Laugh about the old days

The last time I wrote in this space, less than 48 hours ago, I told the story of a baseball player that I never met, who died in Chicago during the regular season a decade ago. And just a couple weeks before that, I wrote a farewell to an ex-ballplayer who had a small connection to my development as a Cubs fan. And today, it appears, we’ve hit the trifecta when it comes to ballplayers who have passed away.

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, the aforementioned 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. That was the exception in that game, though. Here’s a clip of the incident, in case you’re interested.

I was struck by the proximity of these two players’ deaths, within weeks of each other after 27 years had passed by. I don’t believe there’s an afterlife–though I’m willing to be proven wrong when the time comes–but if there is, I wonder what would happen if Champ Summers and Pascual Perez should somehow encounter each other in the Great Beyond. Would they resume their hostilities from that day, or would they 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. I was musing about Darryl Kile and life is short and all of that, while one of my former students lay dead just a few miles away.

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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