Jay was a normal kid. An absolutely, completely normal kid. I’m not sure why that happened… but I do know, the day we learned that Jay Martin was found strung up in a fucking oak tree in the park, the entire neighborhood wept. Jay made average grades, played trumpet in the band, and had average looks—absolutely nothing about him was special. Nothing really made him a target. He was just a genuinely nice kid.
I’m sick of the news talking about him like they all knew him as well as I, or anybody he actually knew, did. Nobody, and I mean nobody, knew Jay Arley Martin as well as I did.
I have memories of that mediocre kid that go as far back as when I was in the third grade. I had just recently moved into the town, and there I was, at lunch, with a completely vegan lunch packed up in a lunch box made out of organic materials. My parents were those kinds of people. I remember how the other kids used to make fun of me for how sheltered I seemed to be—called me things like bubble boy and cabbage sucker. This went on for about the first month that I was enrolled in that little elementary school.
Awhile after that, this kid with short, curly brown hair, blue eyes, light freckles, and braces came up to me at lunch. He was one of the first kids to be nice to me all year—but I was always a bit confused on why he decided to talk to me then rather than when I had first moved in. He was nine. I was eight and three quarters. Now, you probably expect me to become the best of friends with him right off the bat, no questions asked.
Jay Martin was known to be one of the meanest kids in the school, and the very first words he said to me happened to be, “Hey, cabbage patch kid!”
But, he did sit with me. He did make sure no one else picked on me other than him. I was all his victim, and no one else’s, and I let him protect me with an immense amount of resentment.
This went on until the last day of third, when Jay quietly sat closer to me at lunch than he usually did. He sat right across from me rather than at the corner of the table where he usually chose to stake out while he threw cliche insults in my direction.
I waited. And waited. He didn’t speak.
So I spoke up first, for once.
“You don’t seem so happy about being mean to me today,” I’d just mutter, hoping he wouldn’t flick a grape at me for speaking to him.
“In church, they told me it wasn’t okay to call kids names. I told my Sunday school teacher you were a weirdo and she told me that it wasn’t my fault your parents were freaks.”
“My parents are not freaks!”
“Listen. Just shut up. I’m not going to be mean to you anymore, okay?”
We exchanged phone numbers at the end of the day just in case his mom wanted to call my mom so we could go to the park or something. We figured we could try to be friends—a lion and a mouse, trying to get along.
In the middle of summer break that year, my mom handed me the phone a few minutes after she’d picked it up, telling me that some kid wanted to talk to me.
Undoubtedly, it was Jay. But he didn’t want to go to the park. He didn’t want to go anywhere but my house. Over the phone, tough guy Jay Martin filled me in on the details of all of the fights his parents had had over the past couple weeks, and filled me in on the very most devastating detail.
Neither of his parents wanted to take him after they divorced.
As a little soon to be fourth grader who had an incredibly loving mother, and an incredibly loving father before he had passed away during military service, I had absolutely no idea how horrible this must have felt to him. But I could imagine.
I quickly rushed my mom into the car, where, with his mom’s permission, we picked up Jay and brought him back home to stay with us for a few days while his parents sorted it all out. Deep down, I felt sorry for the kid. I realized that even though he’d picked on me all year, that was just tough love, and I was the closest thing to a friend that his kid had. It went both ways.
We became increasingly close over the years—we were pretty much subbing in for Jay’s almost completely absent family. His mother rarely wanted to see him. I came to love him like a brother through the years. Maybe something more romantic than brother. Something deeper. Maybe I fell in love with his light brown freckles and sparkling blue eyes.
I guess, now, considering all of this, I see how the police would’ve come up with the idea that his death was a suicide.
What I do not see, is how they could’ve possibly figured out that he could’ve been killed by someone else.
Maybe it was the organic hemp rope that led them on.
What I did not fall in love with was his habit of chasing after all of the girls. I mean, not all of them were even pretty. He was straight, but, I still would’ve been a better choice than them.
By god, he put up one hell of a fight for such a short dude.