Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Afasari, Gone

Afasari lived two buildings away from ours. He used to play in the courtyard with my son and the other children in our complex. He was older than my son by 3 years, but my son was tall and Afasari was a scrawny kid, so it never really dawned that they were different ages. He was a wild child, the one always careening around the courtyard on a borrowed bike or scooter, doing wheelies and other stunts, never wearing a helmet. He was East Indian, with burnished amber skin and an unruly thatch of shiny black hair. He had two sisters who never seemed to come outside. But Afasari was always in the courtyard, sitting alone on the benches or bouncing his basketball on the asphalt. He drew the other kids out of their homes because there was always someone out there with whom to get the party started.

My most vivid memory of Afasari is not one that makes me happy to recall. My son's friend Eugene was visiting us on a playdate. He and my son were 9. Afasari was 12. The three of them were downstairs in the courtyard playing, and Afasari was being very mean to Eugene, denying him the ball, calling him names, trying to exclude him. I think he resented him as an outsider. Finally, my son had had enough of it and suggested he and Eugene go upstairs to our apartment. When they came in, I looked at the boys crestfallen expressions and asked what was wrong. They told me Afasari had been making fun of Eugene. I marched the two boys back downstairs to the courtyard, where Afasari was still bouncing the basketball. He was alone now. I went over to Afasari and told him he needed to apologize to Eugene. Stunned and chastened, he did. He was really all bravado and fake toughness and not at all beyond deferring to a mother figure. The three boys decided to resume their game.

Then, the summer he was 13, Afasari announced that he was going away. His said his mom was sending him to live with his aunt in New Jersey. His mom was a single mother who worked long hours, and she didn't like that he was alone so much. He wasn't happy about moving, but what could he do, he shrugged. That was the last I heard of him. Until this weekend.

In fact, Afasari had moved back home in his late teens. I never ran into him in the neighborhood, so I didn't know. Maybe I wouldn't have recognized him. He had grown extremely tall and was very thin, with a mustache. I probably would not have realized it was him.

Sadly, on Sunday afternoon at about 3:30 pm, right as my mom and I were getting money from the bank ATM around the corner, just after we put our son on the bus back to college, Afasari climbed to the roof of one of the 21-storey buildings in our complex and jumped.

Many people saw. My friend who lives in the building he jumped from, was in the laundry room and heard a loud thud. Loud enough to make her run outside. There she found one of her neighbors, a tiny, elderly woman, shaking and screaming, "He just jumped! He just jumped!" My friend ran to her neighbor and put her arms around her, but was careful not to look where she was pointing. Already the security guards were running to Afasari, but it was too late.

Later, I heard that he had been battling depression for years. I felt so sad that I had never known that, and that I had never seen behind the scrappy wild child to the boy who must already have been hurting inside. I wondered if that day when he was being mean to Eugene he was really wrestling with his own bad feelings, and my towering over him and insisting he apologize was just one more moment when he felt dominated, buffeted by life. I wonder if there was another way I could have handled it, or if I should even have inserted myself at all.

I don't know that anything I did could have changed anything, but I'm so sorry that I never even knew to try.