On July 11, my high school classmate, Randy Wolf, dropped dead unexpectedly of a heart attack.
This is not about the shock of a 49-year-old man dying unexpectedly; we are born to die.
This is not about my own mortality; I feel my body’s anarchy everyday. My time may also be nigh.
This will not be a long laundry list of bittersweet memories, because after we were handed our high school diplomas at Millett Hall on the Oxford campus of Miami University that early June evening in 1983, I never laid eyes on Randy again.
In fact, it’s a wonder I got news of his death.
I am not on any social media platform.
My brother, Kenny, is my direct opposite in this arena.
He tries to make me feel inadequate about my by phone- and email-only accessibility, but I haven’t yet been served one reasonably sound argument why I should be checking in at Northside Tavern, posting sweaty-faced, duck-lipped selfies at concerts, taking food porn pictures of the Red Delicious apple I’m chomping while I’m writing this or making a fake, generalized pronouncement for all my online “friends” when what I mean is to tell one person to go to hell.
But I opened my email two days before Randy’s funeral to see a note posted on some online high school site I’d logged onto six years ago just prior to what would have been Greenhills High School’s 25-year reunion.
I didn’t go because that online “community” shamed me for jokingly cursing about a high school friend’s kids, further proof that online life is devoid of nuance, personality and humor unless it’s mean-spirited and at someone else’s expense.
And even though Randy and I had not seen one another since 1983, we spent plenty of random time together, tethered to one another as we were by the circumstances of the alphabet: Wilson comes before Wolf.
We sat next to one another during Ron Glass’s Western Cultures I and II classes; we stood in line together for our freshman, sophomore and junior year photographs; and were finally in color right beside one another in the yearbook for our senior year portraits.
Hell, we may have even been locker neighbors for four years.
I am not one of those Cincinnatians who gets off asking fellow partygoers what school they went to and when they say “Ohio State,” “Ohio University,” or “Miami University,” I say: “Noooo, what high school.”
That is so regressively Cincinnati.
The reason I drove to Wyoming to Randy’s funeral and gladly sat in the vestibule on an uncomfortable chair near a busy doorway and strained to hear any of the service on a tinny sound system is because when I was less than an hour into my freshman year at a high school I was bussed to along with a gaggle of other black kids from Forest Park and we may as well have been foreigners with passports, Randy was the first white kid who extended himself to me and who was warm and gracious and of good spirit.
We sat on hard seats that swiveled around in Mr. Glass’ Roman Colosseum-style lecture hall that first morning nervously trying to ignore our differences and figure out ways to break that black/white, girl/boy freshman ice.
I do not even know how we did but I am certain Randy spoke first, and he was immediately easy to like. On subsequent mornings while we waited for quizzes to be handed out or were passing in homework assignments, we always talked about what we liked outside of class and we realized we were both Bruce Springsteen fans.
On our integrated morning bus rides, the white bus driver alternated radio stations between WEBN and WBLZ, or whatever the “black station” was at the time.
It’s the only way I even knew who Springsteen was.
Randy and I decided we loved “Hungry Heart,” and he didn’t register any surprise that this big-haired black girl knew anything about Springsteen and I was not superficially trying to impress him.
In this way, Randy helped me be myself in those strange and uncontrollable Wonder Years when identity is so slippery, made even more so when you’re a black girl thrust into a mostly white environment and your musical tastes lean toward Rock and your clothes are thrift store prep.
Perhaps the most beautiful part about Randy back then was that he was the same toward me all the time.
In the hallway passing classes, in the cafeteria or in line for one of those regrettable yearbook photographs, he always acknowledged me and laughed and talked to me, even if he was with his gang of friends.
He never did forsake me.
Even as a teenager I could tell he’d been raised in a household with and by some good people because his manner, his way, his demeanor were always so sweet and calm and welcoming.
I cried at his funeral when his two oldest boys spoke about what an attentive, Duck Dynasty-watching dad he was and how they vowed to make him proud and man up to help their mother keep the household together.
While they spoke there was movement behind me.
I turned around to see their friends — gangly, hormonal, black and white teenaged boys — jockeying for position to better see their friends on the microphone talking about their dead father, and I cried harder because Randy had obviously passed on that same kindness and open-hearted friendliness to his children.
From where I sat I couldn’t see if any other classmates were there. I don’t know if I would’ve recognized them if they were, though I’m sure there were other Pioneers in attendance.
When I hit the sidewalk a handsome, dark-haired man my age stopped me and asked if I’d gone to Greenhills and I told him I had.
“I thought you looked familiar,” he said.
Right now Randy Wolf is the only classmate I can recall.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: [email protected]