On my left wrist is still the blue mark made when Reid Bailey attacked me with his pencil in a moment of 7th grade goofiness and the tip tore through the skin and then broke off in my flesh. Who knew that even after I dug it out, the graphite would leave blue residue? Who knew it would still be here 52 years later to remind me of the man who isn’t, the man who lived to be only 28 years old?
Our 46th high school reunion is fast approaching, and on our website and amongst classmates, old photos are being exchanged and re-examined. I found in my attic old photos from the pencil stabbing days, and there’s Reid again, reminding me of his amazing, indelible self.
He was tall, ornery, and funny. His forehead went wrinkly when he lifted his bushy eyebrows. In his dark brown crew cut, wearing buttoned-up short sleeve shirts or tee shirts, there wasn’t anything Reid couldn’t do. He hunted, a necessity in Eastern Oregon at that time when most boys hunted and families needed meat. I got in trouble one time for letting Frankie Slyter and him hunt birds on my dad’s farm. In high school, he was an athlete in more than one sport.
Reid was whip smart. At the beginning of Mr. Gregory’s geometry class each day while he was taking roll, he threw out math problems for us to solve in our heads. “5 plus 7 minus 2 divided by 5 times the square root of 9 plus the circumference of a circle with a radius of seven equals…” I’d still be on the 5 plus 7 minus 2 part while Reid would have the answer almost before Mr. Gregory stopped talking. How did he do that?
He must have read a lot because he knew a lot and most days went head to head in debate with our social problems teacher who was happy to argue with us, he said, as long as we had researched our point of view. Nothing made Reid back down. If he had a point of view other than the one presented, he spoke up. I looked forward to social problems class just to see what Reid might argue about.
I knew Reid for seven years and had often been to his home, for 4-H leather crafting, and especially when Mr. Lovely, our 7th and 8th grade teacher, wanted to listen to the world series so he took our whole class to the Bailey’s home just across the street for a field trip.
Reid was the kind of male you might wish your father, husband or son to be, a combination of every perfect male ingredient. Only he wasn’t perfect. He must have owned some secret pain none of us knew about. Because why else, with so much going for him, would he choose to take drugs to the extent that drugs finally took him? Where did it go, that element in him that made him take on adult authority and challenge in the classroom when he knew he was right?
The last time I saw him, at our ten-year high school reunion, he was clearly troubled. The number 11 was etched between his eyebrows, interrupting the eyelift wrinkles. He’d gotten off drugs and worked as a drug counselor. His wife either was still an addict or had overdosed by this time (my memory is hazy here) so he was the sole caregiver for his children who didn’t want to leave his arms, not even during the reunion photo taking.
I can’t help thinking what the world lost when he died. Space travel, computer design, medical advances. We were poised at the starting gate of so many developments, then, so much innovation. With his death, all of Reid’s potential, his marvelous intelligence was sucked into the black hole of nothing.
52 years after the pencil attack, I am struck with the realization that we don’t go “poof” all at once when we die. Oh, whatever inhabits our vessel goes immediately, but the rest of what belonged to us, the remnants of our lives, can remain for a very long time—our hair, the imprint of our body on the bed, the smell of us in clothing, old photos, and one tiny blue dot on an aging wrist.