Around this time yesterday, I started thinking about Jamie Gardner. After nearly three decades, I’d doubled back on some fairly impressive memories from my childhood. My mind tripped and stumbled over all of the kids who lived in our neighborhood. I had a mental map of the streets with dots on every block–the Freemans, the Rahns, the Roaches, the Schafers, the Burks, the Greens, the Madisons. Those were just a few. I laid in bed last night, high on caffeine and nostalgia, and picked out everybody I knew from my 18 years on those streets.
When I wrote Fight, I had some niggling memory of a tragedy in Jamie’s family. I danced around it for a while, but was sure something had happened and felt like I should include it. So, I consulted my own personal encyclopedia: my mom.
My mother’s memory is scary good sometimes. Last week, a man in the southwest Missouri area was arrested on some pretty heinous charges. My mom was across the room from the TV and neither heard the news anchor’s voice or saw the graphic. She merely looked up and said that’s “D.R” (she used his full name, but I won’t here).
How did she know this man on sight?
She was his den mother in Cub Scouts more than 25 years ago.
In any case, my mom and I worked through the Jamie Gardner years best we could. The final details were included in the post. One part was incorrect however. Despite our memories working together, we were wrong about the fact Jamie had lost his mother and brother in a car accident when he was younger. That also means what I wrote about his stepmother was probably about his real mother at the time.
I know this because I received an email late last night from an old high school friend who was distantly related to Jamie. She confirmed almost everything I remembered and relayed a personal story that probably explains why Jamie was so reluctant to fight me back then. I read the email three times, absorbing every little bit of it, as if it would somehow help better explain the moment to me. It was poignant and told a great story of a kid I never really knew. In my mind, he was always the kid who beat me up because I’d forced him to.
I spent a majority of yesterday wondering what had happened to Jamie. I wondered if the tough kid I knew remained tough and continued to live the hard-knock life. I wondered if he overcame all the trouble and got his adult life in order. I had no idea, but my old friend had the answer.
This Thursday is the anniversary of Jamie’s death.
When Jamie was 14 years old, he was on his way to a basketball game with his uncle and his uncle’s fiancée. They pulled out onto Springfield, Missouri’s well-known Kearney St. and were in a car accident. Both Jamie and his uncle’s fiancée were killed. The boy who played such a significant role in my youth didn’t live to become a man.
I learned a lot in that one email and could spend another 1,000 words explaining how I better understand the kid who beat me up, why he was such a fighter, and part of what made him tick. But, I think it’s best I just let it be and let the kid’s memory rest in peace.
Thanks to A for the e-mail. It broke my heart in a way I wouldn’t have guessed. That’s not always a bad thing.