Fourth grade is a confusing time, an interesting time to introduce a child to death. Of course, this wasn't the first time I had heard of him, death had taken great-grandparents and other family members under his arm, but this was the first time his acquaintance had become so intimate. I don't remember the first time I met the boy with dark spiky hair. As I flip through the pages of my memory, he suddenly appears. He's by my side as we wander across the playground, unsure of where we belonged in our elementary school's hierarchy. Friendship between boys and girls was a new idea, one unfamiliar to girls who mastered double-dutch and boys who talked about Star Wars and Harry Potter on the playground. All I knew was that I liked being around the kind Puerto Rican boy with the sweet smile. When I was on crutches, the other kids teased me, but my loyal friend helped me carry my things. He was in my classes, and our friendship was no secret. I will never forget where I was when I heard. I remember hearing the words my mother said to me on that Saturday morning as she relayed the email she had received. They hung around me like arithmetic equations; sounded familiar but I just couldn't put them together in a coherent way. It was just a cold. That's all it was, a harmless cold. How was his mother supposed to know that he was allergic to the cold medicine she gave him? The allergic reaction was too much for his young heart to handle. Could you really die at ten years old? My teacher sent me to the counselor's office. It was just me and his best friend, two kids sitting there in the small room as we were asked to share how we felt about Ricky's death. I didn't know what to say, I didn't even know how I felt. I did not yet possess a vocabulary capable of conveying the confused and sober thoughts of my young and troubled heart. Suddenly I was introduced to the fragility of life, and the ground beneath my feet was replaced with thin ice. When would it break; submerging me under the frigid waters of death? Were we all just floating in an ocean of tears waiting for a wave to swallow us whole? There was a memorial in his honor, and I was shocked at the tear stained faces of kids who hadn't even known his name until he was dead. Where did this large group of mourners come from and where had they been when the counselor bombarded two kids with questions about grief? There were no tears in my eyes, my mind was still struggling to comprehend that he would never against sit next to me in class. I saw his Catholic mother with her blood-red rosary and tear stained eyes as she mourned her Ricardo at the memorial, surrounded by people who would never know the sting of watching their child slip through the veil of death. I don't even remember what we were supposed to write about, but I took my thoughts and watched them bleed on the paper. When the writing assignment was returned, my teacher squeezed me against her large body and told me about how my paper had made her cry. She let other teachers read it, and they had also cried. I have often thought about the boy with spiky hair and chocolate brown eyes. I have often thought about the time I learned about death's sting, and how I have continued to become more acquainted with it throughout my life. Fourth grade is an interesting time to introduce a child to death, an acquaintance who will always be near.

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