wilderness camps you’ve read about. He wrote.
Jason was dedicated to his writing. He was also dedicated to the fact that storytelling, even when you’re a beginner, is an art, and he actively looked to us for guidance on how to take what he knew was raw and make it understandable, make it into something. And maybe it was his youth or maybe it was the support of the group and his teacher, but this kid was one of the first to take the podium in front of his school and read his work out loud, like a professional. We cheered.
Jason graduated last year and started right away at the local community college. He met a girl and her parents took him in. This past January, he showed up with his big smile to surprise me at a reading I did in Palo Alto. I last saw him in May, when he came back to his school to read his new work, mostly poems this time, at our end-of-the-year writing celebration. Jason was a star.
I don’t know what happened in his life since I saw him in May. I figured he was doing well, still in school, still writing. But yesterday. Yesterday I found out that Jason is gone. Our star, our poet, our big smiling kid, is gone. I searched the internet for a news report — surely this was news — but found nothing. It took awhile, and even then all I found was this one short statement about an unidentified man who stepped in front of the Tuesday, 5:35 am train. An unidentified man. An unidentified man who caused “systemwide delays of up to an hour and a half during the morning commute.” I asked my husband, Who mourns a troubled foster kid? Who mourns someone who belonged to no one? Who finishes this story?
I walked outside at 2:30 this morning and looked up to see the full moon. Here’s to you, Jason. You were our big smiling kid. You belonged to us. You were our writer, our poet. We knew you. You were here.