First year of High School, Daniel had one friend (from middle school, another geeky kid). He is part of the band, in the Pit – stationary percussion instruments. Daniel loved the band, and he focused hard on his role. He however remembers missing a concert once (and regrets the trouble it caused), because someone took his mallets. Daniel spent the whole concert trying to track them down, unable to calm down and reason out his ability to use another set.
Second year of High School, little brother was now present and brought his army of friends and protectors to the scene, folding Daniel and his one friend into the group. They were an eclectic band of friends, mostly geeky but they were a solid group.
At 17, Daniel was not driving, but when little brother decided to get his license, Daniel would not be outdone. Daniel has always been fiercely competitive. I decided to save money and teach them myself. Daniel’s first attempt at driving nearly wiped out a dumpster and the wood shop at the high school (we were using the school parking lot). We all survived and the boys got their licenses. Daniel’s driving was not smooth or uneventful. Once at a stop sign, little brother jumped out of the car and walked to his grandparents (about 2 miles) rather than continue as a passenger in what he deemed to be an unsafe adventure. The boys shared a car until college and managed to get back and forth without too many incidents. Little brother either drove or learned to ride with his eyes closed.
Daniel is small for his age and has distinctive curly red hair – want to talk about not being able to hide – everyone remembers a red head and especially one that is a little different. This is sometimes a curse that followed him into adulthood. He wore nerdy glasses (by choice). Daniel never walked; he always ran everywhere because he liked to run. But he ran like a tank, not graceful. As a senior, he signed up for a creative writing class and his talent for creating poetry and short stories was revealed. It was also during Daniel’s senior year in High School that two children in Columbine destroyed the lives of many and instilled fear in the hearts of many more.
Daniel was sitting in class one day soon after Columbine and the teacher decided to leave the room. Another student decided to entertain the class by taunting Daniel about the fanny pack he always wore to hold a small sketch pad. Daniel had picked up the fanny pack attire from our family ski trips – he thought it was handy, so he kept wearing it for daily use. Whenever he was bored and otherwise unengaged, he would take out his sketchbook/notepad and draw characters and write ideas for game scenarios or short stories. This class “entertainer” began to goad Daniel about his writings – “Is that your hit list?” referring to manifestos left behind by the Columbine boys. Daniel refused to be engaged, so the young man stepped up his taunts. “I bet that’s your hit list, and I’m on it. But that’s okay because even if you had a gun, you wouldn’t know how to use it.” Finally, Daniel responded, “If I had a gun, I would be able to use it.” At this point the teacher returns and Daniel’s words are reported. Four hours later, I get a call from the school that Daniel is being suspended and they want to talk to me. I find out that Daniel has been grilled and a counselor has been summoned and everyone is now convinced that he is in need of mental health intervention. And their main concern – that Daniel has told them that he doesn’t want to grow up, he likes being a kid. Atlas that was not normal and he was defective, possibly dangerous. I informed the school that their actions, the four hours of interrogation without a parent present, were in my opinion grounds for a lawsuit, especially if the instigator/student did not also receive suspension. For some reason, the student that started the incident was deemed to be normal and unthreatening!
Stories of the incident at school followed Daniel to church, where parents were telling me that their children (some not even in Daniel’s school) were afraid of him. While on suspension, Daniel decided to make some changes. He asked for contacts, leaving behind the nerdy thick framed glasses. He started to pay a little more attention to the world around him (going into protective mode) and his creative writing began to reflect feelings of deep frustration, sadness and anger.
Remember the percussion instructor that moved up to the high school same time as Daniel. He awarded Daniel the “Best Contributor” in the percussion section. His Dad and I were at that banquet were the award was made. Daniel was thrilled and deserving, no one was more focused on his performance or more reliable than Daniel, but immediately we heard people decrying his recognition – right there, out loud, wondering why Daniel would receive the award over others. I never spoke to Daniel about the negative comments, we tried to focus on the positives, but the incident marred what should have been a celebratory event.