Laugh about the old days

On Halloween, or perhaps the day after it, Pascual Perez was killed in a home invasion in the Dominican Republic. Perez had problems with drugs back in the 1980s and early 1990s, and he gave “three strikes and you’re out” a new baseball meaning. Cocaine cost him his career, and he’s far from the first player with problems in this regard. But to be killed in your own home just seems especially cruel.

Perez was the primary instigator in an ugly bean ball–or bean brawl–game played back in 1984 in Atlanta. Perez hit an opposing batter with the first pitch of the game, and things spiraled out of control on several occasions. On one of the occasions, a opposing player named Champ Summers broke free and raced across the field, with Pascual Perez in his sights. He was foiled by one of Perez’s teammates, along with some overanxious fans, and a physical confrontation was avoided. Here’s a clip of the incident, in case you’re interested.

I was struck by the death of these two players, within weeks of each other after 27 years had passed since the brawl. If there’s an afterlife, I wonder what  happened when Champ Summers and Pascual Perez encountered each other. Did they resume their hostilities from that day, or did they greet each other warmly and laugh about the old days, instead? I would hope it’s the latter option.

I say all this because Pascual Perez’ demise bore an eerie similarity to a recent tragedy that happened right here in Chicago. A former student of mine was killed in his own home, shot in the face on Halloween night.

When I first learned of his death yesterday morning, I felt a sense of grief that I haven’t felt for anyone else before, not even for my own grandparents. In each of their cases, I knew the end was coming and had a chance to prepare for it emotionally. But in this case, it was so sudden and unexpected, and it hurts that much more. And I’m sure that the pain felt by those who loved him and cared for him is far greater than mine is.

Although I had some run-ins with this student back when I was teaching, I’m very pleased to have reconnected with him on Facebook within the past year. I have become Facebook friends with several of my past students, but I never seek any of them out. If they want to friend me, I’m flattered that they want to do this, and provided that I have any memory of them at all, I’m happy to accept their requests.

But Brandon’s friend request gave me pause, initially. I thought it over for a few days, because I still had vivid memories of what our relationship was like back in 1997 and the years immediately afterward. Eventually, I decided that it would be better to accept the request than to ignore it. And I’ll forever be grateful that I did this.

One day, a week or so after we had friended each other, he sent me a direct message, with an apology for the way things had gone between us back then. In truth, we both had things to feel bad about. My youth and impatience and desire to follow rules probably made me into less of a teacher and more of a cop, in his eyes and in mine. But we agreed that the past should remain in the past.

With the reconciliation having been achieved, we then encouraged each other to look at the pictures of our kids on Facebook. After a few minutes we parted amicably, at least in the electronic sense of the word. It meant a great deal to me on that day, and it means a great deal more to me now. I’ll forever be grateful that Facebook afforded us the opportunity to find peace with each other.

If there is an afterlife, and I make it there at some unknown point in the future, I’ll go looking for Brandon Johnson and not in an angry, Champ Summers kind of way. If I should be fortunate enough to find him, I’ll be sure to greet him warmly, and thank him for teaching me one lesson about reconciliation, and another about how fragile life can be. And then, hopefully, we’ll laugh about the old days.

R.I.P. Brandon Bso Johnson

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