The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

April 15, 2009

Dying in spring at fifty

Filed under: aging,poetry,writer's life,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 23:29
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My head has been all about high school lately — a place and time to which I seldom hearken back.  The bad old days.  But they’ve been steadily in my head since last Thursday when my old friend Marguerite emailed me that Allen, our mutual old friend, had died.  So this is how my generation will learn of its passing.  Via email.

I’ve known Allen since elementary school — another sad and oppressive period of my life that I like to keep at a mental and emotional distance.  We didn’t become friends until high school though.  Allen was a trumpet player in the marching band and I was in the flag corps.  (Yes, I was one of those girls, skimpy costume and all, advancing to team captain by my senior year; Allen became the drum major.)  We lived relatively near one another out in the vast expanse that used to be rural Spartanburg County before BMW carpetbagged in, and it came to be that we often drove into school and band practice together.  He was a sweet boy  — a furtive blusher — shy, kind, funny, big old grin.  We talked a lot. It was sometime during high school that Allen learned he had been diagnosed with juvenile onset diabetes.

Allen was in the second group of our friends who came to USC for college; my husband Bob being in the first group, with me in the third. When I finally came to school my roommate was Diana, Allen’s girlfriend, also from our old school.  A group of the boys from high school roomed together and down the hall from one another in Maxcy, just off the USC Horseshoe, and Allen was one of them.  So was Bob.  They played Rook almost every Sunday night.  They watched TV together, went to ballgames together, drove back and forth on weekends from the various mill villages where their homes were together.  And being typical college students, they partied together, as well.

More times than I care to remember, Allen, like a lot of the guys, overdid it.  But the problem was that while the other boys would bounce back in the way that 18 and 19 year olds do, Allen did not suffer his hangovers so easily.  Drinking was not the best thing for a severely diabetic adolescent.  He did a lot of damage to his body during those years.  And in the years to come, after we had lost touch and only heard bits and pieces of one anothers’ lives from relatives and the few friends we kept up with, we heard that health wise, Allen continued to suffer.  Eventually, he underwent a kidney and pancreas transplant. There were other hospitalizations as well.

So when I saw the subject heading listing Allen’s name in Marguerite’s email, I thought the worse before I even opened it.  I was right. 

I wrote a little something to honor my old friend Allen.  It’s not a very good poem, but it says what I feel, and that’s the point then, isn’t it?  Here’s to my old friend — and here’s to youth.


                                   Dying in Spring at Fifty


He was the first of us.


The boy we called Jaime

who raised the Reidville flag

and sold us pencils

two for a nickel

at the student store.


Smart and sweet and bespectacled

not an athlete or a pretty boy

but destined to the part

of the boy who was not

and thereby, to become himself.


An unlikely drum major

but they followed him

more than a hundred

onto the Friday night chalk

with reluctant, begrudging respect.


His body was less the legionnaire

betraying him like a bandit

sending him teetering

to brinks and bottoms and quandaries

no man, no boy should wander.


College taught no mercy

for fickle bodies

punishment that would

last a lifetime

a lifetime that would not last.


Then there was time

twenties and thirties and more

the preacher said he’d been happy

the preacher said he was loved



And so in spring and at fifty

the boy we called Allen

who raised the Reidville flag

smart and sweet and bespectacled

is dead and dead so soon.


He was the first of us.






1 Comment »

  1. I thouroughly enjoy reading your reluctant writings. Your personality shines through in your poems and articles. I have especially enjoyed learning new things about you that I did not know. We could have been at a marching band competition together in the late 70’s. Your writings take me back to the days of old and give me fresh perspective all at once.

    Comment by Jan Reeves — April 16, 2009 @ 15:27

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