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This happened in the mid-80’s when I was in elementary school, grade six to be exact. I won’t use anyone’s names even though the story isn’t negative or critical of anyone. It is a bit graphic though and I’m still a bit embarrassed about the way I behaved at the end even if I was just acting like a goofy 11 year old caught up in school drama.
So, I was in the 6th grade at St.Thomas More Elementary School back when there were enough English Schools that you may not have known every other English kid your age living in Verdun. From what I can remember, it was late fall and there was a small gang of us who had started to hang around each other enough that we thought of ourselves as a little gang among other little gangs.
Again, this was 35 years ago and I can’t remember all the details. One piece that I’m a fairly clear of, but can’t completely see even if I close my eyes, is where our classroom was on the top floor of the building. There was a main stairway in the middle of the floor that all of the classes used. There was also a stairway that was at the end of the hall close to our classroom. This stairway was used at times, but for the most part students were not supposed to use it unless there was a real good excuse. If I remember correctly, one of the big attractions was that it was a bit of a shortcut to the school lunchroom. Looking back now, I have no idea why there was any big reason to want to get there before anyone else, but then again, who can remember much of what make us tick at that age?
It was lunchtime and as the hall filled with students pushing and screaming and punching and screaming some more, myself and two of the guys in our little gang made a dash for the back door leading to these other stairs.
Something else I remember about the layout was that unlike the main stairway that was covered in artwork and signs telling us to do this and that, this back one was bare and dark.
Getting through the door unnoticed was no problem with the teachers distracted by all the noise. We did a quick check to make sure weren’t noticed and then made for the staircase. Like I already said, there was this need to get down there before anyone else and this feeling to win the race was combined with our love for sliding down banisters.
Each floor was made up of two staircases that turned in the opposite direction. There were three floors to get down and so we would be taking six sets of rails in all. I can’t remember who went first down the first one, but in a few short seconds we had covered one set and had jumped off to get on the next one.
This part I remember vividly. I had turned to look somewhere else for a moment, maybe up to see if anyone had followed us, and when I looked back only one of my friends was still there, but he wasn’t getting on the next rail, he was running down the stairs screaming the other one’s name. I watched him going down and then looked straight down between the opening of the crossing staircases. There I saw my other friend sitting upright against the wall at the bottom. He was in shock and staring straight ahead.
I can’t say much about the details from here. In my memory, I next remember a teacher squatting next to him and trying to comfort him. From there, I feel like I remained at the top of the stairs and watched as he was attended to by paramedics, although I don’t think that I really stayed up there through all of that. I think that just comes from my memory of having it been retold. What I still think about in my own shock now is how he managed to cleanly fall between the narrow openings of the staircases all the way down to the bottom.
My friend was okay in the end. Again, from memory I remember that we were told he suffered a ruptured spleen and other injuries, and that he missed what must have been a couple of months of school. I also remember that we rallied around him, made him cards and other get well gifts and collected money to pay for a new sweater to replace the one that the paramedics had to cut when they attended to him.
I don’t know how this affected me as a kid. I don’t think it was too traumatic since we knew shortly afterwards that he was going to be okay. There was one incident not too long afterwards though that has stuck with me.
I mentioned at the beginning of this story that we had our little gangs at St. Thomas More. I know that there were rivalries among the gangs and that like most kids, we weren’t always nice to those who weren’t in our cliques.
It was an afternoon recess about a week after the fall and we were still in a state of breaking down that fall. I felt safe in my little group and also unified in our shared dislike of a kid in another group. I can’t remember how the conversation led to this other boy, but in the heat of our conversation I let it be known that I wished it was this other boy who had taken the fall between all those stairs.
There was a hush and I knew right away that I had crossed a line. No one shared my preference for this and one of our members even went to our rival and told him what I said.
Whatever followed makes me glad that we can’t recall our memories with perfect clarity. What I do remember was feeling shamed by the others in my gang. While I was still allowed to remain and while there was no real retribution for my mean sentiment, I was reprimanded by their distant behaviour towards me for the next few days.
So while I do remember the shame and regret for saying what I said, there is a part of me that
looks back at that time with a sense of gratitude for being surrounded by kids who had a sense
of kindness and balance for just how far to push a good rivalry.
Some of those kids are still friends of mine today. I kind of hope their memory of that time doesn’t include which kid said what I said.