The day Isaac died was the day I found the glove. It still surfaces in my dreams from time to time, hurtling me—a middle-aged man—back to the fourth grade.
It had snowed all that January morning in our Chicago suburb. And all morning, kids whispered in the halls, “We’re going to get out early. They can’t keep the roads clear.”
A gentle snow at first, melting quickly. Then sticking. Really sticking. By eleven o’clock, five or six inches. By early afternoon, we couldn’t concentrate on our anxious teachers, just the mountain of soft, white flakes cresting above the windowsills.
In the end we got out forty-five minutes early. Later, a group of parents wrote an acerbic letter and held a press conference. They asserted that, if school officials had sent us home at lunch, as the neighboring school districts did, “we would not be standing here with you today.”
I caught a glimpse of the boys–the ones who started it all–as I trudged home in my snow suit. A few blocks from school, at a small white church, a bulldozer had stacked two large piles of snow. Carter James, the biggest fourth grader, coaxed some kids into a game. They dropped their backpacks and leaped into the powdery mounds. I hustled along the sidewalk. It did not look like fun to get soaking wet wrestling larger boys. Plus, I was wearing sneakers.
At one point, according to eyewitnesses, Carter shouted, “Bury the smallest among us!” Someone else fetched a shovel from the church’s front steps.
I warmed my toes at home. My mother laid two chocolate-chip cookies on a plate. We heard the first sirens as I dunked my second cookie in milk. “Oh Lord,” she said. “I wonder what that could be.”
Our neighbor, Mr. Ferguson, rapped his knuckles on our front door. “There’s something happening at the church!”
Fire trucks and police cars filled the street. A few dozen people gathered, straining their heads. Nobody said a word. I watched two large men in heavy coats hunched over a small boy.
“I heard it’s Isaac Winthrop,” a woman whispered.
Isaac once had been my best friend. He was a gaunt, quiet boy. He had wavy, red hair, and freckles that scattered like a constellation of stars across his pale face. For years, we walked home from school each day. We played videogames on my ColecoVision—me chatting the whole time, Isaac silently whipping me at Buck Rogers and Donkey Kong. But in the third grade, when a few popular kids called me a nerd for hanging out with Isaac, I stopped talking to him. Isaac walked home alone from school after that.
An icy wind blistered my face as I scanned the jagged snow dunes looking for other boys. They were all gone by then or out of view. Then I saw it: a single red glove near the base. I don’t know why, but I darted across the street. I grabbed the soggy nylon and ran back to my mother. “This is Isaac’s. He’ll want it back.”
My mother said nothing, her face almost ghostly in the glare of emergency-vehicle lights. She pulled me close to her as the uniformed men carried the boy into an ambulance.
When we got home, my mother looked up the phone number for Isaac’s parents. She gave a much-too-long explanation about the glove to a young woman—perhaps an aunt or a neighbor. My mother promised to bring the glove to Isaac’s house the next day. The woman said that would be kind of her, and she asked my mother to pray. My mother, who was not a religious person, said she would, and that all four of us would pray for Isaac from our little house on Denton Street.
And that is what I did that night while clutching Isaac’s glove, wrapped in two wool blankets, with my mother’s curls brushing my face and her arms wrapped around mine. I thought of Isaac and wondered if he could have avoided the entire predicament had I remained his friend. If we’d been walking home together, would I have steered him away from the church?
And I considered what Isaac felt as he fought all that snow. I prayed that, the whole time, he never thought the worst, that he believed he’d emerge a living, breathing fourth grader—rattled, to be sure, but able to walk home on his own two feet and to sleep in his own bed, in the comfort of his own home.
David Kesmodel is a writer in suburban Chicago. He is a former journalist and works as a researcher for an investment firm. He is the author of the nonfiction book The Domain Game.