The piece below rang in my college paper in 2002. I was 21. I've made very minor edits so please forgive me if it is not up to snuff. I thought it was more important it run "as is" then "perfecting" it. There's things I'd do differently now--it's too much about me, not enough about BoB, for instance--but I don't feel right tampering with it.
I confess I was just going to let this anniversary pass but then I read Brendan Loy's remembrances and he pointed out we are now twice as old as we were when it happened so it felt...appropriate to remember.
Five years ago this week was the first time death ever really touched my life.
Before I go on, I should warn you of something. If the opening sentence was not indication enough, this is not one of my typical columns. I will not be lambasting movies, heckling celebrities, or pushing forward my liberal agenda. It is just an exploration of an open wound, so please, continue reading if you wish, but realize this, while it is nothing personal, this one is not for any of you, this one is just for me.
In November of 1997, I was behaving much like you would expect a junior in high school behaves when he and several of his closest friends are going on a field trip that will essentially consist of going to a college, chatting with people his own age, and then eating lunch in the college cafeteria (sure, now it is old hat, but back…words cannot even describe the decadence of a visit to the Trinity College cafeteria for a group of kids from Newington High). In other words, I was most likely making a fool of myself to try to impress a group of friends, or, more likely, a girl (by the way, that eventually worked, though Lord knows why…persistence I guess).
In any case, the jubilation of the day ahead of me was quickly cut away by a crying classmate. As she sobbed on her way to the bathroom, I only understood a handle of the words she said and they amounted to this: “Bob Aniello is dead…my friend killed himself.”
Bob Aniello, from here on in simply BoB as he preferred to write it, was a member of our class who had moved to Newington our freshman year. While I would like to claim that he became friends with my group of friends and I because he clearly saw us to the alpha-males of the school, I realize it was more likely that he sensed a relative lack of charms and decided to take us on as a humanitarian project. Alas, he did not rub off on any of us and he gravitated toward other, perhaps less idiotic, individuals. By junior year, he and I were back together again, however, in classes and then in a youth leadership training program run by the National Guard.
He had changed outwardly, having dyed his hair from its natural brown to a green, which eventually made the transition to an odd mix of red and yellow (not blond, yellow). He had pierced his tongue and was fond of hanging a chain off of it as you can see in that picture to the right. But really, he was the same old BoB.
One of the most distinct memories I have of him is all of us talking during lunch our freshman year and hassling one another about being interested in this girl or that one and BoB sat down after having gotten dessert. One of us decided to put him on the spot, most likely to protect ourselves, and ask him what he thought of a particular girl. He shrugged, and said, “Yeah, she’s a very attractive girl.”
You have to understand how groundbreaking that was. We were all of 14 years old and essentially emotional midgets when it came to the opposite sex. You protected the information on who you were interested tooth and nail. Don’t trust anyone, essentially. And BoB just didn’t seem to care. He was a good three years ahead of us, (hell, I know people my age who still go about their lives with the attitude we had back then). He was the first person my age I had ever heard admit to thinking a girl that we all knew was attractive. The thing that makes me smile the most is that all of us agreed, mumbling, but still agreed. No one ran to tell her “ooooo, BoB wants you,” we all just kind of sat there, nodded our heads, and said, “Yeah, she is.” He made us more mature with one sentence.
Two years later, he made us mature once again. It was sudden, stunning, and coupled with the death of another student, Jenn Partridge, a day later, plunged my school into a week silence. People, as we are all inclined to do in the face of such bald tragedy, blamed themselves and questioned how this could happen. BoB was so good, so kind, why was this allowed to occur. In a fair world ruled over by a just God, why did such a thing happen? None of us had answers.
The thing of it is this. It was not “allowed” to occur. It just did. Five years later, this is what I have learned from it all, the moral one could say. Nothing in this world is planned, nothing makes sense, nothing is simply “meant to be.” BoB was not meant to shot himself in the head in the early morning hours of November 18, 1997 and I refuse to accept it was all part of some larger master plan.
Do not get me wrong. I have done my soul searching, my questioning, and in the end, I still believe God exists. But, no, he did not decide that a member of the Newington High School graduating class of 1999 needed to die that day, nor did he decide that a graduating member of the class of 2001 needed to die a day later.
Because there is no plan, it is up to us to find meaning, to find the kernel of truth or goodness in the most horrible of events. I once watched a TV show that ended on this quote (paraphrased), “Nothing that we do in this world matters, so all that matters is what we do.” Yes, it is a bit of purple prose, but it is also entirely accurate. Twice in his life, BoB did something that made me grow up a little, made me into an adult. Once, he taught me that there was no need to hide how I felt about anyone and once he taught me to be thankful for every day I have on this blasted rock with my friends. And I remember and thank him for that.
So five years later this is what I have. I do not mourn his death, I remember his life.