There is nothing in the condolences handbook about death by serial killer.Posted: April 3, 2013
I recently asked my brothers what they remembered about returning to school after Tim was buried. I have heard second and third-hand that the principal and staff at Adams Elementary, where police were interviewing kids and Tim’s desk sat empty while he was being held captive somewhere, were pretty remarkable about how they dealt with this trauma.
My brother Mark was in 9th grade at Derby Junior High. Here’s what he remembered about going back to classes after Tim’s murder:
I remember going back into class several days after Tim’s burial, and specifically chose Mr. Sheets’ class because he was the only teacher of mine I felt entirely comfortable with. I arrived late in the afternoon class, which was awkward to say the least. I remember the look on his face, but can’t remember the words he said. His body language and the way he welcomed be back, though , made things much easier for me – I could tell nobody in that class knew what to say, but who could blame a bunch of 14 and 15 year olds? Jerry Sheets, I could tell, was full of grief and sorrow, but really made me feel welcome.
The other teacher was Ms. Slick. I didn’t have any classes with her, but she went out of the way to simply tell me how sorry she was, and that I had a lot of guts for going through with a wrestling meet during the time Tim was gone. Maybe it was just an attempt to escape or feel normal for me to wrestle, when you think of it, but I really appreciated Ms. Slick after that. Those were really the only two.
If you just think about how fucked up that was back then it is amazing. I think (hope) schools are better prepared today to deal with all kinds of tragedies – but a serial killer? It is still pretty unimaginable.
Meanwhile, at Seaholm High School things were a little different. I remember one teacher being kind enough to give me a hug and offer condolences. His name was John Petrakus. I never had him as a teacher. I was a senior and I had been at the school for six semesters; I had been in many teachers’ classes. One of my P.E. teachers, a guy we called Spanky, who never made eye contact with me or spoke to me directly at any time while I was in his class, let alone outside of class, ran into me in the hallway and welcomed me back to school warmly. I remember being relieved.
I had missed some swimming unit in my current PE class while Tim was missing and during the weeks afterward. The female Spanky, whose classes I had been in many times over the three years, arranged for me to swim laps for 50 minutes a day with some other class. I don’t remember what she said to me, if anything, about why I had been gone. I love to swim, but this was torture not only because I was stuck with some other class but also because it gave me a ton of time to think while my face was staring at the bottom of the pool. I was also having a hard time with it because Tim had been suffocated and the thought of holding my breath was a total freaker. So I started skipping class. A lot. She did not come find me and ask what the deal was; she stuck my “counselor” on me. He called me down—not to offer his condolences or to ask if I was having trouble, but to tell me that Ms. Spanky said I was skipping class and what did I have to say about that? Not one ounce of compassion. So I tossed it back to him. I looked him in the face and told him I was getting counseling—the real kind—during that time of day and that’s why I had been MIA. It was a lie. That was the end of the discussion. He never, not once, asked if I needed anything. I walked out of that counseling department and never set foot in it again. This guy had rubberstamped my college applications earlier in the semester and his work with me was apparently done. It didn’t surprise me in the least. He had told me at one point that because I had gotten a D in Algebra II that I would not get into college. I thought of him a few times over the years, including after my graduation from law school.
Lucky for me, graduation was basically right around the corner and I did in fact graduate and get out of there. Unfortunately for my brother Chris, he had two more years there. What he told me about returning to Seaholm after Tim was buried broke my heart. He told me this a few years ago but to see it in writing killed me. That’s next.