An Identified Man

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.


17 thoughts on “An Identified Man

  1. Mac

    I am so sorry, Teri. What a horrible thing. I can’t imagine the pain he must have felt, the hopelessness. You did right to search him out, to identify him. He mattered and you are making sure the world knows. Thank you for that.

  2. CJ Rice (@leapof)

    Transitioning out of foster care is…I don’t even know how to simply describe that kind of loneliness. Thank you for being his mentor and friend. I am so very sorry for this loss.

  3. jpon

    How very sad. I have a friend who sounds a little like Jason. Young man, tried his hand at writing. Bipolar, attempted suicide but a neighbor found him in time. Now he’s moved away and hasn’t returned my messages for a while.

    I can’t answer any of your questions except, perhaps, one: Who finishes this story?

    We all do.

  4. Erika Marks

    Oh God, Teri…As I read, I kept hoping that the end you were drawing us toward wasn’t one of loss. Your heart must have stopped. He had made such accomplishments and survived so much to find a time of joy. Friends such as you enriched his life and his yours. But that doesn’t make the loss any easier, I know. I’m so sorry.

  5. Les Brady

    Oh, Teri, how awful. I’m so very sad for your loss and the loss of such a promising human being. I’m sure that his experience with you was a high point in his life.

  6. Jennine G.

    I understand Teri. I understand exactly. My student had much of the same type of story and his life ended in the same kind of way, despite those of us reaching out. There are no words. For four years I’ve recalled his story to myself because, like you said, who mourns someone who belongs to no one? I do. That’s why I blogged about him this month…because I finally had an outlet to let him be known.

    Thanks for this post…for allowing us to mourn with you, for Jason.

  7. Bonnie Middlebrooks

    Now that I know what brought the tears, I am deeply sorry for the loss of your friend, a star you wanted to watch shine long into the future. I was lucky to meet Jason last January and see that big smile in person. It is impossible to understand how a life with such promise can slip away from this earth so suddenly. I am so sorry.

  8. Lyra

    The loneliness, the apathy, the pain he must have felt.
    Teri, Know that for a brief moment in time you gave him a place to belong, you gave him that bit of hope that all of us need, that seed that would have sprouted if only it wasn’t for things outside of our grasp, our knowing.
    It breaks my heart that there are kids out there who have so little that they believe they are disposable. Thank you for sharing Jason with us, a boy turned young man whose worth was incalculable even if he didn’t know it. We know it. May his soul have found a soft place to finally rest.
    I’m so, so sorry.

  9. Bonnie middlebrook

    Oh my gosh! What an incredible story. I know some foster children as well and my heart aches for them. Thank you for sharing that tears are for Jason…

  10. girl in the hat

    Teachers can play such an important and intimate role, and the relationship never ends. Each of my former students hold a space in my heart and some take up quite a bit of room. Sometimes what we do can help them shift in a new direction, sometimes nothing is enough. I am so, so sorry to hear this story. One can’t help but mourn the cold, sad world that would allow this to happen.

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