Just one short year ago, my daughter Jacy stood on a field of green grass in Norco, with 12 or 14 of her closest friends. Tears rolled down some of those faces that we had grown to know so well. These kids had all grown up together, and remained close, even through the fights and arguments that permeate a child's world from pre-kindergarten to high school. I always admired their friendship and sort of informally calling them "The Breakfast Club". I actually likened them to the group of friends from the movie called "St. Elmo's Fire," but since quite a few of the "Brat Pack" had played in another movie called "The Breakfast Club," the name sort of stuck with me. On this day, a year ago, they were all graduating from high school together. It was only fitting, since they had done everything else together. I can remember as clearly as if it were yesterday, coming home from work to hear their shouts of excitement saying, "Hey Joe, we passed the next level on Link II" or "Hey Joe, can I help put up the Christmas Lights?".
Ours was the Kool-Aid house, so they all hung out there. This gave us the opportunity to know them all and grow to love them. They were like adopted children. We had literally watched them grow from Pampers and Big Wheels to Mustang GTs and slammed Hondas. It was just magic that many of them had became friends in Tiny Tots, which was a pre-kindergarten program put on by the City of Corona, and just so happened to all get the same classes throughout their school years. They were all very competitive and very smart. Only two out of about 12 graduated outside of the Honors with Distinction program. Best friends, gathered here to receive their diplomas and a sincere send off into the real world. They were the "A" crowd and drove the Graduation Exercise crazy with their antics. Stacy Benderman sang the National Anthem before the ceremonies. Little Bryce who was so shy when Jacy first knew him at four years old, performed a somersault on the way up to receive his diploma, which brought the house down. He had grown to be the most popular kid at school
I cried with pride as my own daughter's name was called to receive her diploma. These kids had it all. I was proud of my admiration for these kids who had all grown to be fine young adults. When people would say that today's young people are worthless, irresponsible, and without morals I would have to strongly disagree. I often told folks, "I don't have a problem at all knowing these kids and their peers are going to running our world before long. There is very little chance that they will do a worse job than my generation did."
Today, my daughter once again stood on another field of green grass in Norco, with 12 or 14 of her closest friends. Tears rolled down their faces again. Those same faces we knew and loved. But the tears that stained their cheeks today, were not interspersed with giggling and bursts of pride. These tears did not come from happiness and relief. They were instead, driven by heartbreak and grief. One of their own was killed in a car accident on his way to the Colorado River last Friday night. He was on his way to spend a weekend doing one of the things he liked best, riding his Sea-Do. When Jacy got the call, she came downstairs into the kitchen where we were. She was sobbing, "Ryan's dead!". When someone you love is grief stricken you feel it with them. We had shielded these kids from all but the most necessary of hard lessons as they grew up. This was one they would learn themselves. How it feels to know that someone they care a great deal for will never be able to speak to them again. Never will be seen again. Will not grow up with them, calling and visiting off and on talking about their lives and new challenges.
Since most of The Breakfast Club had gone their own directions to colleges in different cities and states, Jacy and those who chose colleges in this county and lived at home, got on the phones or E-mailed them to call the gang back home again. They scarcely had them all rounded up when they got the word Sunday morning that another of their group was killed on a road about forty miles to the north of the road where Ryan lost his life. The same kind of accident. Driving way too fast, the car drifted to the shoulder, and flipped on the soft sand of the desert and sent the car rolling back onto the highway. Both had been killed instantly. Both were gone within 36 hours of each other. One on his way to weekend fun and the other returning from a weekend at the river.
Today many of their tight-knit family of close friends gathered at our house just like old times. Even though this was a very somber event, I couldn't help but look at all of them, and how they had grown into such fine examples of young men and women. I wondered, where the years had gone, as they changed into their best clothes, consolidated themselves into three cars, and solemnly drove off to an experience they will likely never forget. The Breakfast Club, assembled once again. There were not as many standing there as there had been just a short year ago at graduation. The ones that were left, walked single file past a casket and laid a single red rose on top of it. I know it is cliche to say it these days, but we felt our daughter's pain today, and the pain of the remaining members of The Breakfast Club. A pain that became more acute as their eyes focused on a casket adorned with flowers. I was not there but I'm sure the undeniable reality that their friend is not coming back, adhered to their thoughts as they stared at this sobering reality in the form of a shiny metal box.
Three days from now, they will do this all over again. More heartbreak and no less shocked that their beloved friends were not there to share yet another first experience with them. They had always gone through everything else together. They had always been there for each other throughout the years, and today was no different.
In memory of: Ryan Antoninni 1978-1998 & Lonell (LJ) Johns 1979-1998