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The Boy with a Lighter
andrew harris 10 contributing writer
December 15, 2009

A boy picked up a cigarette from the frosted dirt path and took a lighter out from his pocket. But he was the nicest kid. With one fluid motion, he lit the tip and inhaled before returning to the New Year’s party. This boy was one of my best friends in middle school. But like most at Deerfield, I lost touch with many of my friends over four years, and the boy with the lighter I only saw occasionally at parties on vacations.

After the party, some parents said to stay away from that kid, “He’s headed in a bad direction.” Why do they say that? I trusted them and I was obedient, but can they put trust in me? I’m not “headed in a bad direction”—I can make good decisions. When someone falls away, do we chase after to catch them, or watch as they drift off? Do we assert some sort of conceived superiority by disassociation?

For many of us, Deerfield is a tradition; for others, the logical step before college; but for many of us, Deerfield is an opportunity we wouldn’t have pictured even a few years before arriving on campus. And since we arrived, how many of us stayed in touch with those we left behind and how many of us became too isolated by the “Deerfield Bubble” to look back? To see our roots? Or even or understand a new situation without an air of superiority?

It wasn’t until recently, when reading a group invitation on Facebook, that I became suddenly aware of the town I had left. A Google search turned up headlines like “Four Teens Arrested in Murder of Mont Vernon Woman.” Two of the four were from my town, Class of 2010; one was the boy with the lighter.

I drove home to console my friends and family, but they were all away. I was lost in the center of town surrounded by people I didn’t know.

There were two other boys, who drove the car to the Mont Vernon woman’s house at four in the morning. They were the ones with the machete and the knife. They murdered her and almost killed her daughter. The other two who never dealt a blow, the boy with the lighter and another, are only accused of robbery.

The town’s so small, newspapers only covered the one story—I wish I could read paper copies. When the stories are published online, everyone’s comments are made public, and I’m afraid to read them. But the ignorant, hateful, and often threatening comments are taken down or “censored” moments after they are posted. YouTube has even disabled commenting on a number of videos where the boy with the lighter is singing in coffee houses. I imagine that he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and didn’t know what would happen. He must have been scared, waiting in the basement with cold feet on the cement when the woman died.

“Four Facing Charges in Murder Waive Right to Hearings.” There will no longer be a trial for probable cause while he waits in jail on a bail equal to the cost of twelve years at boarding school. What should I have done? There were no signs; he smiled except when he didn’t, for the same reasons as everyone else. Who is to blame? Those of us who lost touch? Those of us who obeyed when others said to stay away? Life is a series of our small choices. The next time you’re in a foreign place, choose to participate and to understand. The next time you think of a childhood friend, wonder where he or she is; wonder where in your life’s series of choices you let your friend go.