This weekend we went to Jason’s memorial service. A small auditorium at his community college, dim and dark, and all in our seats like in a movie theatre.
The place was full of people. Rows upon rows of people. I saw a family. They kept filing in. A million times I looked at my husband and asked without asking, “who are all of these people?” Or rather, “who in the hell are all of these people?”
One of the first men to speak was Jason’s mentor. He works with homeless kids, and was one of the last people to speak to Jason the night before he died. It struck me that he walked up to the front of the theatre and right past the waiting podium and the microphone. You could feel his despair. And his anger. He looked in our eyes and said the word “homeless.” He said the word “homeless” over and over and over again as he told us how Jason felt being homeless, what it was like to have nowhere to “be” and no place to put your things. He said the word “homeless” while standing there, exposed, in front of what turned out to be Jason’s large and extended family. He sat down. Soon after, one of Jason’s aunts shuffled up and took her place behind the podium, took the microphone and, in defiant, broken words, said, “Jason had a family. We were Jason’s family.”
Over the next two hours, I learned things about Jason I never knew. That he was the 3rd of his mother’s 4 children to die “prematurely.” That he never attended elementary school and only a few months of middle school. That he was sent to three wilderness camps and escaped from two. That a friend’s parents eventually took him in and enrolled him in high school, neither of which worked out. He finally ended up at the right high school and learned to read — in the 11th grade. He made the honor roll in his first grading period and 5 more times after that. He wrote poetry and prose. He read his poetry and prose in front of his school. He graduated. When Jason died he’d been at the community college for over a year and had a 3.9 GPA. Jason was enjoyed and beloved by his friends and mentors and teachers.
I don’t know why I’m telling you this. In fact, I’ve written and rewritten this post a dozen times over the last 2 days and I’m still not saying what I want to say. I’m wearing myself down. I think I want to tell you how angry I was at Jason’s memorial service, and how guilty I felt about being so angry. I kept looking at his family members — his family? — take the stage, one after the next. I remembered Jason taking the stage, in the photo above, and reading his poetry to the audience. I remember him having no family members in that audience. I imagined this same boy alone in the dark, 5 a.m., walking to that railroad track. That morning’s cold black sky. In the dim theatre, I watched one of his aunts, an elegant woman in winter-white, control the “event” and flit about the front row, comforting her sisters, bringing the grandparents a Coca Cola, raising her eyebrow, raising it again, reminding Jason’s friends they had 2 minutes to speak, her 2 fingers jumping into the air, reminding. The audience of Amens. I crossed and recrossed and uncrossed my legs and shot my anger in her direction and felt ashamed that I’d never, not once, invited Jason to my home for meal. I read his poems, I applauded him, yet never once did I offer him my phone number. On the theatre’s big screen, I watched the montage of photos set to music and noted the lack of baby pictures and birthday parties and family outings; the long series of snapshots taken of Jason by Jason, his reflections of himself in a series of mirrors.
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