Boy I Once Knew : What a Teacher Learned from Her Student
by Elizabeth Stone
It's about Vincent, a former student I hadn't seen in 25 years, since he was 14, although we kept in touch by Christmas cards. One day a carton arrived at my door, and in it was a letter that begin, "Dear Elizabeth, You must be wondering why I left you my diaries in my will." Vincent had died of AIDS at 39 in San Francisco, and inside the carton were ten years' worth of his diaries. I read the diaries and wrote about the experience of getting to know Vincent through his diaries. In the end, I learned that there is a place we get to which is beyond mourning, and that in that realm, relationships with those we care for continue and evolve. -- Elizabeth Stone
Some English teachers come to fervently wish they had specialized in math or American government instead, for it is to the English teacher that students feel freer to write about their loves, disappointments, and home lives, replete with addictions, absentee parents, and all the varieties of family dysfunction imaginable. So it was with Stone when she became the surprised recipient of a box containing 10 years of diaries by Vincent, her student a quarter-century earlier. During the year that followed, she learned of Vincent's life in San Francisco's gay community, his loss of friends to the scourge of AIDS, and the events leading to his death. Her responses run the gamut of emotions from anger to tears of grief over the loss of the man she finally came to know. As she did, a subtle reversal of roles occurred, and the living teacher found she had much to learn from her departed student. A touching and heartfelt book that should stir plenty of non-gay as well as gay readers. Whitney Scott -- Copyright ©American Library Association.
When I first considered reading this book I said to myself "Oh, no - not another AIDS memoir!" having read at least a dozen and lived through the 80's and 90's in the San Francisco ground-zero of AIDS.
Elizabeth Stone's "A Boy I Once Knew" is something much more - a rare kind of memoir and memory game in one package. Here is a middle-aged New Jersey mother of two teenage sons in 2001 remembering a 14 yr. old student, Vincent, she briefly knew in Brooklyn 25 years earlier in the process of discovering him anew through his diaries as he grows into a 40 year old man about to die of AIDS in San Francisco in 1995. Ms. Stone ferries the reader through these dizzying time zones and locations with reflections on grief, discovery, death, illness and aging in her own family, relationships to her parents, children and husband as well as her role as teacher, mother and daughter. Reading this book is somewhat like reading a mystery where we know the beginning and the end but read to find out about the more nuanced matters in the middle. Two people become astoundingly revealed here: Vincent both through his own words and the author's recreation of him and the author through her dazzling insights into herself and her subject. -- A reader from San Francisco, CA