April 8, 2008


Guest Column …An open letter to all juniors and seniors – and their parents

By CLIFFORD SWAIN


Every year when Junior Senior Prom rolls around, my heart aches for my old friend, Carl Jackson.

I have known him all my life. I am almost 62 years old, and he is still 16.

He was born in 1946. He was the adopted son of my father’s business associate. We grew up together and were good friends. He was a nice person and respected by all the students at our high school.

Carl was smart and had a bright future in front of him. College and beyond were definite possibilities for him. He could do anything.
 
He made straight A’s and was very popular. It always amazed me how easily he learned. I loved to watch him doodle in class. He drew intricate classical buildings for fun. There I was struggling to keep my head above water, while he was drawing, taking notes, and contributing to the class discussion all at the same time. He was amazing.

For some reason, he loved mustard. He ate it on everything. Sitting with him in the lunch room and watching him cover every conceivable menu item with mustard was a sight to behold. He shrugged off his classmates’ amusement with his food preferences because he was an independent thinker who knew what he liked and what he wanted in life and what others thought made little difference to him. He was his own person and strong in his convictions. Peer pressure did not appear to affect him.

He was tall and handsome, and his steady girlfriend was one of the nicest and most beautiful girls in school. She was a cheerleader and excelled at everything she did. They were a dream couple. Had they not been such nice people, we would probably have resented their perfect “Ken and Barbie” image. But to the contrary, they were loved and respected. Admired and looked up to. They had it all.

He was a wonderful son who had never given his parents a moment’s trouble. They were proud of his accomplishments and wanted to reward him. So, his mom and dad specially ordered him a brand new custom 1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible for his birthday. They could afford the car, and he deserved it. It was a beautiful sky blue color with all the accessories and was the talk of our small town. It came in on the day of the Junior-Senior Prom, and he was thrilled. We were all thrilled. Sadly, the car had to be prepped, so Carl got to see the car but could not have it for the prom. The dealership instead loaned him a car that was ready for delivery, a new white Corvair convertible with a stick shift and a big engine for a car that small. It was the best they could do. Carl was understanding and excited about the prom.

Carl and his girl friend attended the prom and a chaperoned after-prom party. The evening was perfect! Then Carl said good night and left with a friend for another party where he, for the first time in his life, got drunk. This was very unusual behavior for him because his father was a reformed alcoholic (as was mine), and we had both seen the dark side of alcohol abuse and had many conversations about not falling in the same trap that our fathers did.

When he left this party, he was in no shape to drive so his friend put Carl in the back seat of the little convertible and sped down River Road until he lost control in front of the old drive-in theater. That is where the car flipped, and Carl’s head was crushed. He died at the scene while crowds gathered and looked on.

My father woke me up the next morning with tears in his eyes and told me that Carl Jackson was dead.

It was unbelievable. Carl didn’t drink.

Carl was smarter than that. It must be some one else -- not Carl.

But it was Carl.

We all lost something that night when Carl died.

His parents lost an only son, and they never really recovered. His girlfriend lost the love of her life. Many of us lost a friend.

And the world will never know what it lost. I can only imagine what he might have done.


Last Sunday in church, when our minister asked for prayer requests from the congregation, my heart was touched when someone asked the church to pray for our high school students as the end of the year pushes important decisions on them, such as end of year exams, college plans, and junior-senior activities.

My mind drifted back to my high school friend Carl Jackson and the result of that one bad decision he made 45 years ago.

The brand new custom ordered 1963 Chevrolet Convertible he never drove. The college he never attended. The girl friend he never grew older with and possibly married.
The children he never had. The life adventures or contributions he never made.

I’m almost 62 years old, but Carl will always be 16.

That one bad decision he made still causes my heart to ache and wonder what might have been.

Yes, people make bad decisions all the time and somehow get by. But Carl Jackson did not get by.

Please make wise decisions.

We love you too much to take a chance on losing you.



(Clifford Swain lives in Hatteras village.)
   


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