On the first day of the new school year, last year, he walked in and examined the name I had written on his classroom folder. Then he flashed me that incredible smile of his and said: “I’ll be perfectly happy if you want to treat me like a famous Italian artist, but I spell my name Rafael”.
His friends called him Rafa.
Rafael did get celebrity treatment. When he opened the classroom door he would pause a minute, so the students and I could all celebrate his arrival for a moment. He would flash that smile of his and everyone wanted him to sit next to them. It would take him a few minutes to settle down because he had to joke with everyone first.
Because you never knew when he would come to class. The days (or weeks) when he was absent were spent in the hospital, undergoing cancer therapy. Or spent at home, being too weak to school. Or perhaps being protected from all those germs floating around a school.
The amazing thing was that Rafael easily made up material he had missed. He was one of those rare students you only encounter once every few years, who are intellectually in a class of their own. He was doing extremely well studying with hearing students, despite his hearing problem. The only reason he transferred to the special classes such as mine, in the 12 grade, was his need for flexible support, caused by his absences. In my EFL class he was studying at the highest level.
Rafael was a high-achiever and a perfectionist. During the last few months of school the frequency of his absences grew, but he continued to study at home. We corresponded a lot by email and he sent me his work for comments. He refused to skip anything, he wanted the highest grades. Rafael sat for all of his exams (some were administered at home by an examiner) and the results were spectacular.
I was told that all he talked about during his last days were how to calculate his grade average and which university choices were now open to him.
Rafael passed away this week at the age of 19.
It is difficult to comprehend.