In My Ohio

On the Murder of a Student

Darren C. Demaree
Last Saturday, a little after three in the morning somebody tried to start a fire in the chest cavity of Ste‘Vaun Jessie. They used a gun of course; the coward’s lightning, and they forced a small piece of lead into his beating heart, severing his life’s connection to this waking world and spilling the best part of him all over a car on N 9th Street.

Mr. Jessie, as I called him, was a student of mine. He was quiet, respectful, and very particular about his facial hair. He was twenty and a good-looking kid, so he always made sure he looked the part. He once wrote a paper for me about the art of picking up women, and the central thesis of it was that if you were honest with anyone about what it was that you wanted, they would have to respect that. There was some bravado to it of course, but he was smart enough to know that you didn’t need to rig the game if you knew how to play it the right way. Mr. Jessie played things the right way. He was confident, but he was gentle.

So, now that the fire has taken him, now that somebody shot up the car he was in, hoping with some evil hope to do exactly what happened, to steal the good blood from another person in pursuit of what I can never really be sure of, what do we do?

The stages of grief are pretty rudimentary, and pretty limited. I think every bent up corner of your soul rises, like a tide, and absolutely any part of you that is un-tethered is given the stage to react, sometimes all of them at once.

A week later, I am still pounding my desk when my mind drifts to Mr. Jessie, his slow walk and quick smile. He would take you seriously until you made the third of fourth joke, and he said he did this because he didn’t want to laugh until you started to laugh with him. He wanted things to be light and fun, but when he was in school he was there to work. He took two classes of mine, and even though they were essay-writing classes (he wasn’t crazy about writing multiple drafts of essays), he understood that if he could learn to write just a little bit better his grades would go up.

A week later, I am still tearing up when I think about the class we had together when no other students showed up. I think there were six students in the class, but he was the only one that came that day. I lectured briefly and he took notes because he had promised the other students that he would do it. I gave him some time to work independently on an essay that was due in a week, and then we just chatted for thirty minutes. He told me about his grandmother, how great she was to him, and how he would still get in trouble, but he didn’t like to make her too upset. She had taken care of him since his mother was murdered, and he owed her and he knew it. He died still owing me. He promised me he would graduate.

I have a lot more to say about guns, their rampant use, the easy access to them, how poorly they are regulated, and how useless they make our law enforcement appear on a daily basis, but I am too damn sad to make any coherent arguments about those things.

I once wrote a poem that included the lines “We are lost, that does not mean we are directionless”. Right now, I am directionless. I am spinning over this young man’s death. I taught him how to write a little bit better, but even if I turned him into George Saunders that bullet still would have cut through him the same way that it did. We made jokes about his preening and his over-confident nature with the ladies, but there is no way to flirt with death and not be taken to the ground by its incredible finishing nature.

Without the chasing, without caring about the capture and punishment (of course those things should absolutely happen) of the culprit or culprits of this absolute and horrific act, I am left to move forward only with the energy of Mr. Jessie. The window we were given with him was slammed too quickly not to break the glass, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still hear his voice through the vibrations he left behind.
*You can donate to help with the funeral services of Mr. Jessie right here.