Our electric coffee grinder started giving off blue smoke and sparks on Tuesday morning, putting a punctuation mark on what was shaping up to be a difficult week. A friend in Seattle came to the end of his relatively short road, taken by prostate cancer, then came the death of David Hernandez.
David, a student at East Hampton High School, apparently committed suicide late Friday or Saturday at home. Word spread quickly that he had been the subject of harassment for being different, perhaps gay. Current and former students at East Hampton High School remembered their own experiences with bullying and insults. Some said that was the reason for David’s decision, which, not knowing any details, seemed plausible enough to me.
Public high school can be hell no matter where it is. I remember well my East Hampton High School years and the abuses we dealt to the handful of fellow students we suspected were gay. And I remember vividly how if you stooped in the hallway to pick up a dropped coin, some kid would notice and shout out something like, “Look at the Jew!”
It was stupid and adolescent, and no one did anything about it. This was a long time ago, but I doubt much has really changed. Changing attitudes among abusers is difficult; it’s far easier, then as now, to just look the other way.
Every now and then I run into a man who was the subject of taunting when we were classmates at East Hampton. He seems well, but I cannot come away from these of guilt and regret. Why had we insulted him that way? What did my friends and I gain from it? Who knows. We were not bad kids, I suppose. Or were we?
Amid this, a relative was suddenly unable to walk, apparently from Lyme disease, and needed a wheelchair to help get her to Southampton Hospital. One of the few positive moments in this sequence of events was how simple it was to borrow a wheelchair. All it took was a single phone call to the East Hampton Town Human Services Department. Yes, there was a wheelchair available at the Senior Citizens Center, and yes, I could come get it. And so I did.
Small-town life does have its little rewards at times, if it also does not always allow you to forget about your past.