Does anyone remember Tony?
Of course you do. He was a quiet boy … a little over weight. He had breasts like a girl. Yeah. Him. Tony.
Well, I sat behind him in class. Lucky me, right? When I wasn’t too busy feeling lonely and pissed because Jeanne wasn’t into me, I’d stare over his shoulder at a map of the world. I’d dream of all the places I’d go when I got the hell out of this hole. I thought that, if I dreamed hard enough, somehow all that hope would come and find me … because I knew I was better than all of the bullshit, all of the … whatever.
But Tony, he was the kid who always finished all his homework. He raised his hand in homeroom every day for the morning attendance keeping and to pledge allegiance to the fucking gloom of this place. You know … he was THAT kid.
He wasn’t cool. He wasn’t popular. He wasn’t … anything. But he also wasn’t nothing, no matter what anybody said. And they said some shit. That’s what kids do, right? I mean, come on. Everybody gets teased at some point. You just gotta keep your head down or make the right friends.
Look, I hated every day of high school. It’s funny, I guess that he did, too, even though you wouldn’t have known it by watching him. I mean, it’s funny how I never knew that even though there I was sitting right behind him. I was right there. I could have poked him in the ribs, if I had wanted to. Or passed him notes without anyone noticing.
I didn’t. I just sat there behind him. Sometimes I copied his answers, but, you gotta know, I didn’t mess with him or anything. I didn’t bully him. Not like some of the other guys. But I didn’t do much to stop it, either. Even though I probably could have. Even though I definitely should have. But I didn’t. There’s no why to it. I just … I just didn’t.
You know how we all found out? They wrote it in the local rag, right? This little sidebar piece about him. It was barely even there. Just like Tony. It was like “death comes to the local fag” or something totally fucked up like that. Even then he wasn’t anything … not to anyone that mattered. But he still wasn’t nothing, no matter what he thought.
For the rest of the year, I sat there staring at his empty desk trying to figure it out … why he’d given up. I guess he finally stopped believing that any hope would ever find him. That he’d ever get out of his own little hell. I knew that story, man. I fucking WROTE that story. I mean, I was sitting right there behind him living it every single day.
Hey, Tony. Man, it ain’t an easy thing, this whole living life business. But what’s so fucking good about dying? You can’t just wake up one morning and think, “Hey, I might do a little dying today.” That can’t be how it goes. I mean … what the fuck, man?
I don’t know. I don’t know. I guess it’s probably different for everybody. But that day … for Tony … for whatever reason …. he looked in the mirror, saw a little faggot staring back, pulled out a gun … and blew himself away. Because everybody told him that’s all he was — “a faggot.” He wasn’t even just nothing to them. He was worse than nothing.
Except he wasn’t.
He was just … Tony.

Based on the song “Tony” by Patty Griffin. Photo credit: eschipul / Foter / CC BY-SA.