On Sept. 15, 2010, Brian Dugan was out for a routine run when he was struck by a car and killed. In an instant, a devoted wife was without a husband, and his two young boys were without a father. And as a member of our high school English department, his students were now without a teacher.
This is where I came in. I had taught at Kenmore West for years, where I’d gotten to know Brian’s kind heart, and most importantly, his incredible sense of humor that made even the stalest curmudgeons on staff crack a smile. But I was out on maternity leave when he died, and within a short time of hearing the grim news, I decided I would return early to take over his classes. “My” students had begun the school year in another colleague’s capable hands, and there they would stay.
On an eerily quiet Saturday morning I found myself in room 403, his room, to purge a good, long cry before 25 pairs of eyes sized me up. I figured I needed to get just organized enough so I could work the first few days. But as I hovered over his cluttered desk, I found myself frozen, transfixed on the most ordinary and unremarkable of objects. I gingerly picked up a meeting agenda he had scribbled on, staring at his handwriting and silly doodles. Suddenly, it was impossible to throw away. Realizing that only days before he had written on this meaningless piece of paper made it untouchable.
The same thing with the English essay rubrics and the handwritten football plays from the middle school team he coached.
I was drowning in indecision. So I called our friend, Carolyn, to come by, who became the voice of reason. Seriously? Do you really think his wife is going to want his list of literary terms? Before starting a “toss” pile, she held up the papers, hesitating to get my nod of approval. She was right.
But it wasn’t all worthy of the wastebasket. Amongst the scattered paper clips and thumbtacks was a bookmark Carolyn fondly remembered was a present from Pun, a foreign exchange student they’d both taught. Beside his keyboard was his son’s soccer certificate that never made it to the kitchen table. But what was flopped out in a screechy drawer in the left-hand file cabinet was certainly our most memorable find – a sweaty tank top, undoubtedly left over from when he would play early morning basketball. That insanely random piece of laundry was a microcosm of Brian Dugan: the most stand-up guy you’d ever meet, athletic, intelligent – but not exactly, uh, organized. And it was then that we were finally able to laugh.
The next chuckle was the toppling stack of health care receipts, from years and years ago, which he most surely promised that he’d submit “tomorrow.” We eventually graduated to allowing ourselves a few playful jabs when we found some sort of homemade Dungeons and Dragon-esque game he’d created, that to this day, no one can figure out.
As I pulled open the next drawer, I caught a glance of Carolyn and her black curls, still smiling, the longest I’d seen since we first heard the news. And I smiled, too; from far, far away, Brian had somehow finagled one last laugh.
More than two years later, we are trying to live as Brian would, each day finding as much as we can to laugh about. Join us in continuing his legacy at the second annual Brian Dugan 5K Run, 1 Mile Walk and Kids’ Fun Run on May 31 (www.briandugan5k.com).