Excluding familia, there is only a thing or two which I enjoy equal to or slightly more than books. I was a middle school student the first time I saw a skateboarder. We were stuck in traffic as we entered the San Antonio Zoo and from a distance I became fixated on a thin figure spinning and spinning around in a circle. The length of his hair hovered and spun like the flimsy fan petals of one of those multi-lighted circus toys when pressed at full speed. Later on that evening on our way back to my tia’s apartment, my dad stopped at K-Mart and bought me my first skateboard.
Two Fridays ago I received a voice mail from the mother of a former student, “Jesse this is Stacy Hernandez, Adrian Hernandez’s mom, I was trying to reach you to let you know that Adrian passed away last night. Please reach me.”) I first met Adrian in August of 2009; he had fallen behind at a school in Wyoming the previous school year, and wanting a fresh start his folks decided to move to Greeley and enroll him at Maplewood Middle School. Adrian was the first student I sat down and spoke with at our school’s orientation for incoming students. He caught my eye as he strolled somewhat aimlessly from one table station to the next. I recall our school’s head coach attempting to recruit him for athletics as his size and build resembled that of a quarterback or hardwood center. I made my way slowly to where the coach had him cornered and overheard Adrian mention how he would consider it, but by the insignia on his shirt, the frayed jeans and his worn sneakers; it was obvious (to the two of us) that Adrian’s athleticism would be spent elsewhere. I strategically interrupted the coach’s pitch and introduced myself to Adrian as his new principal.
Before any talk of classes or extra-curricular activities, I probed him on his preference of skateboards for as any true skater knows; the first question targets the types of boards we skate. And as it would be for the remainder of the school year, Adrian would give me the low down on each of his new skate-decks; its pop, weight and shape were forever his key ingredients. These are conversations we shared while on lunch duty or when crossing paths during my hallway sweeps. At least a couple of times a week I found him buying time with the secretaries until I showed up from a scheduled meeting or observation. Before entering my office, he had to prove that he was getting along fine in his classes. The deal was that he’d start the year in the seventh grade and if at the end of first semester his behavior and grades validated a move forward, Adrian would start the eighth grade after winter break.
It took all but a couple of days into second semester for Adrian to find his place among the eighth grade students. Because the skate culture is one of the rare lifestyles that do not discriminate against age, ethnicity, race, and or gender, the company Adrian kept already existed on day one. But the girls, the girls were a different story as one after another proposed that our counselor schedule his classes according to each of their own.
Before either of us had realized it, the end of the school year was fast on our heels. The Tuesday before the last day, Adrian and a couple of his buddies spent the day in my office watching skate videos and eating pizza. We talked about the evolution of skateboarding and where it was headed. Along with the boys, I had agreed to hit the various skateparks throughout our summer break. Adrian was ecstatic that the warm weather had arrived and the books would be put away for a few short months. A few weeks before the end of the year I realized why this young man had made an impression on me nine months earlier. In (those final days) looking at him as he emerged from the front door minutes after the day's final bell, I saw myself as I was so many years ago. He walked by and in what was close to a whisper he'd say, "I'll see you tomorrow Mr. T." For a few seconds he'd hesitate with the street before him, the finger tips of his right-hand pinching the nose of his skateboard as he looked in both directions for traffic before releasing it under the tutelage of his left foot. And off he went with one push after the next, the click and clack of the wheels rolling across the cracks of the sidewalk, and then came the pop of his board as he defied gravity and seemed to hover in the air for what seemed like eternity.
Adrian Hernandez would take his own life a couple of weeks later. I spent some time with his mother and father before their son's services. She had called a second time to let me know that Adrian had left a few things for me in a small box; it was stuff he had forgotten to give me while school was still in session. The box contained fourteen homies. Mom mentioned Adrian thought I might like to add them to my ever growing collection of homies displayed on my office shelves.
In keeping my word, I found my way to the skatepark last night. Some of Adrian's classmates were already there. I extended a handshake and then a hug to each of them, asked how they were getting by. Behind me the sun began to set beyond the twin peaks. Before me stood the opposing face of a quarter-pipe. Under the tutelage of my left foot I freed my board and softly let the wheels settle and off I went with one push after the next.
QEPD Adrian Hernandez (March 18, 1996 - June 4, 2010)