Global Lay-Correspondent Report on South Africa



Jeff Spahr-Summers, US


End of Innocence


In our last year of primary school, my best friend Jerald and I were elected Prefects. Jerald was Head Prefect and I was Assistant Head Prefect. Prefects were basically assistants to the teachers. Each Prefect was assigned a class, which they were responsible for in the teacherís absence. Jeraldís class was a class of our fellow primary seniors while my class was kindergarten students. We were expected to control and discipline our students between classes, anytime the teacher needed to be away, or during any general student gatherings in the great hall. We were in positions of authority and it suited us well. When not at school, Jerald and I spent numerous hours together on our plot or at his house in Pretoria North. I liked to go to his house because I had a crush on the girl who lived next door to him, he liked to come to my house because we had access to a pool. He would never go up on the ridge with me, but there were plenty of other things for us to do. Mostly, we swam in my landlordís swimming pool, which was really just a big in-ground water reserve tank. Painted blue like many pools, it was round and about 12 feet deep all around. Ever the gymnast, the pool wasnít enough on its own for me. I also placed a miniature trampoline at one edge in front of a raised platform that we could launch ourselves from. We would jump onto the trampoline, spin in the air or do flips and land in the pool. It was always a challenge to see how high we could jump from the trampoline, and what grand entertainment.

Jerald and I also went to the same high school when the time came, Hillview High School. We hadnít been in high school very long, when he began complaining about these excruciating headaches. The headaches wouldnít go away and I finally convinced him that he needed to see a doctor. The headaches were attributed to a brain tumor, within days he went into surgery and had it removed. I was terrified of this development and spent every day after school in the hospital with him. He recovered quickly, but because we both inherently knew that he would never be the same again, we toned down activities considerably. There were some kids at school who felt justified in teasing him about his shaved head once he was back, and I found myself defending him pretty aggressively, they didnít last long. So we pretended things were back to normal, and for a couple of weeks they were. One day as we were lining up outside a classroom, a teacher smacked him on his head with a cane because we were talking. He was back in the hospital the next day, never to leave, never to speak again. I knew he was dying. Again, day after day after school I was at the hospital with him. For a short time I knew he could at least hear us (his mother and me), but he wasted away rapidly, within two weeks he was totally paralyzed. One day his mother said I could not come to visit anymore, I was devastated. He died 2 days later. Jeraldís mother called my mother and she then broke the news to me. I cried for days.

All of our classmates went to Jeraldís funeral. I cried endlessly and also made the significant mistake of looking at him in his coffin, every since, when I think of him I see him in his coffin. To this day I will not attend an open casket funeral. When we arrived back at school from the funeral, our math teacher (in an uncommon act of kindness for which I was very grateful) immediately warned the entire class (all boys) that he would personally whip anyone who dared to tease anyone (meaning me) because they cried at their best friend's funeral. No one said a word. Nothing was ever the same again. I found it very difficult to be in the company of people who knew him. His brother Michael (who had often been with us) and I couldnít see each other without a huge black cloud hanging over us. The last time I saw him was on a bus in Pretoria North a few months later, I was extremely drunk and it was just incredibly awkward. When I think of Michael, I see him watching me through the back window of the bus as it pulled away after I stumbled off.


Jerald and Jeff 1973





Read The Poems of Jeff Spahr-Summers


Free Verse: Silence, uncontested marriage, razor blade, ripvan winkle, Riding blue, octopusís garden, next to me, Locked in the poetry room II, gwendolyn, No Reply, Peter Pan, Winging It, In the Kiaat Tree, inside the barrel









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