R.I.P. Mary

Tragedy. This is Mary. She's a former student. Yesterday we got word that she was murdered.

The Boston Globe talked to Bob Hill, who was Mary's 10th and 11th grade history teacher, and is now our alumni coordinator.

“She was someone who was very soft-spoken, a gentle soul,’’ he said in a telephone interview. “She really loved to laugh. In a way, she was very quiet, but then she had this burst of laughter.

“She had great academic promise, but had the typical ups and downs of students,” Hill said. “She struggled at times and shined at other times. Every once in a while, she would come up at the end of class and ask a question that showed she had intellectual curiosity and excellent listening skills.”

I was just sitting here, processing it. Numb. My thoughts about violent crime are here.

A kid dropped by. Another former student: Nick. He wanted to pay his respects somehow. So wandering through the school on a Thursday afternoon in July to see who was around.

Nick was otherwise in great spirits. He has lost 200+ pounds. No typo there. Looks great. I asked him about it.

Why did he change at age 20 or so, when interventions at age 15, 16, 17 etc had not worked?

He said there was no clear answer. Just many things added up. Large things, like doctors telling him he'd die, or feeling his heart racing, or being unable to get out of a chair. And smaller things, like when his Match tutor, Huey-Tyng, gave him a beautiful journal. It lie empty for a while, he recalled, but he's poured out his thoughts ever since.

At some point all those things spurred action. Nick radically altered his diet. He told me he used to drink 9 liters of Pepsi per day. Now he stays away and eats sensibly. He walks a lot. He plants trees in his community. Nick has a job. He has a girlfriend. He is happy. Does spoken word poetry.

He recalled that he was a student here, the greeting he got each day from our principal, Charlie, the handshake and the pat on the shoulder. The warmth, the authenticity of that touch, Nick said, made him feel validated as a teenager who otherwise felt trapped in very large body.

Charlie, I miss you.

Mary, I don't know what to say. I've learned in these past 14 years that lots of kids have a tough life, but I can't recall any with a journey like yours.

On Facebook, Vivek, who taught biology, wrote:

Just a sad, sad day...it's hard for me to imagine Mary in any other way than sitting in my classroom, a little shy, but eyes full of curiosity and life, and always ready to burst into a big smile.

To all the wonderful young women and men I got to know at MATCH: as tough as this news is to swallow, it makes me so proud to see how you are there to support each other. If you need another shoulder to lean on, I'm here, too.