I visited relatives in Kentucky recently and while there I made a stop by the cemetery to pay respects to a student of mine who died in 2007. The accident that took his life just two weeks before his eighteenth birthday occurred while I was a co-teacher at one of the high schools in London, KY.
I don’t often frequent the graves of my students (five have died in the sixteen years that I’ve been teaching), but this one I make a point of going by whenever I’m in town. His story was part of the inspiration for Echo.
As a senior English co-teacher, I was tasked with working with students on revising writing assignments for their senior portfolios—a requirement for graduation in Kentucky. The senior portfolio was actually a culmination of student work throughout high school. Pieces started in ninth grade were revised for the next three years into final products that would be scored and deemed graduation ready.
This student had a scant few written pieces in his portfolio. One, however, was eerily evocative. It was a narrative piece about a party he had attended as a freshman in which he got drunk and made out with a twenty-one year old woman. The writing itself wasn’t masterful, but the idea of a fifteen-year-old boy being intimate with a grown woman was both disturbing and intriguing.
As I read and reread the piece, it was clear that the young man was just as responsible for the inappropriate relationship as the young woman. She may have allowed the unacceptable behavior (drinking, kissing, etc.), but from his writing I could tell that he actively pursued her. He found rides to meet her, convinced older cousins to buy beer, and made up stories to spend the night away from home to be with her.
His portfolio pieces were given to the school counselors and administrators and I don’t know if anything was done about them because shortly after I began working with this young man, he died in the car accident.
They tie into my story this way—when does a person become responsible for their own actions? At the age of adulthood or when they know the difference between right and wrong? And when will they be held accountable for those actions? Yes, the woman should be punished for allowing a minor to drink alcohol, but what if she didn’t know he was a minor? Is it still her fault? Should she still be held accountable for the deceitfulness of another?
These are questions that arise from reading Echo; and I don’t have any answers, just a belief that we can’t keep blaming others for mistakes that aren’t theirs. At some point, people have to become responsible or else we end up with a country full of citizens expecting others to take care of them while being held blameless for their improper deeds.
But wait, if the bank and foreclosure bailouts are any indication, we’re already there.