Just today, 55 years after the crash, Stuart’s face has appeared to me once more in a dream. I don’t know why I remember this, especially now, in my 69th year, but it feels as if God has spoken to me about one of his angels.
On December 27th, 1964, I was fourteen and my brother Mark was eleven. “Stewie” had been Mark’s only friend since he and his parents had moved into our apartment building, some four years before. Being probably the eldest kid in the building, I had been busy recruiting followers (all younger kids), setting trends with my Beatle Boots and Fabian haircut, and developing an interest in those strange creatures, the Gurlz. All of this, though, did not prevent me from feeling a streak of jealousy over the time Mark and Stuart spent together.
Sophie was Stuart’s mom, and they lived down the hall from us. I don’t have much of a memory of his dad, as he seemed to be away most of the time. Sophie worked as a part time secretary, I think, and Stuart would come to our place for a few hours while she was gone. With his round doe-like eyes and a lower lip that drooped into a perpetual pout, Stuart’s face was meant for a mother to love, and indeed he clung to Sophie whenever we saw them together. He may have been the shyest person I have ever met. Being a little younger than my brother, Stuart was a willing disciple when Mark began to school him in the basics of rebellion. Nothing serious came of it, but whenever trouble bubbled over, Mark was one of the suspects.
Stuart and his family had lived in our building going on five years when they had to move away because his father had gotten a new job. Mark was unhappy, of course, until Sophie started to bring Stuart for visits almost every weekend.
There was a new kid named Stanley. He and his family had moved into an apartment on the top floor of our building, and he always took the stairs when coming outside. Three flights, and he made a game out of running down them as fast as he could. At the bottom landing, there was a heavy glass door that you had to push open, then a few steps outside to the pavement. To the left of that door was a tall and narrow window made of frosted glass. I assume its purpose was to let in additional light, while improving the esthetics of the place.
This window had been broken by some kids playing ball, and all that was done was to remove the shards of glass from the frame so that no one would get hurt. Apparently, they couldn’t get it repaired right away because it was the weekend. Someone had put strips of tape over it to show there was no glass, but this didn’t last long. Once Stanley found out, his stair game became even more fun because now he could run right outside without stopping, making a beeline for the missing window.
On the following Monday, the repairmen were there first thing and put in the new one, this being of clear glass because they couldn’t get hold of the frosted stuff right away.
Mark and Stuart and I were having lunch on our second floor balcony when we heard the crash and Stanley’s screams. He had played his stair game one too many times, and had run clean through the plate glass window. My mother rushed out to see him laying in a pool of blood and went yelling down the hall for help. Women came out with towels to help bind him up. We went inside on mother’s instructions. Mark and I were stunned. Stuart just buckled, sat on the floor, and cried. Stanley wasn’t even his friend.
In the next week or two, while Stanley was still in the hospital, we didn’t see Stuart. Sophie had called to say that he was too upset to go anywhere, and so she stayed home with him. I felt that the accident was partly my fault for not telling anyone about Stanley and the stairs, but it took me a while to open up about it to my mother.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, after Stuart had spent a sleepover at our place, Sophie came to pick him up, saying they would see us between Christmas and New Years. And so they did, the day after Boxing Day. We had presents for Stuart, and they stayed most of the day with us. The next day, Mark and I were outside playing street hockey. When we came in to get warm, Mom was sitting by the kitchen telephone crying. She hung it up and motioned for us to come to her. Stuart and Sophie had been killed by a drunk driver after they left our place on the previous night. Mark started crying. I think I was silent. Stuart was a true friend, and the purest soul I had ever met.
As I write this, I think that young face was in my dream for a reason. I have gotten too far away from purity, if I ever had such a thing. Stuart wasn’t even family, but when I think of what the knives of the world did to him, and of how short his life was, I feel humbled and ashamed that more of us cannot hold onto some of that kind of innocence. So Stewie, know that you are remembered, and held in love.