The day I met Santiago the school principal brought him by the hand along with another little boy attached to her other hand. “These are my friends Jesse and Santiago” she said with a big smile, “these friends should stay separate if possible.” It was my first day as a preschool teacher and I had somehow survived my morning class. I was feeling proud of myself for making it through the morning and starting to feel confident about my afternoon class when she presented me with these two boys. Jesse, small and with a head full of hair, had that typical mischievous, You-will-never-forget-my-name look. Santiago, much taller compared to his friend, had a short haircut that made his head look a little too big, and was wearing “grown-up” cologne. Unlike Jesse, his big eyes looked sorry for whatever it was he had just done to deserve being brought in by the director herself.
It didn’t take long to see what the director meant: Although his friend was usually the instigator, Santi was a mischievous little boy, especially when joined with Jesse. He’d often get in trouble for playing rough, but he would make up for it with the charm only a 4-year-old boy can. He would innocently ‘gossip’ about his mom having a boyfriend, or tell me that he had 3 families when he meant that there were 3 more people in his family. His birthday was a few days after school started -one day before mine, to be exact- and he came to school telling me stories about the Transformers plates and cups he had at his party. As Halloween approached, a great topic of conversation for circle time would be Halloween costumes. Sure enough, Santi quickly informed me that he was going to be Bumblebee from the Transformers. I would ask them about their costumes every few days because it was a great way to get them talking, and so they would all have the chance to tell me about their costumes as their parents bought them. One of those days, Santi came to me very matter-of-factly and said, “I’m going to be Bumblebee for Halloween, but my mask broke.” “Oh no, why did it break?” I asked. And he simply said, “Oh, because my head is too big.” And he started laughing. I had to give him a big hug and start laughing with him, not only because it really was funny, but because he knew it was funny and had found an innocent way of making fun of himself.
Eventually Santi got moved to my morning class because he and Jesse were breaking havoc in my afternoon class and play fighting all day. A few weeks later, a friend of his family joined our class and Santi helped him feel welcome. That was, of course, until his friend would do something “bad” during class, at which point Santiago would be the first one at the door telling his mom on him! It was bad, but always so funny. The only way I got him to stop was telling him I was going to tell his mom that he was telling on his friend, lol.
Santi liked soccer and running around with other boys. He had a hard time writing his full name because it was SO darn long, and when he finally wrote it he was so proud of himself! When he knew he had done something really wrong he’d hide under the table and refuse to come out because he would get so embarrassed. Sometimes he’d cry out of nowhere if he felt overwhelmed or very upset. He’d always come in asking me to smell his cologne and would tell me that it was his dad’s. He loved helping others, and dancing, and always tried to make his friends feel better. Santi was such a sweet kid.
On October 6, I got a call from an ex-colleague telling me that Santi had been in a terrible car accident that claimed his life. Some idiot driving at twice the speed limit crashed the car he was in, splitting it in half, and the point of impact in the car was right where Santi was sitting. Some idiot who thought it was fun to speed and drive carelessly took the life of an innocent, energetic, sweet, beautiful little boy who had so much to look forward to in life. He had just turned 6 years old.
My dear, dear Santi, I hope that today you are having the greatest time playing, dancing, kicking a soccer ball. I hope they have the best Halloween costumes that don’t break because of a big head, and that you have friends who get you in trouble but that you have a great time with. Everyone who knew and loved you here already misses you so much, myself included, but I believe -I want to believe- you are in a much, much funner place. And I hope that, wherever you are, you don’t have to write your super long name anywhere.