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I do remember I was at home that day, and I heard you on the phone, but I could tell that something was wrong.


How could you tell?


Just what you said. I think you said, I could kill him, or something like that. You were really upset with the guy that was driving the car, and I heard it. And I said, Let me go up and see how things are going. When I got up there, you were laying on the bed, prone, face down, and you said, I forgot the kid's name, but so and so killed Alicia. I said what? I said, what do you mean? He said, he was driving the car, and he ran into a pole, and he said I could kill him. And then you sort of sat up, and he just punched a big hole in the wall. And I knew at that point you were really upset, so I stayed up there with you, and we just talked. And then you said, you need to go out and just get some fresh air. So I let you go, and you walked around and came back. So, yeah, that was that day.


I think of my junior year of high school as the year when life got real, because that's the year when death got real. The voice you just heard was my dad talking about the day I found out my best friend Alicia had died in a car accident. I know people lose people all the time. I know kids lose people all the time, but this is when it happened to me. Nothing for me ever compared to that first time that I learned someone who I relied on, who I cared about, who I talked to, almost every day that person was gone. That rocked was just I was so off guard. My high school was basically in Pleasantville. It was this place called Montgomery County, just north of Washington, D. C. And at first glance, I think some people would say it was like the ideal suburb. It was diverse, middle class, educated population. Some people literally had white picket fences. It was just close enough to a major city to feel like that urban buzz. But it was far enough out to look up and see stars at night, to have big backyards bonfires, crickets, dogs barking.


But if I had the wisdom to really pay attention at that age, I would have seen that tragedy was moving closer and closer to our pleasant American suburb each year. So in 1999, there was Columbine, the high school shooting that took 15 lives in Columbine, Colorado. But that was like 1600 miles away from where I grew up. It was so far, it barely registered for me. I was in elementary school. But then in 2001, there were the attacks on the Pentagon, and that was just 30 miles away. Of course, I mean, September 11, when the Twin Towers also were attacked. But where I'm from. It was the Pentagon. That was the pin. That was the thing that was crazy. It was a place I had been still, though, it didn't really click, that people could die. And then in 2002, it pulled up in my backyard. That was the year of the DC sniper. The closest killing was 5 miles away from my childhood house. It was so close. I remember running from room to room in our house to avoid the windows. And then when we found out he was shooting with hollow tips that exploded on impact, I felt a little safer.


In front of those windows.


It was weird. I remember seeing people jump out of their cars and run to the gas pump to pump their gas and then duck and crawl back to the driver's seat. But still, I was a kid. It felt almost like a weird role playing video game. It felt like kind of something exciting to happen in our town that was, for the most part, pretty quiet. It didn't feel real until it was real. Until my best friend was gone. And the year that followed was bookended by a stabbing murder right in front of our high school. I was there. I saw it. Was I? That's the thing. That year. My 16th year of life, 2004 to 2005. It feels like so much happened in that one year. I lost a friend. I saw a murder. I felt the thrill of being part of a state finalist basketball team. I felt like a local celebrity for that year, the center of attention, finally one of the cool kids. And I felt the pain of never being quite good enough, quite masculine enough. The fear of being an outcast, that push to have sex, and the confusion of trying to act like a grown up while I was still in this 125 pound, five foot six body.


That year changed my life. I tell myself a story that it defined me, that it made me who I am. I think about that year almost every single day. 20 years later, I still live in that year. And now I'm trying to figure out, why did it mean so much to me? Why did I think that it shaped me? Why can't I let it go? I tell other people about that year and about losing Alicia and the murder and the basketball and the peer pressure, and I talk about it so much, I feel like I can't even be certain anymore what happened that year. And so to find out, I'm going back to talk to some of the people who were there, who lived it as I lived it, to try to understand them and to try to understand what happened to us that year, to understand why I was caught so flat footed when tragedy struck. I think you got to understand the high school that I went to, it couldn't have seemed more perfect from the outside, looking in. It was like that school in Friday Night Lights, but it wasn't always like that.


And to understand what it was like before I got there, I got to bring in the woman who built it, dr. Carol Goodman, our principal. Here she is to tell you a little bit about Blake High School before it was, quote, unquote, perfect.


What kind of community was Blake opening up into? What were you walking into there?


Montgomery county is a very diverse community. The thing about Blake that was unique, though, was we were part of the Northeast Consortium, which was a new concept where students would have a choice between three schools. It was supposed to be four schools. One school opted out. I still hold it against them, but I won't go there. Now, what school was that? It was a school where it was about race. They didn't want their kids to go to school with those kids. Yeah, it was what it came down to.


Oh, man.


Come on.


So we were opening with a signature program in Fine Arts and Humanities. I had a planning year to work on hiring and working with the community and picking the know school name. And that was a whole process. And I'm still very proud that Blake is the only high school in Montgomery County name for an African American after all these years.


And Blake was like a humanities and arts school. I mean, tons, including myself, of writers, journalists, musicians, dancers have come through that school.


Little did we know, however, that a large percentage of kids who chose Blake in the early years had no interest in the arts at all. They were kids who were pulled in by someone at their previous school and said, choose another school. So we had a large number of 17 year old, 9th grade repeaters, a large number of criminals. That first year, I had over 50 kids with ankle bracelets.


Oh, shit.


That first year was horrible. We had a 19.5% suspension rate with 725 kids. By the time you got to Blake, our suspension rate was probably 2.5, maybe. So those early years, we were really warriors to change the tone, to set the climate, to set expectations, and to just tame these kids.


The Blake Dr. Goodman is describing, there is one I don't even recognize. By the time I got there, she had transformed our school into, like, the model public school in our county. I transferred into Blake after a year at one of those Catholic schools where you got to wear a uniform in DC. Alicia was the one who convinced me and my family to make that move to Blake. And when I got there, I saw everything she said about the school to be true. The newspaper was, like, the best in the country. The art programs were a one. Their dance program was always being featured in The Washington Post, the Band. The sports programs were on the rise in the school. It just felt safe and warm. People kind of liked each other. It seemed like even the kids that didn't hang out with each other, there was a rapport there between them, but there was certainly still this delineation between the popular kids and the unpopular kids, the cool kids and the weirdos. It still had that tension you're going to get at any high school. That feeling, that interruption was a moment away, but you didn't know what the moment was going to be.


And in a school full of talented artists and dancers, alicia stood out. She was 15 years old, and she could make magic in any medium. Sometimes she could do something so simple, like she would just take my hand in class sometimes and doodle a long, twisted rose bush while listening and taking notes with her other hand. And it would be so elaborate and soulful. I'd avoid washing my hand for the rest of the day. I mean, I can go on and on about Alicia, but I'm biased. I loved Alicia. I love Alicia. But here's someone who looked at Alicia more like competition back then. Lale Mazani, who you're about to meet, was another crazy talent who came out of our school. Now she's an Emmy nominated costume designer in New York, working on movies like Hustlers and TV shows like The Blacklist. And even Lale back then, as a little bit of a prodigy herself, was intimidated by Alicia's talent.


I really got to know Alicia more the next year when both of our focuses, we thought at the time, were fine art. We both had Mrs. Michaels as an art teacher, so Alicia was the one in class that was really good, embarrassingly good. You didn't want to draw or paint or do anything next to her. And it was a weird experience for me because I always knew I was advanced in that area, and people always complimented my art and everything, but it was hard for me not being the best in the class anymore. There was a bit of jealousy. It was like, Why can't I be as good as her? And it wasn't even about the quality of the work. So it wasn't just like, oh, why can't I draw it like that. She was so creative. Why didn't I think to draw what she's drawing? At a certain point, she would come to me to ask my opinion on things, and that's when I felt very accepted. Not like she wasn't accepting, but you know what I mean? It's like, oh, the girl that I'm jealous of is coming to me asking my opinion.


Alicia wasn't just an artist, she was a performer. She was one of the lead dancers on our Palms team, and we were the art school. Anything that had to do with dance was a big deal. Fall friday nights were football nights at Blake, but halftime was the Palms show. The night of Alicia's accident was a Friday. And so, thinking back, I'm confused why Alicia wasn't dancing that night. I asked Dr. Goodman what she remembers.


That was a Friday night that normally would have been a football Friday night, but it was Yom Kippur. So the game was played on Thursday night, and Friday night, kids were off. Alicia would have been at the football game as a Palm. So she and this young man, they went to a movie, and we're going out for ice cream, and she had a curfew. And so I was at synagogue on Friday night, and then Saturday my family goes, and the phone rang, and I thought, who is calling me on how you know, disrespectful. And first, it was from one of the secretaries at Blake who called me to tell me what she had just heard. And then my phone was ringing nonstop and just trying to piece together what next steps would be and everything else. I said to my husband, I want to go by the site. And I went. And Mike Kelly, who was the deputy fire chief for the Sandy Spring Fire Department, and he was a Blake parent. Mike was there, and the car had been towed by then, but Mike, God bless him, he was there with a trash can picking up debris.


He picked up Alicia's flip flop. He said, I don't want a child to see that his daughter was a Palm as well. There was a rusted beer can that he took because he said this had nothing to do with this accident. And he went through to make sure because he said, I know kids are going to come to this spot, and we've got to prevent them from coming to the spot because it's so dangerous. Which is why we set up a place on Blake's campus where kids could god, I'm getting teary. Where kids could come and gather and mourn. And I didn't know know. She was a sweet face in the hall. She wasn't a kid who I really had the opportunity to know, which always bothered me. But you have 1802,000 kids. You know so many, but you don't always know. I feel like I know her so much better after she died than I.


She was an introvert.


Yeah, well but through her art. Her art was just so amazing. But the other piece was the driver was in critical condition in Baltimore in the shock trauma, and my husband and I went to Baltimore, and I saw him there. He remembered nothing of it. And part of the difficulty, too, I had to wear a couple different hats because his privacy and kids were angry at him. And I talked to his parents about would it make more sense for him to go to another school? He was a distinctive looking kid. Everybody knew who he was. You know why?




And no, they wanted him to return, and he didn't return for a long time. He was in bad shape from the accident on many levels. We made sure he had friends around him, and we had all kinds of safety nets that just for his own. It wasn't as simple as everyone mourning the horrible loss of a student. We had the pain and suffering of another student to deal with, so it was a lot more complicated. I'd never been through anything like that before, and I was an assistant principal at McGruder, and we lost an inordinate number of kids. It was, I guess, those back roads, and a lot of them were drinking and driving, and the school community was very focused on that. So, yeah, I had dealt with it before, but often said that a principal's worst nightmare is that phone call in the middle of the night that you've lost a student.


The only thing I loved more than calling Alicia's house phone back to back to back to back at dinner time was popping up on the betting courts. In real life, I had known Lulu and Arturo, Alicia's parents, basically since I was born, and they treated me like family. Lulu is an author and illustrator of children's books and an extremely prolific one. And back then, I thought it was so cool to see her and Alicia's art all over the walls in their own house. And then there was the Puerto Rican food Lulu would make. There was a pet bunny in the home studio. They felt like the Latin version of our family. And those feelings, they all just rush back in when I stepped foot in their house again.


For this interview, it has been the home of many joyful moments and many difficult moments of love and grief and healing. It has been the home where the birth of new wisdom began.


What does that mean for us?


Cavemen well, we're going to dive into the time where the family of four became a family of three living on Earth and one departing Earth. And when such a tight family unit lost one member, it was a shattering moment, because it just takes a lot of time in order to learn to leave. With the physical absence of such a joyful member of the family, I was.


Actually looking for a word to describe how I feel every time I walk into this house. What I know when I walk into this house is at least one person will hug me. There will be light, and I mean, if not daylight, if it's nighttime, there will be light, which sounds probably like a basic element, but is a really distinctive element, I would say, of your house. There will be artwork everywhere. There will be smells that are good food, I don't know, candles, but I'm talking about even after Alicia was gone as a 1716 year old, when I came in here, it still felt prosperous.


I can remember seeing teachers and everyone breaking down, and at the same time, I can see the bond that was created with the students through that tough times. You guys kind of just jailed together and held each other up during that time. And I knew I was in a special place. At least I felt like I was in a very special place.


I remember even when Alicia died, I was a kid. I was sad. My sister reminded me of this. I one time used my grieving as a way to get out of something with my parents. I didn't know a responsible way to grieve.


And then there's all these other things.


That feel so important, like your crush at that age, your high school relationship, your test coming up, all these other things that are pulling at your attention as a result. I didn't really know what I was going through with having lost someone. And my friends definitely didn't know. I mean, they knew at first. They were like, Chad's crying. That's weird. We should support him. But like I said, once basketball season got up and going, it just all fell to the background for my friends, and I don't think they gave it a second thought. And my friends who didn't go to Blake, I think they barely even knew. To be honest.


Kids don't know what other kids are.


Going through at all, because they're going through it by themselves, and they might be going through it with their parents.


And kids go through way more than that. On September 23, 2005, a fight broke out in the Blake parking lot between two girls from two other schools nearby. I was there with a few of my closest boys from around the county. And to be honest, we were used to fights breaking out at the games. That's why so many of us would show up together. But this one turned worse. It started off like every other fight people yelling, people pushing. And then in a second, in a blur boom. One of the girls pulled a knife and stabbed another one. The victim was dead shortly thereafter. But what stays with me from that moment is how quickly me and my friends moved on. We had just witnessed a murder, and in hours, it was just a story to tell. It was like the third or fourth most interesting thing to us from the game that night. I don't even think I told my parents when I got home something crazy like that. But as years have passed, I've noticed how the anxiety from that moment is still on me. It's still in me. I went to an Eagles Vikings game recently in Philly.


Just anywhere that there's crowds like that. As I feel the people shuffling toward an entrance together, I'm aware of who's got a beer in their hand, whose voice is too loud. I'm always checking over my shoulder, scanning, is something going to break out? Do I need to run? Because of that day? That day that left someone a child? Dead. That memory is a low always under the surface for me. But I never knew much about what actually happened that day. There were so many rumors flying around. The story was one girl had slept with another girl's boyfriend, and that girl hit her with a baseball bat, and then these girls ran her over with a minivan. Like, that was the story. So much to the point where I started telling that story, I have this visual of a baseball bat hitting a girl in the head and then a van driving over them, speeding out of the lot. I can see that moment so perfectly in my head, and at the same time, something makes me question it. Did I really see it? Was I really there? What really happened? But I never knew the facts about that day.


I didn't know the girls, and I didn't know what led up to that terrible situation. But talking to my friend Isaac, who's a lifelong friend, isaac makes me wonder if I misremembered the whole thing and especially how it affected us for a long time.


There were moments in these games where you seen people who just brought negative energy, who brought just knuckleheaded attitude to a game, and you never end up knowing that you may be the outcome of something like that because you're around motherfuckers who just are immature. You know the types.


Let's be honest, there's like a simmering anger underneath it.


Yeah, these cats just come out here, just want to pretend to be super thugs or want to be gangsters around the way, or may have legit backgrounds, but it's just surreal, and especially when it's at such a young age and you couldn't even cope with the reality of what that moment was until years later.


Maybe when I tell this story, and.


I'm going to just be super honest because it's you.


When I tell this story to white people, I think when they hear the story, they're hearing this incident, this murder, as if it is an isolated incident that lives on its own in a bubble. But that's just like the sprout of a bunch of roots that are even as black kids in the suburbs, in a well to do suburb, upper middle class, middle class area, that tension of simmering violence is all over the place. As you move around as a teenager at the movie theater, at the house party, at Illusions, at Illusions, at the teen club, you're walking around, and I think, now in my life, I've been told I have a very serious facade. I've been told you seem a little bit brooding sometimes. And I think that it's a weird experience to live in a county that you can see the wealth, especially when you go in like Alni Bethesda, Chevy Chase. You see how white people are living. Like you can literally see the wealth, but at the same time, you're a black teenager. You go to a house party, and.


You realize you're having a good time.


But you're also like somebody, this might.


Be their last night here. You know what I mean?


It makes me, like, clenched.


Do you know what I'm saying?


For sure.


As far as the impact on me, there was a lot that was different between what happened to those girls and what happened to Alicia. I mean, not to diminish what happened in that situation at all, but those girls were strangers to me. And even today, I don't know one of their names because it's been protected by the legal system, but they went to a different school on the other side of the county. Even still having seen what happened there, I could live in this distance from the tragedy. Alicia was my best friend, and I'm now willing to admit, as an adult, I wanted her to be more than that. And her parents were on the same page as me.


As I've said to you way back when, I always thought that you would be a good match for our daughter.


That's not to be okay.


There's no greater compliment than a father saying, you are the person I would like my daughter to be with. And thereafter, I've very fondly seen you evolve professionally as a person. And when I made that comment that I made on the email, I really meant it. If I were to have a child, a male child, I would certainly like you to be that child. So that just gives you an idea of the qualities that I appreciate in you that would lead me to want you to be part of our family. I always kept insisting well, I should say insisting I would ask. It's like, why don't you date chat?




That came up quite a number of times.


And what was the answer?


And the answer was, we are very good friends.


Let's keep it that way.


Let's not go into her choice of boyfriend.


She said it could get complicated, and I want to keep him as a very good friend.


So one of the first football games that we went to after you transferred to Blake, I was just walking, I think, to get popcorn or something, and I heard somebody say, hi, Mrs. Sanders. It's me, Alicia. And she just had the biggest smile on her face. And I just will never forget that snapshot, because it was just so adorable and sweet and outgoing, because a lot of times, teenagers, they try to ignore adults. And I just thought it was so special. And she had been one of the people really encouraging you to go to Blake. I'm sure you remember.




And she said, oh, Chad, I hope you come to Blake. If you come to Blake, I'll love you for life.


And she kept her promise. She loved me for the rest of her life, which turned out to be only about another year. Long after that, I was different. I became me. There was Chad before Alicia died. There was Chad after that morning. When I found out Alicia was gone, I went outside and I took a long walk around my neighborhood. Remember that being the first time I just left the house without even saying bye to my parents. I was confused more than I was sad, more than I was angry. I think I was just confused. It was like the Rubik's Cube was broken. It's like a sentence that ended in an awkward place with no punctuation, no special effects, no big moment, no big thrilling goodbye. I couldn't even remember what the last conversation was with my friend. It was just quiet. And as a teenage boy, I could feel myself in that moment start to change. I wasn't innocent. I didn't feel cute anymore. I felt jaded. I started going inward. I started to watch life happen more. I suddenly knew death. There's no other way around it. I knew death. It just walks in whenever and wherever it feels, whether or not the door is open, no warning, it's just here.


That made me afraid. It still makes me afraid. But what I tried to project was toughness, of course, confidence. I got more sharp, I got a little more cutting with friends, more sarcastic, more witty. I was nimble. I became agile, like a ninja. If you tried to give me too much earnestness, if you tried to give me too much emotion, too much love, I would dart around and poke at it and get out of the way. I started to become sort of an emotional matador. Like, I wanted that closeness that I had with Alicia. I wanted it so badly. So I found some ways to draw people in with humor, and by listening, by seeing people, by seeming interested, by being interested. But I was always scared I would lose someone again. I would have to face death like that again. It would have been different if it had hurt. I could have done that again. But that big empty, that feels worse than hurting. And so I found ways to push people away. I still find ways to push people away 20 years later, still an emotional matador. And I don't want to be that anymore.


I want to be able to feel love without fear. I want to be able to feel closeness without constantly counting down the moments until that feeling is going to go away. And I think the only way I'm going to be able to do that is to actually tell the story of that year. Not the story I've made up, not the story I believe in my head, but through the people who were there and the moments that happened. I need to go back to that year so I can get out of that year. And so for the rest of this series, that's what we're going to do. Channel.