Could Have Been…

As I get older I find that past events sometimes dim to the point of almost being forgotten, then come flashing back when you least expect it.  The flash I got yesterday, the event remembered, shone out in the wake of the events in Blacksburg.  It brought home to me we are always closer to the edge than we expect, and we need to enjoy every moment as if it were out last.

The story is true, and most names are changed.  My once and future roomie, Tusky, goes by his nickname.  Names initially referred to with a ** is a changed name.

As you can see from earlier posts, I attended Bridgewater College in the heart of God’s Country, known to lesser folks and Phil Sheridan as the Shenandoah Valley.  Tusky and I-sophomore roomies-decided to clinch a hot corner room for our senior year by his rooming with a rising senior, while I (Captain Personality, don’t you know) would take my chances on a freshman.  Besides, between the course load I would carry, plus the Reagan presidential campaign stuff I knew I would be doing and the Virginia political stuff in the spring, how much time would I be spending in my room, anyway?

It seemed a reasonable idea at the time.

I was paired with Ramon**, a bright kid with a latino mom and anglo dad with roots in New Mexico-but living in Alexandria.  Mom apparently was quite kindly, and dad was an very hard driving, very conservative fellow who put a lot of pressure on Ramon.

Ramon made a close friend quickly in Jack**, and even developed a crush on Obiyana**, a 5’11” blonder amazon volleyball player.  Given that Ramon was about 5’5″ even in his beloved cowboy boots, they made quite the odd couple.

BC was on a 3×10 week trimester system (w/a 3 week interterm) back in the day.  During the first term Ramon got A’s in all his classes, but the second term proved tougher.  At the mid point, he had an A and 2 b’s, adn poppa pressure was coming down hard on him.  Moreover, I was told that his relationship with Obiyana had dwindled, in part because Obiyana was actually interested in Jack…and while he was staying on the reservation, Jack was interested in Obiyana.

At the beginning of february 1981 I left friday night to go home for the weekend with plans of some home cooking and Mom doing my laundry.  On Saturday I got a call from Tusky telling me I needed to come back to campus.  After much hemming and hawing, Tusky told me that Ramon had tried to kill himself.

I loaded my dirty laundry back in the car, and headed to BC.  The story-shorn of detail-is that at a friday night party Ramon saw Jack and Obiyana talking and became enraged.  He went back to our room, tore apart his side of it, grabbed a chef knife I kept for cutting up cold cuts, pizzas, and such…and just as Tusky came into the room to see what the commotion was Ramon used my knife to slice open his left arm.

Tusky tackled him and held him down while JD and others called the RA, bandaged Ramon’s arm, and waited with him until an amublance came.  As soon as the doc stitched his arm in the ER, Ramon bolted and walked back to Bridgewater, where he was discovered passed out onhis bed, wrapped in an American flag he took on his way back to wear as a jacket.  The police were called, and escorted Ramon back to the hospital and presumably returned the flag to the rightful owners.

By the time I returned Ramon’s parents had gotten him out of the hospital and took him home.  I never saw him again. 

Why did this come to mind?  Probably because I wonder how close we were to things being different.  I think the distance from Ramon to  Cho Seung-Hui may be shorter than we would like to think.

We have always had the disaffected and the unstable, but time and technology have changed things.  For centuries there was always room for expansion and movement…but the world has been explored, and there are no new continents to serve as a pressure valve for the world.  Guns and gun culture are different now than they were in 1981, and young folks can be exposed to a far more graphic violence in the name of entertainment than when I was young (see Stephen Hunter and his musings on how movies may have affected Cho)…when I was a kid (w/the exception of Sam Peckinpaugh and The Godfather) men who were shot (women were almost never shot) typically either fell backward or did the traditional back yard spin move…now blood and viscera fly everywhere.  Heightened IT technology makes it easy to isolate oneself from the world and wallow in whatever paranoid fanatasies one migh harbor. In 1981 no internet, no computers in dorms, no ability to record digital images…you really had to work to isolate yourself. Nowadays it is easy as pie.

I doubt that Ramon was ever as far as off plumb as Cho, but the mere thought that he might have been gives me a small shudder. I think of all I would have missed had he followed a different path.

So enjoy today, tomorrow, and all that follow…we have no guarantees-so drink deep and live large!

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