The Short Life of Bryan Douglas by Jytte Holst Bowers

In 1963 John Kennedy had been shot.   I  wasn’t  at the  scene,  and  I  was  half  an  hour  too  late  when  Bryan  Douglas  took  his  rifle  and  made  his  toe  pull the trigger.

I was the college nurse, and they   called  me  from  the  dean’s  office  to  say  I  had  to  hurry  up  to  Shepherd  Hall.   There had been an accident.

“What kind of an accident?”  I inquired.

“A shooting, a fellow shot himself.”

“Shot himself.   Shot himself.”   The  words  rang  in  my  ears  as  I  hurried  up  to  the  dormitory, where  I  was  met  by  the  sheriff  and  a  young  officer.   They were shaken; the younger man looked as if he was going to be sick.

I  was  escorted  up  to  room  204  on  the  second  floor,  Bryan  Douglas’s  room.  It  was  a  single  room with  bookshelves  on  all  four  walls  where  books,  records,  model  miniature  cars  and  sheets  of music  were  arranged  very  orderly.   The  only  thing  out  of  place  was  Bryan  Douglas,  ashen  colored, lying in a pool of blood, the rifle by his feet.

“There’s  nothing  we  can  do  here,”  I  told  the  police.   “I’ll go to the dean’s office.   He’ll decide what has to be done.”

So  many  shots  had  been  fired  in  America  in  a  short  span  of  time.   What  makes  young  men  take  their  own  lives  in  this  country  which  is  supposed  to  have  everything?

A  few  years  earlier,  when  Jim  and  I  were  head residents in a dormitory  at  Redlands  University  in  California, another  young  student   had  taken  his  life.   David, a student in our residence hall, intentionally drove his pickup over the ridge of one of the mountains in the canyon.

It was a few days before Mother’s Day.  Among his belongings we found   a gift for his mother.   We  also found  several  of  his  pencil  drawings,  which  had  become  increasingly  morbid.   David  was very  talented,  but  his  parents,  according  to  his  roommate,  had  told  him  that  being   an artist  would not place food on the table.  They wanted him to become a doctor.

We  didn’t  know  David  but  for  the  shy  fleeting  smile  he  sent  us  when  we  met  occasionally  in the  hallway.   He  never  caused  us  any problems;   there  were  enough  students  who  did.   We were more than happy with the quiet ones.

Ah, but that was also Bryan Douglas, wasn’t it?   I sat in the dean’s office, leafing through Bryan’s admission papers.

“No,  he  has  never  seen  me  in  the  nurse’s  office,”  I  said.   “Yes,  he  was  a  transfer  student coming  from  a  college  which  didn’t  challenge  him.  “Yes, he was an A student who didn’t participate in sports or in fraternities.”

“But,”  the  dean  interrupted,  “Bryan  had  just  returned  from  Fort  Lauderdale.   Some  of  the students  had  talked  him  into  joining  them  for  the  Spring  Break.   He should have been happy after frolicking on the beaches.”

“Where have you been?”  I thought.   “Don’t  you  know  that  you  can  go  to  Fort  Lauderdale,  drink yourself  into  euphoria,  return  home  with  a  hangover  and  a  painful  sunburn.  Meanwhile, the girl of your dreams is already on her way to her next conquest.”   Dean  Philips  had  a  degree  in  psychology;  he  didn’t  consider,  however,  that  the  trip  to  Florida had been Bryan’s last try to fit into a carefree, and at times careless, society.

What about David?   He didn’t fit in either.   He might have if his parents had encouraged his talents.  They only thought of the material poverty they would bring him.

“Bryan, I didn’t know you.  You never came to see me in my office,” I whispered to myself.  “I  should  have  known,  however,  to  look  up  students  I  didn’t  hear.   Students who walk quietly around in a search for meaning in life are easily lost in the corridors of institutions.”

Categories: Issue 1 - Fall 2011, Non-Fiction, Periodicals | Leave a comment

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