I was 15 when it happened. 18 years ago this July 30th, 1993. It was a Friday. The summer between my sophmore and junior years of high school.
My sophmore year was difficult, I had had mono, and missed almost a month of school. I did fine in most of my classes, but struggled with my Advanced Biology class. I never had the aptitude or interest in science that I had with other subjects. Me and science just never clicked. I also would have done anything to avoid disecting a frog, or fetal pig, don't remember which, and I did. Which was skip class. A lot.
For the first time ever, I failed a class. I had to go to summer school. All these years later, I am so thankful that I did.
At summer school, I was in a class made up of kids from different high schools in my county, but there were some familiar faces. I sat next to Ray , the football player and affable guy that everyone liked and most of us girls had a crush on.
Sitting up front was a kid from our rival high school, Lake Braddock, Dave, who was far more good looking than any 16 year old has a right to be. Dave sat next to another kid from our high school that I knew in passing, Willie.
I was never an outgoing or popular kid in high school. I was in AP and advanced classes, in orchestra and chorus, and I hung out with a tight knit group of friends that weren't. I never made friends in my classes, for the most part.
Summer school was different. First, it was laughably easy. I got 100% on every exam and sailed through with an A+. I let the other kids copy my homework. I didn't care. I was friendly and open in a way that I wasn't during the regular school year.
One Friday, we were released from school, happy in the way that only 15 and 16 years olds sprung from school on a summer Friday can be. I was walking out to the buses when I saw Willie driving by in his black Thunderbird. He was so lucky. Not many of us had cars that summer, and I certainly wouldn't until senior year. I was so much younger than most others, having skipped a grade and started school early.
I was a shy kid, and I didn't know Willie all that well. But I was different at summer school, and I liked this version of me better. So I went up to his car and asked him for a ride home. I didn't know where he lived, but it couldn't be all that far from Burke, where I grew up. He agreed, and I hopped in.
Cypress Hill's Black Sunday had been released that week, and Willie had in pumpin in the T-bird, and loud. Cruel irony, in fact, but I so clearly remember the summer breeze, the wind in my hair, Willie driving, and the whine of "I want to get hiiiiiiiigh" against the bouncing bass line. You are invincible in moments like that, at 15. Its not something we as adults can ever quite reclaim.
Willie dropped me off at home, and went off to do whatever it was he did. I didn't know him well enough to know. I had met him once before outside of school, in the strangest of circumstances. If he recalled he didn't mention it on this sunny afternoon.
I have no idea what I did that night, no recollection. But I remember the next morning very clearly. Michelle called me, crying. Turn on the news, its Willie's car, she said. I did. I saw the car. I saw the words shooting. I didn't understand. But slowly, the realization dawned, that the news was saying. Willie had been shot and killed. 3 other kids were with him, and 2 were injured. They didn't give names, but the high school rumor train got them to me soon enough. People who saw me leave school with him asked Michelle if we were with him that night.
The news came out, a botched drug deal. Rumors rampant. News that belonged more in the movies we watched. It didn't belong in our suburban town. It seemed, even then, that it was children playing at violence, at drugs and murder and tough streets. It was all so horribly, horribly, wrong.
The funeral was attended by hundreds. Hundred of crying, dazed teenagers, unsure of our footing and our place. I wrote a poem to him that his parents read at the funeral, and I felt shame, as noone knew that I had a right, that I knew him, briefly.
I dont' know the details of the arrest or the trial. I know that we, the kids, we knew who it was almost immediately. That was eerie, and unsettling. It wasn't a stranger.
Dave and I, we dated for a bit. We stayed friends for much longer. Senior year his friend was dating a girl I knew and he spray painted our entire school with words proclaiming the superiority of our rival school and his love for Mandy.
My husband to be, he knew him too. He knew his killer as well. His killer taught him how to ollie when they were both much younger. How bizarre.
When I was 15, my friend Willie was murdered by someone I had met, someone who had gone to school with us, a slightly older boy and his friends who thought they were gangsters in a suburban town. Willie was executed over $150 of pot. He was killed over nothing. He didn't ever get to grow up.