Ugly bookends

The author laments the murders of two promising young students

The author is a retired community college English instructor.

Tony Morasca was an Italian-American kid with a winning smile and a quick wit, frozen in memory as I knew him in the fall of 1970, one of the students who crowded my classes at Feather River College during my first year of teaching. A few years later, he was found shot in the head down in Oakland, a casualty of the violence that was and is a leading cause of death among young men.

Marc Thompson turned up in one of the last classes I ever taught. It was also one of the best, mostly because Marc was in it. Students like him can make an otherwise listless room crackle with intellectual energy. He rarely missed a session, and the papers he wrote were well-expressed and intelligently argued, especially given the fact that it was a remedial writing class. He got an A. It was deserved.

I ran into Marc a few times in the years since then. We shared a love of poker, and found ourselves at the same table a couple of times in the Oroville casinos. It didn’t surprise me that he was a good poker player, employing the same quickness of mind at the tables as he had in my classroom. His intelligence would impress other teachers at Butte and then at Chico State as he continued his education. But Marc Thompson was killed early this fall, his body found in a burned car east of Oroville. His killer or killers may never be found. Tony Morasca’s murderers remain unknown. More than 40 percent of California homicides go unsolved each year.

These two deaths form ugly bookends to my teaching career, affronts to the work teachers do, nullifications of the hope that is at the heart of the enterprise. The men Marc and Tony might have become will never be known, the children they might have had never born, the good they might have done never accomplished.

So we utter the obsequies, tuck away the memories, and hope deaths like these are anomalous. But we are never entirely surprised by deaths like theirs. The U.S. homicide rate remains among the highest in the industrialized world.

And when all the hand-wringing is done, I’m left with the image of two laughing young men, endowed with abundant promise, gone. Just gone. I want to curse, but the entire lexicon of profanity is insufficient.