Saturday, December 17, 2016

Elephant Shoe, Brian Valentine, and the Brown School Family. Be WithPeace

Dear Brian,

This is a letter that you will not read, but that I write in celebration of who you were to me, the class of 2008, and the Brown School family. You wrote yesterday, "I'm sorry guys. For everything," but it is all of us who knew and loved you that carry the tremendous apologies in our heart. You were a incredible young man who brought us silliness, joy, whimsical quips, cat-loving fanaticism, and poignant observations about the world that were easy to be carried with us forever. I am the one who is sorry. You, as I've told you often, were a Brown School original and you brought happiness to our worlds. I am so appreciative of this, and so disappointed that I didn't have a chance to share my appreciation for you even more.

It is a different world today than it was when I had you as a junior in my English class. Then,  a social mediated world was only in its infant stage. Last night, when trying to piece together what I missed, how I missed it, and what any of this is supposed to mean, I saw the outpouring of memories and concern for you and your family. I didn't know that you were feeling as you were, and I wish I did. I'm not sure what help I could be, but I know I would try.

I have thought of you often since the time I left my teaching world in Kentucky and have cherished any updates of your thinking and growth as they came. In messages throughout the years, I see that the two of us maintained a positive, if not ridiculously silly, correspondence and feel good that my notes always applauded the human being that you were. I did not see this one coming and, this morning, I'm mad at the Universe for not stopping it from happening. I wish I could reverse time.

I searched online files to find the acrostic poem I wrote for you and the wonderful class of 2008 the year after I left Kentucky. I wanted to see if what I wrote captured the quirky, witty essence of who you were to me and the others. I found the poem and as I note in my writing, it was a cheesy stanza scribed in the overall Opus that I dedicated to you and your classmates. I wanted to see if Okonkwo made the verse, and was thrilled that he did. Although B.A.M.F. was also captured, I failed to mention Chinua Achebe's passion for his yams, which you embraced and cherished every day as we read that text. In fact, you made reading Things Fall Apart a life-altering experience and I am forever grateful for this (I have never been able to read it the same since)(at least without the vulgarities).

Velveeta Cheese is supposed to be
a tasty addition to pasta and hamburger.
Let me admit something, though.
Every time I leave the grocery store, I
never buy it. Why? Because
the mice I feed prefer Helluva Good Cheese
in thin slices served on Triscuits. They would
eat something like Velveeta.

Boy, this is a cheesy stanza, but it’s hard to find
ridiculous glitter to post upon my words with an
icky glue stick that resembles a Hallmark card. Things may fall
apart, Okonkwo, B.A.M.F., but who
needs such literature when you have your Babeez who dub you 4 eva.

Some of the allusions I made in the poem triggered specific moments, including the multiple jokes you made about the misspelling of my name. Carrie, who you had before me, always noted the fact that you and I were likely to bond during your junior year (and she loved you to pieces). Special to me, too, was the wonderful relationship you established with Alice (who is just as heartbroken as the rest of us). More importantly, however, was my memory of the inspiring and enviable friendship you had with Kayla Priester throughout the time the two of you were in my class. When the news came to me that you were gone, an image of the two of you together was the one that came to mind. It was your mission during your junior year to guide, protect and love Kayla, all the while setting out to make her laugh at every possible moment and enjoy every second you were able to share with her.

You were the last name alphabetically in 2008, which prompted me to also read the post-face of the larger poem I scripted -  the last acrostic I ever wrote for a graduating Brown School class. Although I wanted to be at your graduation, studies at Syracuse University wouldn't allow it, and this crushed me. Your classmate, Jude, made a puppet of my head so I could be with you and now I cherish the photo of you carrying my noggin more than ever before.

I'm crushed knowing that we've lost you. I've cherished the updates, videos and photographs you've uploaded to Facebook because your passion for kitties, politics, dark humor (Silence of the Lambs), and irony was always evident. Your post-Brown "Babeez" seemed to be incredible buddies and through them I experienced your happiness - a happiness I wish was stronger and lasted longer.

Today, I am thinking of everyone who loved and knew you, especially the Class of 2008, your sisters, your mother, your family and those you've left behind. I'm recalling the final stanza written to you and your fellow Brownies.


My father’s advice rings in my ears at the strangest times.
You may one day find yourself replaying the

lines spoken to you,
again and again (that you choose to ignore), lines being
sung in your soul when
traveling your roads less traveled.

People are stubborn -
oh, we know what we’re doing and know when to put plugs in our
ears – but years will pass and
the words spoken at you, to you, for you, will enter
in you at the strangest times:
cause everything that needs to be said, is said to the wind.

Go out of this cave, 2008. Exit the
oval door and enter the light with knowledge.
Once, there were many who gave you a standing ovation, who
dedicated their lives so your life could be possible.
Bring the “idea of Brown” with
you wherever you go because
everywhere can use a little more of this place.

Follow your heart, soul and mind – they will always lead you
over rough patches of gray and
rainy skies.

So, this is a finale of sorts.
Every year I’ve written such silliness. It is my
nature to do this – some call it a curse, the
inevitable joke has always been on me, with each poetic verse.
Out! out! brief candles.
Remember the way this
school set you on fire – it’s your turn to set others ablaze.

You, as a true individual and Brown School original, definitely set our hearts ablaze. I will hold onto the short time we were graced by your spirit and flicker.

Elephant Shoe, Kiddo. My heart will remain heavy. And I am thinking of everyone who knew you as family. There is nothing like the Brown School bond.

(and I know I spelled my name wrong)