He was always smiling, is how I remember him, but his eyes weren’t. I just don’t remember him ever being out of line, but he wasn’t in my grade. I was a year older than him.

It seemed like he had friends, but they made fun of him. They called him “Fat Frank”. He had an older sister who I remember. She was older than me. She seemed pretty cool. She used to yell at Frank, and he would get real disconcerted, but you could tell they liked each other. She seemed like she got a kick out of him. He was a pudgy little red-haired kid with freckles. He was always smiling, but when I remember him now, it seemed like his eyes weren’t.

I was wrapped up in my own little world, and we moved in different circles. There was no animosity, none I remember. I just didn’t know him as well as I knew some others. It was a small school. We all knew each other.

I heard the news yesterday, and I only hope I never called him “Fat Frank”. I don’t think I did, but I may have and don’t remember it. It was his nickname. It seems cruel, but in that social milieu, nicknames were sort of signs of social status. He had friends. Looking back, his closest friends were all into cars. One of them had a father who worked for a NASCAR pit crew or something like that.

The classic question would be did he jump or was he pushed? It has some important theological ramifications I’m not denigrating, but aside from this, the question doesn’t matter at this point. True, his eyes weren’t smiling,  but faced with a life of looking over his shoulder, even if he jumped, he was pushed, is how I look at it.

Once, when faced with the option of two investments, a nice vehicle or more education, I threw down on education. What education gives you is a shot at freedom. If you work, you’re an indentured servant by the hour, but you have a shot at freedom. You realistically might break out and be free, though it’s  a long shot.

I write books. I have them for sale. I could probably benefit from the perfect editor, and the amount of time I spend on writing varies. I’m not a pro. While selling books helps me, I don’t rely on book sales to pay rent. Fortune is so fickle, it is better for me to have the type of ham and eggs gigs I can get from having several degrees. The books are a project I love, and I appreciate every dime I ever made from them. I’m just glad I don’t have to bank on them. I’d make more begging in the street anyway, at this point.

We’re out there, all of us, relying on our wits and our brains, and an intangible commodity known as “heart”. It takes heart to answer the bells Life rings for us. The hope is, we have enough heart to make it, day by day.

When I heard about Frank, I lost heart for a day. I saw his picture in the paper, nice  (very nice) suit, great hair, in great shape. He grew up handsome. I saw his picture, and prayed I was never one of the ones who called him “Fat Frank.” Was I one of the people Frank went through life feeling wounded by? Did I help create the demons that made him unwilling to accept his ration?

I never stood up for him, or denounced the people who made fun of him, even if I never made fun of him myself. He seemed happy. I mean, he was always smiling. Truth is, though, his eyes weren’t smiling, and in retrospect he was probably as lonely as I was.

He got mixed up in a world where a nice kid with a nice big sister didn’t belong. For my money, he got pushed, whether he got pushed or not.

So, if you pray, say a prayer for Frankie. I’m going to light a candle for him myself. Maybe up in Heaven, he’ll light a candle for me as well, because as vicious as the world seems, I always liked the kid. I knew him at a time when I thought of someone a year younger than me as being a kid. Maybe I’m hoping if Frankie gets forgiven I could get forgiven as well. Something tells me the only difference between us is I just never liked cars all that much.