While cleaning out my closet this week, I found a box full of items that I still had from high school. Tucked away among some old notebooks was the following news story from the Toronto Star. There’s no date, but I remember that this happened when I was in Grade 10 (1979-80).
The girl in the article wasn’t identified, but I know who she was because she went to my high school. Her name was Karen Gibson.
I first heard what happened from other students, and then went home and searched for this article in the local newspaper. I didn’t know Karen, but we were in the same grade, and we were both in Mr. Jackman’s Grade 10 Biology class. She sat in the back row, and was really quiet. That’s pretty much all I remember about her. I sat near the front of the class, three rows up, so we didn’t have an opportunity to socialize during class.
After I found and read the newspaper article – a confirmation to me that this wasn’t merely high school gossip, but something that actually happened – I remember feeling sadness, mixed with guilt. I kept wondering: what could have been so terrible to a 16-year-old, that death seemed to be the only option? I was fairly gregarious in high school and knew most of the people in my grade, but I had my own group of friends, and I never introduced myself to Karen, or got to know her. I then wondered if things may have turned out differently if I had befriended her.
Today, as I read this newspaper article once again, 33 years later, I feel that same sadness and guilt. As I sat in my Grade 10 Biology class, I had no idea that there was a soul in pain, sitting only 15 feet away from me.
Looking back, I am also disappointed with the way the school dealt with this tragedy. Today, if a high school or elementary school student dies, grief counselors are brought in to help the other students cope with their loss. My school did nothing. There was no announcement made over the P.A. system, and none of my teachers said a word about it. There was just that perpetually empty seat at the back of my Biology class.
I now understand that expression “It’s better to regret the things you have done in your life, than the things you didn’t do”.