Thoughts on the Death of a Grade School Classmate

“Ya’ll, Tony Skalas is dead,” read the first text I noticed in a group message between two of my grade school friends and me. I haven’t seen Tony Skalas since grade school. We’re not even friends on Facebook. But he’s dead, and that in and of itself is shocking.

It’s not like we were friends. I would never have called us friends. But of all the dickheads I went to grade school with, I never saw Tony as a problem, which is more than can be said of 96 percent of them.

In fact, I actually respect Tony. I don’t think he always had it easy, but somehow he made it through. I respect that about him.

The most significant thing I remember about Tony is that we share the same birthday: Christmas Eve. You know, I think about him every year on my birthday. I always contemplate whether or not I should send him a “happy birthday” message on Facebook, but evidently, I don’t think I ever did.

Tony is the kind of guy I would tell you I knew in a past life, someone who I used to know and who I certainly still know of. But there’s something off about this situation. It feels like this story just doesn’t fit. He can’t be dead, right?

Apparently, he was in a band. And apparently, he was pretty talented. Maybe that’s the worst part: that the talented don’t always get the proper allotment of time to fully pursue and make the most of that talent. Maybe Tony felt different than I. Maybe he felt fulfilled. Maybe he didn’t. It’s easier to believe that he did, though that’s not necessarily the truth.

It was strange reading his name in the Post-Dispatch’s article on the car accident. “Head-on crash in St. Charles County kills one, seriously injures four,” the headline reads. And it seems kind of cold to realize he is the “kills one” the headline is referring to. I’ve written a story similar to this, and it didn’t feel cold. Mostly, it felt sad and a little lonely. I hope the writer of this article didn’t feel like Anthony T. Skalas was just a name tied to a body. I hope he saw Anthony T. Skalas as a real, once living person with dreams and goals and people who loved him and possibly people who didn’t. I hope the writer, at least for himself, could recognize the complexity of the person whose name he put in his article. Though I can’t say I blame the writer if he chose not to; news is tough to read, and possibly tougher to write.

Lastly, I keep thinking about his mom. I remember her fondly. She was around school a lot, the type of mom who was there for classroom parties and probably volunteered to read books to us when we were younger. She always said hi to me. She loved Tony a lot, as far as I could tell, and I can’t stop thinking about how she must be feeling. And I’m truly sorry for that.

Actually, I’m sorry for this whole thing. It seemed like Tony had quite the life in front of him. And it’s gone. Tony’s tragic and premature death is the kind of event that makes me stop and wonder what it’s all worth in the end. It’s the type of situation that makes you wonder if you’re living right and what you might do differently and if you even have the time to do that. I most certainly take time for granted. I always assume there will be more of it. And one day there won’t be. One day, like everyone else, my hourglass will run out. And then what?

And then what?