Falling Leaves

I remember a day in the fall of 2001. I had just finished teaching my Honors 200 class at BYU and was walking north across campus. There was a crisp chill in the air; I noticed some leaves on the ground which hadn’t yet been sucked up by the grounds crew. Normally I would have been enjoying my favorite season, but my heart was heavy. I had stayed after class to talk to Andy about his paper. There were plenty of things wrong with it—it had grammatical errors, it was too short—but the essay itself had stuck with me. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the fact that Andy had obviously lived through a difficult childhood that I found so disconcerting. There was a surprise ending in his narrative that had penetrated me. Throughout the essay Andy referred to a friend who helped to distract him from his childhood troubles at home. I felt protective towards this innocent-looking freshman boy who tousled blond hair and averted eyes, and I was so glad to know that he had had at least one buddy with whom he could escape into the woods to play. Having a friend didn’t make the abuse he went through acceptable, but it somehow made the suffering bearable. At the end of the essay, Andy told that many years later he asked his mom what had ever become of his friend. As she slowly turned around and looked him in the eye, it became clear to him that the one friend he’d had existed only in his mind.

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