Finding Henry

On men together but still all alone, negative camaraderie, and the lost boy who found us.

Ethan Bauer

Rafael Fernandez was a squat man made squatter by the slacks pulled halfway up his gut. Maybe 5-foot-5, his tie hung well below his belt, and his shirt sleeves, rolled once to his wrists, flapped like wings over his pipefish arms. His true facial features were obscured by dark, Woody Allen glasses and a desert camouflage cap. Maybe that was for the best. Those accessories made him distinctive. A Cuban-pressed Carl from Pixar’s Up is easy to remember. So were his habits and mannerisms: Mr. F, as everyone called him, had a bottomless appetite for coladas; a beloved pet rock; and a tendency to ring the concierge bell on his desk to denote important information. When he died in the summer of 2014, soon after my graduating class had left west Miami’s Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, many of the comments beneath the Facebook post announcing his passing reflected the fact that, more than a great teacher or colleague or anything else that defined him, Mr. F had been a real character. “What a personality,” said one former parent. “A teacher my son will never forget,” added another.

Memory is funny; sometimes it concentrates on a single person in a crowded room, spotlighting him — and dimming the rest. Mr. F taught my first-period life science class. While I remember him distinctly, I can remember the faces of only two of my fellow students. One was a good friend with whom I haven’t spoken in years. The other was Henry Alvarez, with whom I never spoke once.

Alphabetical seating placed Henry a few seats in front of me, in the first row of Mr. F’s class, sometime in 2008 or ‘09. I remember Henry because, during homecoming week or some kindred dress-down day, he wore a plastic, Spartan-style mask painted with emblems of the Florida Gators. Even today, I can see him flipping the mask up and down on his head, like a hockey goaltender on a water break. Given the circumstances and the timing, there’s a good chance I wore my own No. 15 Florida Gators jersey to school that day. Maybe Henry and I talked about our shared interest, but I don’t remember that happening. 

Henry was not a “character.” He was like me, and most students: normal, unless you knew him. There. Brown hair and brown eyes. Not a troublemaker. Not an academic star. Not an athlete of any particular ability. Not one of the first names that would come up if you were reminiscing about our graduating class. In fact, thirteen years after Mr. F’s class ended, when I learned Henry had died by suicide, I couldn’t remember anything about him. Not one fact or habit. Nothing. It took weeks for the memory of the mask to emerge, and when it did, I still couldn’t remember anything about the person behind it.

At the time, all I knew for sure was this: Henry Alvarez was the first — and, so far, the only — of the 222 graduates in our class to die. Given our lack of friendship, learning of his death was unexpectedly, mysteriously devastating. The fact that it was suicide made it worse. Belen, the school we attended together, prides itself on a very particular kind of fellowship, relative to the rest of Miami’s notoriously exclusive private school cinematic universe. It felt like that spirit had failed Henry. That it was no match for the loneliness epidemic that’s killing men across the country. Taking stock of my own frayed friendships from that era, I wondered whether the camaraderie had failed me, too.

• Kinship •


Belen was founded by Jesuit priests in Havana in 1854 and transplanted to Miami following the Cuban Revolution a little over 100 years later. Today, it is ranked among the top 50 Catholic schools in the nation, thanks in part to its well-earned educational reputation — and its relentless expansion. In the 10 years I’ve been gone, the administration has added a new courtyard, a renovated cafeteria, upgraded baseball fields, an aquatics complex, an athletic training building, and a state-of-the-art chapel, complete with portraits of Jesuit saints imported from Spain. Funding comes in part from tuition, which these days is well north of $20,000, but also from wealthy (and less wealthy) donors, who are courted relentlessly by the school via giving campaigns, direct outreach, and an ever-growing list of events. Colegio de Belén made it out and all the way down 8th street. 

From afar, it all looks a bit extravagant for a Jesuit institution, but I’ll give Belen this: its ceaseless appetite for growth matches its obsession with values. For one, we were meant to become “men for others.” At a time when TikTok grifters are peddling many versions of what “manhood” means to impressionable teeangers, Belen offers clarity: Being a man is about helping when you can. While still an imperfect definition, it’s the best one I’ve seen. And then there was the whole fraternalism bit. To this day, Belen’s president sends an email newsletter to alumni addressed to its “band of brothers.” 

As is the case with the military, forging “brotherhood” seemed to involve a great deal of discipline. The founder of the Jesuit order was a soldier, after all, and his descendants inherited, apparently, some of his corrective instincts. Sometimes, disciplinarians would pop into classrooms and walk around in silence, surveying our uniforms to make sure our top-buttons were buttoned and our ties knotted properly. I once got detention for saying, “What the hell.” We had to stand at attention whenever an adult walked into a classroom. If our hair grew too long, we were yanked into the office and given unflattering cuts. We could not have facial hair, either; the very first time I shaved was right before a final exam, when I was pulled out of class, handed a single-blade razor, and told I would take the test clean-shaven or else fail. I took that exam with a pencil in one hand and a napkin soaked with blood in the other. 

Those measures were mostly fine with me. Aside from that one detention, I was never any kind of troublemaker. And I welcomed the somewhat contrived ideas about brotherhood at the time. They felt real enough; I had plenty of close friends at Belen. But in retrospect, Belen’s insistence on “brotherhood” for an entire class strikes me as a bit artificial. Our class of 222, by the school’s standards, had been unusually large. Decades earlier they had been less than half the size. “In my class, everybody knew everybody,” says Johnny Calderin, a Belen alumnus and longtime teacher who taught Henry in film history class. With a class of our size, he continued, “you kind of remember everybody, but you don’t know everybody.” And post-graduation, the brothers Belen appears to care most about are the successful ones, whom current students can approach for internships and jobs. The school regularly honors alumni who “embody what it means to be a man for others” — and who have donated enough cash to erect a new building. 

You can throw homilies and religion classes and retreats at students, hoping something sticks, but you can’t force it. Were Henry and I brothers? Perhaps we were estranged ones. Certainly we weren’t friends. And yet we shared experiences like stuffing our faces in Belen’s all-you-can-eat cafeteria and overlapping teachers and Mr. F’s first-period life science class. And annual religious retreats; in 12th grade, for example, it was called Senior Encounter, and the theme, spelled out on a long-sleeve T-shirt I still wear sometimes, was “Rooted.” No matter where all of us would go in the coming months, the thinking went, we would always be tethered in some inescapable way to this place, to these people.

• Dreams •

The Alvarez family has been tied to Belen for three generations. Henry’s grandfather attended in Cuba and (perhaps apocryphally) fled out a window and never went back. His dad was part of the last class to graduate from the school’s old 8th Street campus, in Little Havana. His brother graduated in 2011. But for Henry himself, the Belen experience was not what he thought it would be. Certainly not at first. Bullies tormented him in middle school. Nico, his older brother by three years, once had to lock himself in a counselor's office because he thought he was going to kill one of them if he didn’t. And while the situation improved in high school, Henry still sometimes told his parents he wanted to transfer to another private school, La Salle. He didn’t start to find his place at Belen until later. 

Osiel Gonzalez, known to most in our class as Ozzie, befriended Henry sometime in 10th grade, probably in Johnny Calderin’s film class. They bonded over writing scripts and short stories together — and over something else. “We were kind of degenerates,” Ozzie says, “and Johnny hated both of us.” Johnny doesn’t remember it that way. “He was never, like, a problem child,” he says of Henry, “but also never one to back down from having a good time.” Like many teenage boys, Johnny says, Henry gravitated toward darker, grittier films, like Fight Club — the story of a depressed insomniac whose chaos-obsessed alter-ego subverts social convention.

For Ozzie, the timing couldn’t have been more serendipitous. He had spent his entire Belen existence running cross country, which is a way of life at the school. The Belen cross-country team has won 15 state titles and regularly qualifies for nationals, and it’s not by accident. Cross-country training is brutal and consuming. For the runners who excel, the team becomes a core part of their identity. By junior year, though, Ozzie was growing out of that identity and into something different. Ozzie had been having family troubles, and he coped by experimenting with marijuana. During a team training trip, his teammates confronted him about his drug use. Ozzie felt rejected. He burrowed into a corner of his hotel room and cried. A fellow teammate, Kevin Montiel, described it as a “falling out.” The two of them didn’t talk much after that.

Needing a fresh start, Ozzie introduced Henry to his longtime close friend and fellow classmate, Andy de Varona. Together, the three of them forged new, rebellious identities. One friend called them “The Breakfast Club” because, like the characters in the classic John Hughes film, they exuded a broody, existential angst. “My group my senior year was Andy and Henry,” Ozzie says. “And it was just us three.”

Their favorite pastimes included roaming Coral Way, Old Cutler and the Rickenbacker Causeway. They listened to Nirvana, The Doors, and Joy Division. They smoked pot and Camel Blues, the cigarette of choice for Matthew McConaughey’s character in HBO’s True Detective. They liked watching Vice videos, and occasionally tripped on acid and mushrooms. Ozzie took his first trip alongside Andy and Henry. “That sounds kind of frivolous,” he says, “but it's not.” It felt like the three of them were becoming themselves together, or “individuating” as Ozzie puts it. “I was really beginning to find myself,” he says, “and I was doing it with these two other guys.” One time, during another psychedelic jaunt, the three took off their shoes and walked across the Biltmore golf course at night, savoring the dewy Bermuda grass, how it tickled the bottoms of their feet. Few feelings in adulthood would ever compare.

Their favorite spot was a parking garage at the University of Miami. Sometimes, they would meet at the library to do homework, then head up to the top floor of the garage, which was usually deserted at night. They would look out at the campus, or up at the sky, and talk about the whole world of possibilities that lay ahead of them. “We had all these dreams,” says Andy, “and we weren't doing anything about them besides just getting fucked up and talking.” The dreams varied from day to day, but Henry once opined at length that he wanted to be a rock star. “He wanted to sing and play instruments and be in a band,” Andy remembers, “and be out there in a different way.” Nevermind that he did not actually play an instrument, or sing, or know anyone who did either. “We’d daydream a lot about just being other people, in a way,” Andy says. “We had dreams of doing things that weren't so paper-cut, like being a businessman or doctor or lawyer — those kind of conventional, standard routes that a lot of people in Belen take. Not to say that’s bad or anything. It’s just a different life that we wanted.” When the conversation waned, they would skate down the garage, still blasting music, sometimes filming as they did so. Ozzie always planned to use the footage for a video project called Dark Days, though so far, 10-plus years later, such a project hasn’t materialized.

Many people from that era remember Henry as easygoing and likable. An informal survey of some old friends revealed a consensus: He was nice. He was happy. He was a good dude. Though he never showed much interest in dating, he was easy to get along with for guys and girls alike. He was the kind of person you might want to hang out with for no reason, just because. One friend remembers visiting him once, when he was working at a security booth on the edge of Key Biscayne. Since he was busy, she surprised him with a pack of cigarettes instead. “Even though that's very unhealthy,” she admits, “he was so happy.” That’s the picture of Henry she likes to remember most.

The same friend also remembers, however, that Henry could be a bit closed off. He didn’t like talking much about himself. “I always felt like there was much more to him than he let on,” she says. One time, she even confronted him about it. She told him that she felt like he was hiding something essential beneath his affable exterior, like he couldn’t express his full self. “Damn,” she remembers him saying, “that’s pretty spot on.” As to what that “something” was, she still has “no idea.” Henry was very good at deflecting. “He was able to cover that up with just being silly,” she says. “It was always a good time when he was there.”

Ozzie remembers a similar duality. Henry, he says, reminds him of the word “burrow.” When he was upset, he would isolate himself in his room and disappear, sometimes for an entire week. But when he emerged, he could embrace a depravity that would have made one of his idols, the writer Hunter S. Thompson, proud. Once, when his parents were out of town, he threw a house party “like one of those house parties that you see in the movies,” Ozzie recalls. That night, Henry and the same friend who confronted him even burned each other with cigarettes to bond them forever. “You know,” Ozzie adds, “emo high school shit.” They stayed up all night cleaning the house, drinking and smoking the whole way. At one point, Andy remembers, Henry even sported a plastic mask. These are like my brothers, Ozzie remembers thinking.

He meant it in a very particular sense. Within their environment — Belen, Miami, Catholicism, tradition — that demanded something very particular of them, the trio refused. Andy says he and Henry agreed, more than anything else, on challenging conformity. But that refusal, he admits, proved costly. “It's hard to necessarily escape that if that's all you know,” he says. And for a while, toward the end of high school, he didn’t feel like they would. “We were coming to a point where we didn't really know what we wanted to do, yet we had these dreams,” he says. “But there was such a distance between us and them. … And it's almost like we had to jump on board with something else that we didn't really want to do. And I feel like that was a lot of pressure.” Ozzie felt it, too — like the “brotherhood” Belen promoted was more constricting than constructive. Like it didn’t really welcome who they were, or who they wanted to become. “I just see such a lack of fraternity, to be honest,” he says of Belen. “The institution, the entity of Belen — do they really give a fuck about Henry? I don't think they do.”

His was a particularly impassioned rebuttal, but back then, he wasn’t alone. By the end of our senior year, Belen had managed to incite the spirit of rebellion that animated Henry, Ozzie and Andy across our entire class. Without meaning to, the school brought us together in a way no pat slogan or contrived religious retreat ever could. Then, whether rebels or conformists or in between, it spit us to the wind all the same.

• Defiance •

Unlike my hazy memory of Henry, I felt confident about my recollection of our senior class’ unfortunate fate. Still, for the sake of accuracy assurance, I called up a handful of friends and acquaintances. Each of them pointed to the same moment that started everything — the same moment I remember, too. In the words of my longtime friend Chris Martin, “there was this whole notion of senior privileges” — some couches, video game consoles and a TV reserved for seniors to use — “and then the first day we show up, the administration decides to take those away from us for no reason.”

Following an administrative overhaul, a new leadership team was eager to make changes. They decided our class needed to “earn” those clammy couches and that Nintendo 64. “The attitude was basically, ‘You haven't earned anything. You've got to prove to us that you deserve any kind of positive treatment,’ that kind of stuff,” says a longtime Belen teacher. “And I could sense [tension] right away.” 

As Donald Trump has demonstrated, nothing brings people together like a shared perception of “tyranny.” As our senior year progressed, that perception permeated everything, until it reached a boiling point. The exact escalations are harder to pinpoint; everyone remembers the story a little differently. So I’ll offer a few examples that were particularly formative for me. Whatever those moments look like for others, however, the story always ends in exactly the same place: a day one teacher refers to as “the running of the morons.” 

First, in my memory, came a morning assembly in which students were supposed to present their community service projects to the class. The assembly was supposed to be for our benefit: students who still needed to complete their community service requirements could find inspiration. But rebellion can take strange, impromptu forms. One student said something that made people clap, and suddenly, the whole class started clapping for every sentence, every word, that came out of his mouth. The student didn’t know what else to do, so he laughed and embraced the chaos; the assembly quickly devolved to the point that it was canceled on the spot. As punishment, administrators revoked our homecoming pep rally. 

Then, in spring, administrators sent a letter to parents telling them they should think twice about letting their sons attend the upcoming Ultra Music Festival because of the associated drug and alcohol use. The next week, just a few days before Ultra, the Belen gymnasium filled with parents, teachers and students for the annual honor society inductions. One of my closest friends was president of the Science Honor Society, and he had to give a speech. At the end of an otherwise unremarkable address, he threw in a little joke: “Also,” he said, “there will be a small reception this weekend in Bayfront Park for any of the inductees who can make it.” The crowd, including the parents, loved it. And if anyone felt offended, no one said so; the Science Honor Society’s faculty advisor told him he did a great job. Only the following week, when word of his defiance reached administrators, did he get pulled out of class, given a Saturday detention, and called a “fuck up.”

It’s worth acknowledging that the whole situation was, from every side, petty. As one classmate wrote on our private Facebook page, “can someone please tell me what the administration has done besides no xbox in the senior section?” Then again, what makes up a life if not a series of petty, random, small things that sprawl into much larger moments? Petty things can ripple, and in our case, the perception of tyranny worked like an enzyme, speeding up reactions that might otherwise never have occurred. I don’t remember this part, but according to several sources, some classmates planned to instigate a food fight during lunch in retaliation — a last act of rebellion with two days of school left. Administrators had discovered the plan and placed disciplinarians throughout the cafeteria. With the plan foiled and nowhere else to take a year’s worth of anger, the “running of the morons” began.

A group of seniors — no one remembers exactly how many, but probably about two dozen — screamed and rampaged through the hallways. Finally, they entered a middle school classroom and started flipping desks — with students in them. Chris Martin heard the commotion and followed the group inside. “We need to get out of here,” he told a classmate when he saw the mayhem, “right now.” The school later explained it this way to NBC 6: "During the sixth period class, [a group of seniors] decided to go running and screaming through the hallways, entered a 7th grade class, overturned chairs while a teacher was conducting her class, destroyed seven iPads and even hurt some of the students." Those found to be responsible were banned from prom and graduation, with the school adding that it “took immediate action with compassion, since the maximum penalty, expulsion, was not applied.”

Henry, myself, and most members of the class were not involved, but less-than-maximum penalties found the rest of us, too. Senior year at Belen always culminates in a fully uniformed jump into the school’s swimming pool. More than formal graduation, that moment is the real signifier of finishing the seven-year slog. The afternoon after the rampage, we all got an email telling us our last two days of school, including the pool jump, had been canceled, whether we were involved in the uproar or not. In hindsight, it was a reasonable decision. “They were just scared of what we were going to do, so I get that piece,” Chris says. “But it felt like we were all guilty until proven innocent.” The rebellion continued online. When the venting was discovered by the administration, perpetrators were banned from prom, the sports banquet, even graduation.

Belen regularly publishes fundraising totals organized by class. Our cohort is almost always dead last, sometimes at $0, if not $25 ahead of classes whose living membership is getting thin. “I've always been brokenhearted for your class,” says the longtime teacher. “One of the great things about Belen is that brotherhood, and that community that you guys should carry on for the rest of your lives. And I think that your class is forever gonna have a hard time feeling that.”

When graduation finally arrived, it probably looked normal to the parents. Most of us, including Henry and myself, were there. We both sat in the front row at the James L. Knight Center. Together, we listened to standard graduation speeches. As far as I recall, they said nothing about the turmoil. The message seemed to be “forget it and move on,” so that’s what we did. A few years ago, during a conversation with the school’s alumni office director, he called us the “lost class” without any prompting from me. We were the class he was “trying to bring back,” he added — so far, with no luck.

• Demise •

Adulthood sent both Henry and I north to Gainesville. He enrolled at Santa Fe College; I enrolled at the University of Florida. He still hung out with a handful of Belen guys up there, all of them hoping to hop over from Santa Fe to UF. Henry was the only one who actually managed the transfer. But even after he joined me as a transfer student, we never so much as bumped into each other. We were both busy, I suppose, building our own lives.

For Henry, that life was a little fuzzier. He studied history, and he wanted to do something with it professionally, but he struggled to figure out exactly what. In the meantime, he enjoyed the company of his friends. When an old classmate of ours drunkenly tore a stop sign out of the ground in front of some cops, Henry talked to the officers on his friend’s behalf and brokered forgiveness. He also enjoyed the company of his brother, Nico, with whom he shared an apartment. Sometimes, Henry would join Nico and his friends for a Friday night bar “marathon”: 3 to 5, free beer at Cantina; 5 to 7, all-you-could-drink at Balls; and, beginning at 8:30, “beat the clock” at Grog. When Henry came, it was a real event. “Henry’s out,” the thinking went, “let’s get after it.” Because more often than not he preferred staying in. Henry could enjoy a Friday night with nothing more than a joint in one hand and a Thomas Jefferson tome in the other.

Andy and Ozzie are notably absent from this part of Henry’s story. They found themselves in Indiana and Boston, respectively, and neither talked to Henry much after that, even though they remained good friends with each other. “I just became absorbed in my own world,” Andy says. The dreams that felt so distant on that UM rooftop were starting to feel more real — he was studying art, working hard at his practice, and he didn’t have time to stay in touch. Ozzie did, for a while; he would chat with Henry about history when they were in college, and sometimes hung out in Miami over the summer. But the same energy that had brought them together in high school — the rebellion, the taste for wandering — was pulling them in different directions beyond it.

Both Andy and Ozzie moved into creative spaces, and they lived as roommates for a bit in Santa Fe, New Mexico. About two years before Henry died, a nasty dispute led Andy and Ozzie to sever all ties, and the triangle of friendship that had dominated their adolescence seemed gone for good.

Henry, meanwhile, found himself part of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. Founded in 1967, the program describes itself as “an award-winning, social-justice research center engaged in experiential learning initiatives all over the world.” Henry’s role involved talking with people and recording their stories, to preserve histories that would otherwise be lost. He visited St. Augustine in 2017, during competing protests over Confederate monuments, and sat down with people on both sides of the issue. He told one interviewee that he didn’t want to be a teacher, but, “I know I want to be a historian. It’s just a matter of how I want to apply it in a career sense.” 

He eventually began graduate school at Providence College in Rhode Island, where he continued to study history. Back in his Belen days, his brother says, their mom received a call from a confused teacher: Henry was acing his exams, but not turning in his homework. “It just wasn’t stimulating for him,” his brother says. In fact, his mom sometimes joked that if she could combine Henry’s natural intelligence with his brother’s work ethic, she would have the “perfect child.” But in Providence, it seemed like Henry had finally found his discipline, and his spot. Not only was Rhode Island and the rest of New England rich with history, but it felt more suited to his personality. “Miami was not his kind of place,” his brother says. “He’d wear jeans, Timberlands and a beanie in 100-degree weather.” He graduated and decided to stay in Rhode Island, in part because it gave him a chance to explore a new side of himself.

About a year before he died, Henry had come out as gay. He told his family he’d known since late in high school, but he was only now getting comfortable with that part of his identity. When his family visited for the first time afterward, he and his brother followed a family dinner with a visit to a bar. Nico found himself preoccupied with a woman, and when he turned around, he found Henry in a similar chat with a guy. “The smile on his face was insane,” Nico says. “There was no fear of being who he was.” The woman felt like Nico was ignoring her and said so. “I’m looking at my brother right now,” he told her — and in a way, it was like looking at him, all of him, for the first time. But as quickly as that realization set in, the brother he’d known all his life snapped back into frame. “We’ve gotta get out of here,” Henry told him. “That guy's giving me too much attention.” 

For a long time afterward, everything seemed fine. Suddenly, it didn’t. Henry was always a burrower, but he had made it a habit to call his dad every single day. In the summer of 2022, his dad was distracted for unrelated reasons; he hadn’t realized the calls had stopped. One afternoon, after his parents returned home from lunch, Nico saw fear in his father’s eyes. “What’s wrong? What happened?” he asked. “When was the last time you talked to your brother?” their dad asked.

It had been a few days, maybe a week, Nico thought — but that alone wasn’t cause for concern. Maybe he was burrowing? His parents tried to call. Nico texted on the side. He told his brother that if he needed space, he could say so, and he would pass along the message. The calls and texts went unanswered. They pinged the landlord, who knocked on Henry’s door. Again, no answer. Their last resort was to contact the police, who forced their way into Henry’s Providence apartment for a wellness check. In the living room, on the couch, they found his body.

Nico isn’t sure how he died, exactly. He doesn’t want to know. He remembers someone telling him the scene “wasn’t messy,” but he wonders if that might have been his “mind playing tricks” on him. He also isn’t sure when; perhaps the coroner provided an estimate, but he remembers July 2nd — the day he found out — instead.

Most of all, he isn’t sure why. No one is.

Soon after his death, Henry’s entire family got matching tattoos on their arms. In his handwriting, the tattoo reads, “Love, Henry” — the sign-off from one of the many letters he’d had hand-written and mailed. For Nico, it’s a fulcrum for his grief. When he thinks about his brother, what he misses most isn’t even the past they shared; it’s the plans they had together. He wanted Henry to be the best man at his wedding. He wanted his kids to know their uncle. “It’s an odd thing,” Nico says. “I miss what’s going to come.” 

News of Henry’s death didn’t reach our class Facebook page until July 22nd, with a somber post from our alumni delegate, Leo Cosio. “Some of you may already be aware of the tragic news about one of our classmates,” he wrote. “For those of you that have not yet heard, our brother Henry Alvarez has passed.” Of the 112 people who saw the post, 25 reacted, and one commented. “I love each of you very much even if we haven't seen each other in years or don't really keep in touch,” it read. “I am devastated to know that someone we grew up with and spent such a huge part of our lives with is gone, but I will always remember Henry for the hilarious guy he was.” 


• Reconciliation •


Before the news reached the class Facebook page, word of Henry’s death spread by word of mouth. Like a smoldering ember, it rekindled conversations and relationships long dormant or dead.

For former cross country runner Kevin Montiel, reconnection began in an old group chat with his teammates — a group chat that almost never came alive anymore. “I just heard something crazy,” the text said. “I heard Henry Alvarez passed away.” Kevin contacted our former class president, who confirmed Henry’s death. He also explained the cause. “It was a shock to the system,” Kevin says. Kevin was like me; he didn’t know Henry, but he knew of him. “To have made it through Belen, and to not be regarded as a jerk,” he says, was achievement enough to earn his respect. 

Andy found out before Ozzie did, from an old mutual acquaintance. Two years of bitterness melted away in a single second. He knew he needed to text Ozzie. “Homie,” the text read. “Henry killed himself.” Whatever their past differences, they needed to talk. They needed to cry. And by the end of a lengthy conversation, they came to a mutual understanding. “What Ozzie and I were going through, it just paled in comparison to Henry,” Andy says. Before that, Ozzie had accepted that he and Andy would probably never talk again. He was about to embark on a new chapter of his life, as an architecture student at Virginia Tech, and he was ready to put that past behind him. But in his death, their old friend was able to bring them back together. “Through Henry's death, me and Andy were able to put our differences aside,” Ozzie says, “and just be like, ‘There’s bigger things to worry about. We're older, and more mature, and trying to become the people we're trying to become.’” 

Once they hung up, Ozzie sat in silence for a while. Then he started calling other guys from our class. Guys he hadn’t spoken with in way longer than two years. He called Cristian Marquez and Daniel Ugas and Robert de la Hoz. He called Fabian Tomas and Oscar Vila. “I felt compelled to talk to all those guys,” he explains. “I just needed to process his death through talking about him, and through checking up on these people. All the conversations were different, and maybe awkward at times, but at the same time not.” Most of all the one with Kevin Montiel. For the first time since their falling out all those years earlier on that cross country trip, they were able to settle their long-simmering resentment. “I’m sorry,” Kevin told him. “It’s OK,” Ozzie said back — and he meant it.

For Ozzie, there’s hardly a day goes by where he doesn’t think of Henry. Sometimes, when walking through Virginia Tech in the late afternoon, when the sun is low and most students have gone home, he’ll scream Henry’s name across the campus. Andy, who once again texts with Ozzie regularly, also thinks about Henry often. He can feel his presence most of all in the wind. “Especially here in New Mexico,” he adds, “where the wind is so strong.” Although he won’t be there much longer. In September, he’ll begin an art MFA at UCLA, building on his established work in photography, sculpture and performance. Perhaps on the drive to Los Angeles, he’ll “talk” to Henry, as he sometimes likes to do. Perhaps he’ll play old songs they used to enjoy together. They transport him back to the days of shared dreams. His favorite is Nirvana’s rendition of “Lake of Fire”: 

Where do bad folks go when they die? 

They don't go to heaven where the angels fly 

They go down to the lake of fire and fry 

Won't see 'em again till the fourth of July 

• Reunion •

When our class’ 10-year reunion arrives in June, I imagine I’ll be thinking most about the faces who are missing. About the folks who were driven away by the drama that defined our senior year; about the folks who just live too far away to make it; and most of all, about the faces who are no longer with us, like Mr. F and Henry. Their absence is a reminder of the inevitable entropy at work to drive us apart. Of the obvious fact that, 10 years later, things are different. 

In other ways, though, things are the same, insofar as what happened to us at Belen seemed to have foreshadowed what would happen to men over the next decade. At a time when 15 percent of men report having no close friends — a five-fold increase from 1990 — I sometimes wonder whether our class’ experience provides a gateway to an explanation of how this occurred. Whether our experience warned of a more widespread social failure. What happened to our class, looking back with the benefit of 10 years of hindsight, was a breakdown of all the artificial structures, traditions and activities that have always brought people together in general, and in our case, men. A collective punishment for the bad actions of a few; the petty withholding of the petty things that make our petty lives enjoyable; a feeling that we must “earn” any privileges, grace, kindness; a cascade into bitterness, grief, vengeance on our part. Sound familiar?

When I think of brotherhood, in the context of my own Belen class, I think, strangely, of that rampage. Of our bitterness online. We had never been so united, nor so unruly. In place of real recreation, or the solidarity born of good times shared, we bonded over mutual rebellion, defiance and rule-breaking. Just as plenty of men today replace traditional community activities that shun them or no longer exist with niche, destructive internet subcultures and shitposting — if they replace them with anything. But can a bond based on collective hostility, rather than treasured experiences, endure in the same way? Can a shared fight against “tyranny” not only bring people together, but keep them together? 

The only Belen friend I still speak with regularly also attended college with me. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. College gave us new, positive frameworks in which to bond; Gators football and a year’s worth of trips to the gym and intramural softball and generally positive memories of time spent together. And those frameworks still bring us back together — for a game at The Swamp, for example. Whereas Belen drove us apart. It took away, from our class, many of the things that would have — should have — brought us back to each other. I’m too old now to hold a grudge against the school; our class just got unlucky. But the feelings do linger. And they speak to something larger about resentment. 

I kept coming back to that idea, when I wondered why Henry’s death affected me so much. His brother, Nico, worried about him and loneliness. “I had fears about him being by himself [in Providence],” he admits. The tragedy of his life and our loss is also one of his gifts: Our class is talking again. Some of us aren’t as lonely as we were before. At least, it seems, there is still the opportunity to connect. But aside from ugly defiance, is this the price we must pay to reach out, to gather? Pain, grief, suffering? Do we have to lose more of us to find each other again? Pain can make us do weird things, like call people we haven’t talked to in years. Or rekindle lost friendships. Or spend several months writing about a person you know without ever having really known him. Henry’s death has brought us closer together, but it should never have been that hard.

Approaching 30 years old, I think I speak for most of our class when I say none of us want to run like morons anymore. But that’s what happens when you have nowhere to stop, talk, be together. Can our class “reunion” do anything to fix the problem? To repair the social foundations that crumbled our senior year? I don’t know, and I would guess probably not. But if it’s going to, it starts with stories like Henry’s. With how his death brought together old friends in a way nothing else could. With how the memories we shared for seven years, however fraught, still have the capacity to create community, if we’re willing to build on them. A shared story is at the root of any thriving group, and our class has one. And it has the capacity to bring us back together 10 years, 20 years, even 50 years later. I can approach anyone at our 10-year reunion and mention Mr. F’s Woody Allen glasses or his oversized camo hat or his concierge bell, and the other person will know exactly what I’m talking about. They will know what I mean when I say Henry’s name.

In the same Facebook post announcing his death, Leo mentioned a plan to honor and celebrate Henry in the coming days. “If you were close to Henry or would just like to help us organize this gathering, please reach out to any of our delegates tagged on this post,” he wrote. “We’ll be meeting over Zoom sometime next week to go over ideas on how to best put this together.” That meeting hasn’t happened yet. 

I will say Belen tries. Hardly a month goes by without invitations to or reminders of some school-sponsored convocation. Some are recurring, like the annual “Tombola” fundraising festival every February, or the monthly alumni luncheon, or the end-of-year senior banquet my class never got. Some are random, like a meet-and-greet with the school’s new football coach at John Martin’s Irish Pub or an alumni college tour or a prayer group where the “entire community” is invited. But our 10-year reunion will mark the first class-specific gathering since Henry died, and it therefore presents an opportunity. We can honor and celebrate Henry. We can acknowledge that the missing faces are still with us in some inescapable way, as long as we make them so. We can use their memory, actually, to rebuild our community, laying the groundwork for a reunion lasting much longer than a day.

We can find, or forge, an “us” again.

More from Issue Two

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