Some of you may know that I'm a drummer. I've been playing drums for over 39 years. I was first chair in the high school band in Grapeland, Texas, for four years straight, got a music scholarship to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, and then played drums, wrote music and sang in a progressive metal band called Loremaster.
And now I make sawdust for a living. I love my job, but that's not what this is about.
I volunteer to help with the drums & percussion at the local high school here in Alvarado, Texas. I'm a substitute teacher at the junior high, so I already know most of the kids I'm working with. That makes it easy to get them to do what I need them to do in order to get them ready for competition.
This year I worked most with the bass drums. The last few years I have been shocked by their performance so I decided I should stop being critical and actually do something about it. I took them under my wing from the first day of band three weeks before school started and, by the time they were preparing for their third or fourth football game, they were well on their way to greatness.
The bass drums played exceptionally well this year, but that's not what this is about either.
Since I was working at the high school so much this year I was around the rest of the drummers, and I helped with anything they needed. Most of them didn't need that much help, but I was there if they did. The tenor drummers were headed by a kid I've known since he was in 7th grade. He's the same age as my son. They played football together in junior high and have been in the band together for five years. This year, as juniors in high school, they were both working hard to get the band ready to compete and maybe go to the Area or even the State marching contest.
My son is first chair alto saxophone so he didn't interact with the other kid, Danny Lee, on any sort of regular basis. The band is large, with over 100 kids taking the field during half-time performances, and it's understandable when two particular kids attend this same class ever day but go weeks without the opportunity to even speak with one another. My son and Danny didn't really have the same friends, either, so their interaction was extremely limited.
Danny was very smart, probably on the upper end of the top ten percent of his class. His grades were good and his performances on the field at half-time were damn near flawless. He had some great friends, many of whom I still have contact with from when they were in junior high school. He also had a few enemies, not the least of which was the other tenor drummer, a freshman whose time in band had become a living Hell due to the ceaseless verbal abuse Danny inflicted upon him. And there were others who didn't like him for similar reasons. He bullied some of them, but he made everyone pay when he just didn't feel like showing up for rehearsals or performances.
None of this stuff -- good or bad -- was enough to convince Danny Lee not to hang himself last Friday morning. The band found out about it an hour before the football game that night. Area marching contest was the next day. The band marched surprisingly well during half-time, after an announcement over the P.A. about Danny and a moment of silence. Danny was supposed to play a solo at the beginning of the show so they left it out. They marched very well at the contest the next day, but not well enough to advance to State.
Many of the kids are pissed off at Danny Lee for once again inflicting his pain on them, making them suffer for his mistakes. Many of the kids never saw that side of him and they're pissed at the other kids who did. And all of the kids are saddened by this senseless, selfish act. He brought their momentum to a screeching halt, got all the attention. He also used a permanent solution to fix a temporary situation. Whatever he was depressed about was never this bad.
Danny had the face of an angel, and sometimes he had the personality to match. This was not his first attempt at suicide, though, and he chose to project his feelings of sadness and anger onto people with less power and those he saw as rivals, like the other tenor drummer who was catching up to Danny's skill level rapidly.
And now I'm sitting here in my office with the same mixed emotions felt by the kids at school. He was an ass and an angel, a bully and a friend, an idiot and a genius. And I'll always regret not seeing him smile one last time.