Not In Vain

Bullying victim Bart Palosz with sister Beata, parents Anna and Franek, and grandmother Judy Jakubiec
Bullying victim Bart Palosz with sister Beata, parents Anna and Franek, and grandmother Judy Jakubiec

Bart Palosz was a kind, bright teen with a loving family and a life waiting to be lived. After years of bullying by fellow students and little action from a system that should have protected him, he ended his life. How did we let this happen?

Goodbye forever my good friends, goodbye, I regret nothing. Bart Palosz taps out these words on June 7, 2013, in the solitude of his Greenwich bedroom. He has just turned fifteen. He’s a quiet boy, gentle, sweet. But suicidal thinking has a logic all its own, and it persuades him that he is worthless. Despised. Why else would his schoolmates shove him into the thorn bushes? Why else would they seize his belongings and smash them on the ground? Why else would they tell him to go and kill himself? One imagines gentle Bart, there in his bedroom as season turns to season, wondering why on earth people dislike him so.

He had hoped his freshman year at Greenwich High School, now drawing to a close, would be different. He’d hoped a new start would banish from memory his excruciating years at Western Middle School. On his last day there, in a fitting climax, another boy slammed Bart headfirst into a locker, inflicting a bloody gash that required four stitches at Greenwich Hospital. “I know my mom tried to argue it with the school, and the school didn’t provide her with the [surveillance] tape,” Bart’s eighteen-year-old sister, Beata, tells us. “They said they couldn’t obtain it anymore, even though they said they’d just watched it.” And what, according to Western, did the tape reveal? Beata frowns. “They said it looked like an accident.”

Bart is tall, six-foot-three and counting, but pudgy and awkward too, with an odd, shambling gait and a Polish accent. Then there’s the acne. In the last year or two his skin has run riot, giving his enemies yet another target of ridicule. Now Bart’s taking long walks through his Byram neighborhood and across the Mill Street bridge to Port Chester, all the way to the GameStop on Boston Post Road. He is noticeably leaner. And medication has begun to restore his boyish complexion. Despite these self-improvements, the new Bart is still the old Bart. One morning Beata fixes him hot chocolate in her favorite travel mug and sends him off to catch the bus to Greenwich High. (She too attends GHS, but on this morning is reporting to an internship.) On the bus ride home, a boy, up to now neutral in the matter of Bart, grabs the mug and tosses it out the window. Beata, furious, marches up the street to confront him. “He’s like, ‘Bart’s a weirdo, so it’s OK.’ And he locks the door in my face.”

At lunch Bart sits alone, mostly—not in the de facto freshman section, but at an empty table among anonymous seniors. He eats with his headphones on, listening to Eminem, My Chemical Romance, Green Day, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Sometimes Beata spots him there. “I’d be like, ‘Come sit with us,’ and he’d say, ‘No it’s fine, I can sit here alone.’ That’s when I’d move my table and sit with him, with a bunch of my friends.” Why didn’t he sit with the freshman? “I think he was just scared. I don’t know. He felt like no one liked him there. I remember him telling me that once. He’s like, ‘I have no friends there, why am I going to sit there?’”
Where Bart is large and ungainly, Beata is statuesque and graceful, a cheerleader with a mane of bright blond hair hanging down her back. Plus, she’s a senior. She has all the aura of belonging that Bart lacks. From her position high in the social pecking order, she keeps watch over her little brother, the outsider. She’s his protector. But Bart does not make her job easy. It’s in his nature to accept the bullying passively, quietly—secretly if he can. “After he got his head bashed in at Western, my mom said, ‘OK, we’ll keep fighting this,’” Beata says. “But Bart’s like, ‘No, it’s fine, whatever.’ Sometimes I’d find him in bed, with the cover pulled over his head, crying. He wouldn’t tell me about what. Sometimes he’d lock himself in his room, or take like a three-hour bath, and I knew he was upset, I knew something had happened at school. That’s when me and my mom would try to ask him what happened, but most of the time he just wouldn’t talk about it.”

Alas, for bullying victims this is standard behavior. They are ashamed like battered spouses are sometimes ashamed; and they worry that “snitching” will only encourage a wider circle of kids to join in the ridicule. “It’s a terrible dilemma for them,” says Dewey Cornell, a clinical psychologist and an education professor at University of Virginia who has studied bullying extensively. “They can’t tolerate the situation and they can’t seek help. They’re trapped.”

Bart would never dream of fighting back. “That was his problem,” his friend Izzy Johnson, fourteen, says. “He was so nice that he refused to lift a finger. I’d say, ‘Why don’t gm-notinvain-3
you punch them in the face?’ He was like, ‘It’s immoral. It’s wrong to strike another person. They’re still human, you know.’” Izzy shakes his head at the memory. “I think kids considered it ‘OK’ to bully him. And Bart thought something was wrong with him because of that.”

But not even Bart wants to stifle every incident. In the fall of 2012, in freshman biology class, one kid among others smashed his brand new Droid cell phone. “He’d wanted that cell phone so badly,” Beata says. His parents, Anna and Franek, kept him at bay with a promise to buy it for him once he reached high school. Then, a few days after he got it, Bart carried the broken phone over to Beata in the Student Center. “I was like, ‘What did you do?’ I was mad at him. ‘You just got this phone! What did you do to it?’”
“I kinda dropped it.”

Now Beata saw. “I said, ‘Bart, you didn’t just drop it. This is a Droid. It doesn’t break that easily.’ And he—well—he named some names. One was the brother of one of my best friends. So I went up to him and said, ‘Do you think this OK? Do you think it’s OK to be smashing people’s phones?’ And he just sat at the table, laughing with his friends.”

Beata reported the incident to Bart’s guidance counselor. Then she went home and told her mother. Anna, whose frustration had crested with the locker incident at Western a few months earlier, worried constantly for Bart’s safety. She’d had several meetings at Western; counselors and administrators listened with the usual concern and took the usual notes, then apparently did nothing. The bullying continued unabated. Now Anna e-mailed Bart’s high school guidance counselor. The upshot, so far as is known? “No kids ever got in trouble,” Beata says. “I know for a fact, because that’s my friend’s brother. The phone was never replaced by anyone—not by the school, not by the kids, not by anyone. My parents had to buy my brother a whole new phone.”

Insult by insult, snub by snub, something in Bart is changing. It’s as if all the psychic damage that he has absorbed makes him strange to others, an exile in plain sight.

On this Friday night, as Bart sits at his laptop, his freshman year is almost over, but the thought of summer offers no relief. And so he writes, Goodbye forever my good friends, goodbye. Significantly, he posts the message not on Facebook—which both Beata and Anna would see—but on Google Plus. (Bart diligently spares his parents and sister his suicidal pain, writing at one point, “I have a life and a loving family.”) On Google Plus, the “good friends” are merely cyber-friends, scattered across the country and beyond. A girl in Arizona asks, “Why goodbye?” Bart responds, “I have chosen to go with 3 people’s advice and kill myself. I just wish it was faster.” Others chime in with supportive concern, but Bart is fixated on the dreadful “advice”: “This has been said every day for the past 10 years in school, and a little too late now, I did it,” he writes. But he completes the sentence with a shift in direction: “and now an hour later and nothing.”

He sounds almost disappointed. Apparently he has swallowed lighter fluid, but it’s only made him dizzy and sick. “My cast iron stomach survived,” he says. “I am positive I will not try that method again.”

This boy bent on self-destruction is not the Bart that anybody in his “real” life knows.

Bartlomiej Franciszek Palosz was born on May 2, 1998, in Kalna, Poland, a tiny village in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. Kalna is a sleepy, dreamy place, veined gm-notinvain-4 with little streams and quilted with flowering fields that stretch away to the dark mountain forests. “All of us know each other from birth to death,” Beata tells me. “We all help each other out.” Like the peaceable village, the Palosz family—Franek, Anna, Beata and Bart—was close-knit and devoutly Catholic. The only adversity in their lives had been a depressed Polish economy. Because of it, Franek, a carpenter, spent months away from home, working in Germany. And when the German economy slumped, the Paloszes set their gaze hopefully upon America. They immigrated to Stamford in 2002, and moved to the cozy, neighborly High Street in Byram four years later.

Little by little, the family gained a foothold on American life. Franek got decent building jobs and Anna found work as a nanny. Beata endured some frustration back when she spoke no English and could not connect with other girls on the playground. “Once,” she recalls, laughing, “I packed a little bag and sat on the curb, waiting for the bus to take me back to Poland.” But soon enough she flourished. Bart, however, never found his equilibrium here. Or never was permitted to: A pattern of harassment developed early, at New Lebanon elementary school, according to Izzy. Bart was different. Not merely taller and heavier with a strange accent, but different in other, less explicable ways. “You could see he wasn’t comfortable in his own skin,” Izzy’s mother, Lisa Johnson, says. “He really stood out—kind of like a newborn colt that hadn’t gotten used to his limbs yet.”

At Western the bullies stepped up their attacks. Bart would come home with no backpack, no books, no jacket. When Anna inquired, her son evaded. He didn’t know where his things were. Or he’d forgotten them. “In fact, some boys were taking them,” says Barbara, a family friend, also from Poland, who prefers to use only her first name. “Anna kept pressing and calling the school.” Eventually Anna and a neighbor took turns driving Bart to Western in order to avoid the sidewalk bullies who ritually tossed him into the prickers. Still the cruelty persisted. “Everyone knew he was being bullied—everyone knew—and the school didn’t really do anything about it,” says Izzy, Bart’s younger friend at Western. Instead, “it almost protected the bullies” by failing to bring them to heel. Only once, says Beata, did any of Bart’s revolving band of tormentors receive an official reprimand. A kid who’d stabbed Bart with a pencil had to say he was sorry and wouldn’t do it again.
“Here’s what I’m thinking,” Barbara says. “If nothing is done after reporting an incident the first, second, third, fourth time, what would I do next? I would just say, ‘I’m not going to report them anymore because it’s not worth it. It’s just not doing a thing.’”

When does Bart lose hope? Outwardly he seems all right, if not happy. He has his passions—Japanese manga and anime, creepy movies, video games. Computers are his bailiwick. When he thinks of the future, he imagines himself studying computer technology at NYU. In his room he watches a lot of YouTube videos and joins in discussions about them, sometimes displaying a drily wicked sense of humor: “I once went to a PETA protest against McDonald’s, and I got hungry and bought a cheeseburger, a snack wrap, chicken nuggets and a large Coke.” His video interests include bullying. He watches a scene from the movie Cyberbully in which a girl attempts suicide with pills. The message board commentary is full of anguish from kids like Bart: “I’m going to kill myself if I keep being bullied.” “The depression got to me in the fourth grade.” “Why are people so horrible these days, man? Me cries.”

Among Bart’s messages, from June, is this advice to another bullying victim: “I have been bullied till [the] point of suicide, you need to just get over it and find one thing to help you survive.” For Bart, that one thing is his “Chinese friend”—an apparent reference to an Asian girl Bart comes to know late in his freshman year. She gave him a picture of herself and an embroidered tea towel that he carries everywhere, like talismans. Then, over the summer, the girl moves away.

If Bart feels alienated, though, his alienation is far from complete. He’s not a loner in any pure sense. He loves being a Boy Scout. “He was quiet, in a calm and measured, thoughtful sort of way,” says his Troop 9 Scoutmaster, John Langley. “But, to me, he seemed fully integrated with the rest of the boys. I have this image of him up at Camp Seton, just sitting there with a fishing rod. He was in his happy place up on the lake.”

Then there’s his exuberant pal Izzy, a fellow outlier with whom Bart explores Byram, dreams up inventions, and debates issues of cosmic magnitude. One debate concerned suicide. “I remember saying that I thought suicide was almost cowardly, that we should try to face our problems,” Izzy says. “He was like, ‘There are some circumstances in which it might be necessary.’ And I’m like, ‘But people care! It’s not fair to tear a person’s world apart.’ And he said, ‘If someone’s in pain, it might be justified.’”

At the high school, Bart has no close friends (Izzy is still at Western); his social isolation seems to have tainted him somehow, inscribed him as inferior. Girls mock him when he wears his Boy Scout uniform. One sends him texts feigning romantic interest, until Beata tells her to stop. Occasionally Bart aggravates his outsider status by setting his pride in Poland against his disappointment in America: “I came here expecting … [to] live the American Dream which is dead,” he writes. His viewpoint should hardly be surprising, given his experience here. But it gets him branded a “terrorist.”

Bart writes: “I’m a freshman and if the rest is this bad I’m screwed.”

“I never saw him physically bullied,” says Courtney Nordholm, a friend of Beata’s at Greenwich High. “But I did see him being mistreated a lot. Like, people wouldn’t let him sit with them on the bus. Or they’d say something about his skin or the way he looked. He was kind of, I guess, goofy, in the way he walked. People saw him as a target.”

The summer of 2013 is here, freshman year is over, and Bart’s suicidal messages continue. On July 3 he posts a photo of himself holding the tip of a knife to his left eye and writes, “Hey if I were to stab my eye out due to school caused insanity, who would miss me.” The following week he writes, “I have come to the conclusion that my skin is too thick to be cut, but I will keep trying.” And on July 10, “Does anyone know if you can light a 12-gauge shotgun shell (slug not pellets) with a lighter?”
Bart appears to have entered his death spiral.

On July 25 he posts a single frame from a popular anime series, Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!, declaring that the anime has been “haunting me for a year now.” The series features two alienated teens, Yuuta and his girlfriend Rikka, who try to cope with the hostile world around them by escaping into delusions. “Blast reality! Blast it to shreds!” Yuuta says near the conclusion, as he and Rikka ascend to a shimmering band of stars called the Ethereal Horizon.

The last post is dated August 16: “Someone make sure if I ever die I get buried listening to this song.” Bart provides a link to a music video called “Reboot.” It’s sort of a child’s tune sung in Japanese, stupendously sad, about lost innocence, depression and death. The accompanying anime tells of three schoolgirls who are best friends forever. Two of them fall to quarreling on a city sidewalk, and the third, trying to make peace, runs into the path of an oncoming bus. The “reboot” of the title has nothing to do with computers, but is rather a wish to start over, to be reborn.

If these Google Plus entries reflect Bart’s desperate internal weather, the face he shows the world remains entirely placid. But the new school year is upon him, and he’ll gm-notinvain-5 face it without Beata, who on August 21 leaves for Elizabethtown College, in Pennsylvania. On August 26 Beata makes her usual call to check on Bart. “He always talks on the phone like, ‘Yep, uh-huh, sure, whatever.’ Those are his normal responses. So I was talking to him and I said, ‘Bart, did you get all your school supplies?’ and he said ‘Nah, not yet.’ I said, ‘Well, all you need is a backpack, it’s high school.’ That was the last conversation we had. He seemed fine. He didn’t really sound like, ‘I don’t want to go.’ He was more like, ‘I don’t really want to go to school, but whatever, it’s starting again.’”
It happens that Franek is an avid hunter. Sometimes he takes the family up to the beautiful wilderness of New York State. Bart has posted a photo of himself in a clearing, dressed in camouflage, holding a dead pheasant in each hand. Also a photo in which he hefts a shotgun. But these photographs are misleading. “My father hunts, but Bart would never want to get into that,” Beata says. “Like, when we went to upstate New York with my dad, Bart would go on walks with me. There was a little pond out in the back where we’d catch tadpoles together. My dad would say, ‘Do you want to come hunting?’ and Bart would be like, ‘No.’ Bart wasn’t into guns. That’s what surprised me.”

Perhaps the decision to end his life, when it comes, is an impulsive one. It is August 27, the first day of Bart’s sophomore year. Does anything distressing happen as he makes his way from class to class? Does somebody say something that confirms within himself the misery of being Bart? Or is it just too late? At around 3 o’clock, the school bus returns Bart to an empty house; his parents are still at work. Bart sends his mother a text complaining of a stomachache, but also listing the school supplies he needs, suggesting that he’s still occupied with the mundane business of living. Lie down and take an Advil, Anna says, but the darkness lowers on him like a hammer.

Franek keeps his firearms in a locked safe, and he keeps individual locks on each gun. The keys are kept in a second safe. Bart knows all of this, but neither Franek nor Anna, in their wildest imaginings, pictures a scenario in which Bart would loot the gun safe. The guns simply never attracted him. And yet on this day they do. He lifts out a shotgun, carries it to his bedroom, aims the long barrel at his head, and sends himself to the Ethereal Horizon.

Anna comes home around four o’clock and begins to prepare dinner. She pauses to text Bart a couple of times, but atypically, there’s no reply. Perhaps he’s out walking. Or taking a nap. Wondering a little, she makes her way to his bedroom. Yesterday’s rain showers have dissipated, the sky is clearing, a warm breeze blows through the white lace curtains that Anna has hung in the windows. But the only horizon she sees is black.

“He was a total sweetheart,” says Barbara, the family friend. “He was the gentlest person I’ve ever met. My children loved him. When the Paloszes came over to our home, Bart would play with them, my girls, for three hours. Tell me a teenager who’d play with small children for three hours!”

And then she pauses to ask: “How did we miss it?” gm-notinvain-6

News of Bart’s death broke quickly, and with it broke a communal wave of grief and outrage. The word “bullying” was on every tongue. Who were the police going to arrest? They investigated, and were confronted with a difficult set of facts. Bart had killed himself on the first day of the school year. There was no escalation of some ongoing dispute, no known precipitating event, and no suicide note pointing a finger of blame. What detectives did turn up were offenses of “deportment” from the previous school year—meanness, in other words, but not criminal assault.

As for the school system: Here the matter is less gray. It let Bart down. Particularly during the three years at Western, when going to school was, for him, like stepping into Lord of the Flies. Anna’s e-mails, phone calls and meetings failed to stem the abuse, and thus survive as a record of the school’s ineffectiveness, or worse, indifference. “Anna did everything a mother could do,” Lisa Johnson says. “People said afterward that Bart was mentally ill and nobody knew it. I don’t agree. If you’re tormented for years and it never gets better, is it you?”

“The pain can be so intense that nothing matters more than making it stop,” confirms Dr. Cornell, of University of Virginia. “Of course, when adults ignore the problem and the bullying continues for weeks, months, or even years, then there’s no good reason for the teen to think things will change.”

(The leadership at Western has since changed. Bart’s principal, Terry Starr-Klein, drew mixed reviews in our small sampling of parents. She excelled at educating but fell short at dealing with student issues, they said. One parent, who withdrew his bullied daughter, described her as “useless.” Parents viewed her successor, Gordon Beinstein, very favorably.)

Among Bart’s most distinctive character traits was his desire to help: at the Byram book fair, at beach cleanups, among cyber-friends and real-life neighbors. “He wouldn’t hesitate to ask me if I needed help with anything, from carrying groceries or walking my dog, to washing my car,” says his friend and neighbor Jessica Stanciu. But in his final year Bart retreated a little. He turned quieter, more self-contained, and saw less of Izzy. “He kept to himself a lot,” says Beata’s friend Courtney Nordholm. “He didn’t talk to many people.”

“Bart used to be such a bright little kid,” Beata recalls. “When he was little you couldn’t shut him up. But by high school he had completely shut off.”

Anna believed Greenwich High represented an improvement over Western. Perhaps it did. Only two real offenses ever came to light: the Droid smashing and a shove from behind on the Sheldon House stairs. Beata reported both incidents to a guidance counselor. “They say they’ll look into it,” she says, “and then nothing is ever done.”

The Town of Greenwich Law Department has been looking into Bart’s school history for the past six months. While it continues to investigate, school officials will comment only sparingly. GHS Headmaster Christopher Winters tells us that Bart’s case is “very complex” and that he wishes he could address it openly. “What we haven’t heard about,” he says, “is all the measures we took to help him succeed at the high school. We were very attentive to this boy.” (Though Winters can’t discuss Bart’s particulars, he does say it’s routine practice to hold regular meetings between students who need “frequent monitoring” and a mental health professional. Beata confirms that meetings took place, but says her mother initiated them.)

“We want to know, too, what happened,” says Kim Eves, director of communications for the public schools. “We want to know why there was a breakdown—if there was a breakdown.”

THE SCIENCE OF SUICIDE gm-notinvain-7 State law defines bullying broadly, from assault to threatening to damaging one’s property to repeated derogatory remarks about one’s race, sexual orientation, appearance and so forth, either in person or online. In Bart’s year at Greenwich High the fear of physical injury appears to have subsided. What remained was an insidious meanness, mixing humiliation and exclusion. “Bart said that sitting alone didn’t bother him,” Beata remembers. “But I know he wanted to sit with people. He was just hiding how hurt he was.” Perhaps it was the tapestry of rejection, woven daily, rather than the sporadic glaring offense that devastated Bart most. The Norway-based psychologist Dan Olweus, the first to study bullying systematically, calls social isolation “indirect bullying.” “This rejection by the peer group is very hard for [victims] to handle,” he has said. “Often, their negative evaluation of themselves becomes so massive that they see suicide as a natural outcome.”

Suicide, however, is notoriously complex. The writer Alfred Alvarez, a failed suicide now in his eighties, said the belief that a person kills himself for one specific reason may satisfy the living, but is far too tidy. “The real motives which impel a man to take his own life … belong to the internal world, devious, contradictory, labyrinthine, and mostly out of sight.” The clinicians agree with him: An overriding difficulty in life may precipitate the act, but only against a backdrop of other woes. In teens, aside from getting bullied and social isolation, suicide risk factors include divorced parents (both divorce and youth suicide tripled between 1955 to 1985), substance abuse, a history of behavioral and emotional disorders, and being gay or bisexual—this last because gay and bisexual teens are prone to maltreatment and other stresses.

Science further complicates the picture. Its weightiest finding is that those who make serious attempts at suicide are shown to be biochemically compromised. Specifically, their serotonin systems—serotonin being the substance chiefly responsible for curbing our destructive impulses—are abnormally sluggish. “The more lethal the attempt, the more pronounced the abnormality,” explains J. John Mann, a Columbia University psychiatrist and neuroscientist. Are such people born with this faulty system? Not necessarily—and here the biochemical question doubles back to bullying: “We believe there are childhood developmental experiences, such as emotional trauma, that mold the brain and later affect how one deals with stress, perceives relationships and makes decisions,” Dr. Mann says. Neuroscientist Martin Teicher of Harvard has found that even chronic verbal abuse structurally harms the brain—demonstrating “the exquisite vulnerability of the hippocampus to the ravages of stress.” One is left to wonder, then, if bullying fatally damaged Bart at the molecular level.

Bart Palosz’s suicide will always remain half a mystery. But the written remarks he left behind, added together, read like a kind of indictment. If I were to stab my eye out due to school caused insanity, who would miss me… I have been bullied till the point of suicide… I have chosen to go with 3 people’s advice and kill myself. And ending his life on the first day of school seems a message in itself.

“Izzy said Bart would never just fly off the handle,” Lisa Johnson says. “He thought that Bart must have planned it, and planned it for the first day of school.” As far as anyone knows, bullying and peer rejection are the only factors Bart ever identified as the source of his despair.

Not long before he died, Bart offered up this dismal self-summary in a YouTube post: not much to know, I do most things alone, most people I ever met hate me and yeah that’s pretty much it, any questions feel free to ask I have nothing to hide. Did he wait for the questions to roll in? If so, he waited in vain.

One imagines Bart would be surprised at the outpouring of emotion that greeted his death. Would anyone miss him, he had asked, and the community replied with a reverberant yes. Four hundred people turned out for his funeral. One student, Elias Frank, started an anti-bullying club called GHS Connections (well worth a look on Facebook). In September a prayer vigil filled the high school courtyard. Teens wrote essays and made videos detailing their own experiences at the hands of bullies, and some confessed to bullying themselves, as a way to cope with fear and insecurity.

And while his peers shied away from Bart in life, now, in retrospect, they recognized his lack of cool as an asset. To be known for sweetness, gentleness, innocence, even awkwardness, was not a bad thing at all.

“We can learn from him and his attitude on life,” says Jessica Stanciu, his neighbor, who is the director of children’s ministries at Second Congregational Church. “He accepted everyone even if they didn’t fully accept him. He was kind when others were mean. He loved when others had no love to give him.”

Bart’s family flew his body home to Kalna, to be laid to rest in the big cemetery on Zywiecka Street, among the fields and the locust trees. “He definitely felt better in Poland,” Beata says. “That’s why we buried him there, because he felt he fit in more.” The Paloszes’ Greenwich life is over now, a bad memory. They have moved to Westport. Franek and Anna remain shattered, too shattered to speak publicly about Bart. “Anna smiles so sadly now,” says a family friend. “I’ve never seen such sad eyes when someone smiles.” But Anna is anxious to spotlight the issue of bullying, and Beata fulfills that role willingly.

“Oh, my god, I miss him so much,” Beata says. “To this day it’s so hard for me to believe. He was my little brother. How could he do it? How could something push him so much over? To think about that, that’s what crushes me. That’s what gets me at night.”

She lets the thought hang in the air before continuing in a brighter mood. “When we were little, I used to tell him stories before bedtime. And I’d put him in the stories. I was thinking about that the other day, and it made me pour my eyes out. You might think this is silly, but even in middle school he’d ask me to tell him stories. So I’d always tell him this one story about a knight. It’s based on an old Polish legend about a dragon in Krakow. This dragon would kill the farmers in the countryside and eat their livestock. And the king said, ‘Whoever slays the dragon gets to marry my daughter, the princess.’ People kept trying and kept getting killed. And then along comes this humble but very clever knight. He kills a sheep and stuffs it with rocks, and he leaves it outside the cave for the dragon to eat. Next time the dragon goes for a drink in the lake, he sinks, he drowns, and everybody cheers the knight. And the knight was Bart.”

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