Sunday, October 05, 2008

A Bit Of A Shock

In my senior year at The Wheeler School, 1988-9, I met a freshman named Jay Paul.

He was diminutive in stature, socially awkward, and it is not an exaggeration to say he had no peer intellectually. He had been an academic overachiever from an early age, and continued so at Wheeler. His strong suit was math. I cannot remember, but I think he may have been studying calculus when he was in ninth grade. He participated in parliamentary debate at Wheeler, and distinguished himself not only for being a formidable and even ruthless debater, but for his political viewpoint that was very far out on the right wing. He wrote articles for school publications that pressed extreme political views and when arguing in person he could become highly agitated.

I played chess with Jay and invariably lost. He liked me: I was a good debater, even though I was a notoriously lazy student. We jousted on a number of issues, he wiped up the chess board with me, and we knew that once I graduated we would lose touch.

One day, the head of the upper school's english department, John Love, Ph.D. (who is now a headmaster at a very expensive private school in the Bronx), stood up at an assembly to award a few distinguished students with globes. I remember him joking as he called up Jay, "Of course, Jay's globe only turns to the right."

There were unkind jokes about him as well, whispered in the senior room. Jokes to the effect that one day he would quietly blow his top and start shooting at people from the roof of the building. People often say things like that about people who are introverted and/or vastly intelligent. Jay was both. He was also fiercely tidy, wore ties and blazers to school, and was hyper-organized. He was never physically bullied, but many students argued with him and he sometimes became disproportionately angry.

Apparently all of these characteristics got more intense as he got older.

Today, I learned that Jay Paul committed suicide on Friday afternoon in a rather spectacular manner. Apparently, he was fired from his job as a special education assistant at Lincoln High School. He left distraught, filled up his station wagon with containers of gasoline, and rammed straight through an entrance to the school. Students had already been dismissed, and his intent to harm children and co-workers was unsuccessful. He succeeded only in murdering himself, as his car caught fire and he was soon burned beyond recognition.

Jay was 34 years old, one of those people you meet sometimes who seem to be functioning fine, a bit eccentric, and from time to time you wonder if they might need help. You might even make the "shooting at pedestrians" joke about them, but only because you've never known anyone who actually did something like that.

Oh, Jay. I don't know what happened, and I am sorry you had to leave this way.

Ji Jang Bosal.
Ji Jang Bosal.
Ji Jang Bosal.

5 comments:

Pam said...

How sad, Alg. How sad that he was so disturbed and distraught that he took this way out.

Sadly, there are many Jays out there. I knew one once. As far as I know he is a functioning member of society.

I think today we are more apt to focus in on the Jays, early on, and try to steer them toward the help they might need.

It's a bit scary to think he might have killed more people than just himself.

It's also a bit disconcerting to know he was working with fragile kids.

Kelly said...

How very sad!

Ji Hyang said...

ji jang bosal

Andrea said...

Wow, I'd heard about this on the news the other night but they declined to name the victim. Susan Curran sent me your blog post. I'm really shocked. And yet... Even in high school, Jay's vast intelligence seemed to isolate him so acutely from everyone around him. I can only imagine that this gulf only grew as he got older, building to this shocking conclusion. I'm very sad to hear it. I wish things had turned out differently.

Darlene said...

Algernon,

So sorry to have had to pass this news on.

Ji Jang Bosal.