I was in a classroom administering an entrance exam when word began to spread that Linden Quintal, a 2014 Damien graduate, died in car crash early Saturday morning. Once I heard, I began the frantic process of trying to confirm the information while hoping it wasn’t true. Sadly, tragically, it was. Linden was 18-years-old.
I taught and coached Linden during the last school year and baseball season. I won’t try to pretend that I knew him terribly well. I believe I knew pieces of him, like many of the young men – and now women – who have entered and exited my classroom, I know what they’ve allowed me to see. To honor Linden, I would like to try for two things: 1) to explain why I believe he was a fine Damien man, and 2) to share my favorite memories of him.
Linden was the self-proclaimed Selfie King. He took a lot of selfies. To follow his Instagram feed was to be hit at least once a day with an image like this one: maybe in a bathroom or locker room, possibly a Hollister shirt, probably the gold chain, but always, always, always that infectious smile. Like so many Damien athletes, his participation wasn’t limited to a single sport. He played baseball and basketball among others. He got along well with his classmates, and like the very best of Damien men, he passed out sick burns like dimes and also managed to take his fair share, nodding and laughing through them with that smile of his.
…that time I found out he had a great sense of humor. There were 10 minutes left in a class period and some of his classmates were writing his name on the board and making a few jokes. I figured I would join them. I drew the Michael Jordan silhouette – but with a faux-hawk and chicken feet instead of sneakers (they called him a chicken for reasons I still don’t completely understand). When he saw it, he said “Oh, wow, Mister…” and then asked if he could take a picture of it.
…that time I learned he could dance. We were on the grassy area between the 200 and 300 building playing telephone charades. It’s an activity I use to illustrate the themes of personal bias, impressionism, and miscommunication. Basically, the class is broken up into teams and stand in files. I tell the first person in each line to act out a scene and the team closest to the original answer wins. The prompt was a guy taking a shower and dancing like Michael Jackson. Well, Linden was in the middle of the line and the actions had been watered down pretty badly by the time it got to him. So, he just started dancing. But with swiveling hips and running his hands all over his body, from his head, across his chest, down his thighs. I stood there stunned. He must have thought the prompt was stripper.
…that time he stole his first base in a game. When the season began, his leads and jumps from first base were shaky. He worked incredibly hard at improving his reads. I gave the steal sign from third base and watch him take off. He was what I would call a “hard runner.” He was fast, but it looked like hard work. He motored toward second base, then when he was almost at the bag – the catcher did not make a throw – he inexplicably half-slid/half-leg dropped on second base. “What the hell was that?” I asked him when the inning was over. “The second baseman used scare tactics,” he said. “What?” I said. “He faked like he was catching the ball,” he said. “Scare tactics” became a running joke between him and me. Whenever he did something incorrectly, he would just tell me “scare tactics,” not to dismiss me, but to say he knew he had messed up.
…that time he took a selfie in right field during in-and-out. It was late in our season and I felt our team was a little down. A few minutes before the team took the field for in-and-out, I dared Linden to take a selfie in right field. “For real?” he asked. “Yeah, Selfie King,” I said. “Just take your phone out with you. Once you throw the ball into second, coach is going to hit to left field again. That’s when you do it. Others on the team got behind him and cheered him on. “Okay,” he said. The team went out for in-and-out. He was too far away for us to see him do anything. When he got back in, he showed us:
The last time I saw Linden was just before the winter break. He and a few of his classmates had returned to visit the school. I said hello and did the usual Damien nonsense: called them all t(h)ick, and then in the low, exaggerated gravelly voice asked “Oh, did you want Mr. Limos to open the weight room for you guys?” “Yeah, can he?” Linden said. I laughed. I thought he was just playing along. He laughed too, then said. “No, but for real, though, can he?” I laughed even harder.
It feels wrong when something like this happens, when a life – a future – is cut down so early and quickly. It feels like an injustice, and it is. I hurt yesterday, but I hurt more for my students who were Linden’s friends. For some of them, it was their first experience with tragedy, and I suppose we will all find out tomorrow how our school will deal with a loss so close to home. Most of all, though I feel for Linden’s family. While there is nothing anyone can say or do to mitigate your pain, I hope you are all able to find a measure of comfort in understanding how deeply and truly Linden was loved by those who knew him.
I don’t know what Linden’s death means. I don’t know that it – or any tragedy – can ever mean anything outside of itself. But that’s not to say it can’t be meaningful. Maybe the best way we can honor Linden’s life is by appreciating ours a little more. We don’t have to go all carpe diem, we can start with baby steps: being quicker to show love and gratitude and slower to judge and criticize.
Thank you for your work in the classroom and on the field. Thanks for those random conversations and the resulting laughter. I will remember you always – wearing your smile, a seagull, and Nike Shox. Rest in peace.