Seventeen Years

This is a week of anniversaries. Some, like my five month wedding anniversary and the commencement of my Calabrian adventure, are happy dates. We will celebrate, eat gelato, drink vino (only not at the same time) and talk about how far we’ve come. (Because everyone knows you’ve come a long way in your marriage after five months!)

But, this week marked another anniversary, as well.

A not so happy occasion.

A date that, even as I type this post, brings a lump to my throat and makes my stomach flip. It’s something I’ve never written about before today, but has been invisibly marked on my calendar for the last 17 years.

Once upon a time (circa 1991) there was a beautiful young girl in my hometown. Remember now, there are only around 2,000 people in the whole metropolis, and there were, in fact, many beautiful girls. But, we are talking about one of them. We’ll call her “A.” A was one year older than me in school, and our families had known each other for generations. (She even beat me in the Little Miss Kountze pageant when we were toddlers, but I’m not holding grudges.) Like most high school freshmen and sophomores, A and I had our different crowds. We, of course, would speak when we passed in the narrow hallways of KHS, but nothing more, nothing less.

Then one day, and I can’t remember which came first, I started dating “C,” and she met “B.” C and B were long time best buddies, and their friendship was notorious at our intimate high school. C was quiet and stood in the background, allowing his friend to capture center stage. And, capture it he did. B was tall, athletic, and his blazing baby blues smiled at everyone. He was A’s Prince Charming.

Suddenly, A and I found ourselves pushed together. Since I was too young to “date,” A and B accompanied us to the movies and to dinners. And, since C and B were Juniors, we were all going to Prom! I bought my dress, and during dinner at my house one night, I showed it off. (I can’t remember now why I was so proud of that poofy thing, but I was!) Prom was only three weeks away!

The following rainy Sunday, I attended a family reunion near my hometown. Some cousins were late and everyone was starting to worry. Finally, they arrived.

“There was a horrible accident at the train tracks in Kountze,” they told us. “It was just horrible.”

“Well, I’ll call my dad,” I volunteered. “He is working on a deadline for the paper, and his office is on the corner.”

Dad didn’t answer.

“Well, I’ll call C.” Wasn’t I persistent? “He has a police scanner, that nosy thing, maybe he heard something.”

I called C, and since he hadn’t heard anything, he drove the quarter mile to the lone train track in Kountze.

Then, the earth shook.

Or, at least it felt like it did. I don’t how else to explain an event that affected so many people for so many years.

My friends A and B had gone to church that dismal Sunday morning. They had afternoon plans to attend a crawfish cookout fundraiser in another town, and planned to stop at A’s house so she could change. Maybe the radio was blaring in the truck, maybe the thunder roared too loudly in the skies, maybe the train was driving too fast along that familiar track. In fact, of all those “maybes,” that’s the only thing we know. The train was driving too fast, there were no protective arms to shield the traffic, the red blinking lights didn’t activate in time.

To say the town grieved for these kids, is an understatement. The joint funeral was held in the high school gym, because it was the largest space in town. The processional of cars went for miles, and miles, and miles. The townspeople, lead by the editor of the local newspaper (my father) performed miracles, and had crossing arms installed in record time.

Although close to two decades have passed, I think about my friends often, and mourn their loss – our loss – constantly. My logical mind knows if they had lived, I probably wouldn’t know them today. People grow up, they move away, they lose contact. It likely would have happened.

But, the emotional me is sad. I thought about A on my wedding day, and although it was a brief, fleeting thought, it was there. I call B’s mom every year on that date. And, I always cry. I dream about them sometimes, but they’ve grown like me. They aren’t kids anymore, and…I kinda like that.

“You aren’t sad for them,” my mom told me earlier this week. “You’re sad for yourself. ‘Cause they’re ok.”

And, she is right. Their legacy lives on in the dozens of children running the streets of southeast Texas bearing their names. Their legacy lives in the friends and family who knew them, who loved them, and who remember them. I know B’s mom was worried we would forget. But, we can’t and we won’t. There is always something going on, on April 14, that jogs my memory. This year it was a Monday.

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Comments

  1. This a beautiful tribute to your friends Cherrye. Young life always seems the worst the lose, but how wonderful that they come to you in dreams. Obviously they’re thinking about you too 🙂

  2. What a sad story. I’m so sorry. Your mother is right though. I am sure they are comming to you in your dreams to reaffirm what she has told you…that they are ok!

  3. I’ve never had anyone close pass away (well other than my sister when I was four), but I remember hearing that six kids in my high school died the year after I graduated, and I was acquaintances with at least four of them. I broke down and cried for a good couple of hours. It’s so hard not knowing what is coming. It’s one of the best reasons to live every day the best you can.

  4. C-

    First, I want to say it was wonderful to see your comment on my site. It’s been a long time since we’ve chatted. Can’t believe your wedding has come and gone already. I remember when you were in the planning stages. So congratulations!!

    Your story is very touching and makes me recall similar stories growing up in my own small Texas town. I had a dear friend get into a car wreck, survive to only die on the operating table several weeks later. Sudden deaths are the worst. It is so interesting that you dream of them as if they’ve gone on and grown up. That’s a beautiful thing.

    Take care, C.

  5. Oh what a tragic loss. I know how sad you must be missing them but they are with you when you remember them and they are happy. Enjoy your 5 month Anniversary and here’s to many MANY happy years together!

  6. You are right, J. We have to enjoy life.

    Erin. Thank you.

    PP – I am sorry about your loss, as well. How sad for your parents about your sister!

    Kiki – I agree. It is really nice.

    Thank you, Louise. I apprecite that.

    Tanya – Very true! We did enjoy our 5th months. It was yesterday!!

  7. That’s powerful.

    We always remember certain dates and events, and I guess we learn from them as well (I’m sure that you and others are very careful around railroad tracks).

  8. What a sad story. Death is always hard, but especially so when it’s a young person with so much to look forward to.

    On a lighter note, Happy Five Month Anniversary!

  9. Touching. That’s the saddest thing I’ve read all week. A good reminder that life is precious and to enjoy every minute. I’m glad you mark your calendar and have dreams of them. Don’t forget them–may they continue to live with you.

  10. I hope you share todays entry with the parents of your friends whose lives ended 17 years ago. I too have lost a child and one of my fears is that I am the only one who still remembers. Very well written.

  11. Yes, we are, Jennifer. VERY cautious!! Have fun at WDW!

    Kathy – Thanks for the positive thoughts. Our 5 month dinner was very nice and TEXAN. I made steak and baked taters!

    Dee – I’m sorry. I didnt want to bring anyone down, but it is so much a part of my life…

    Thank you for your comments, Jan. That is one reason I am so careful to call, esp B’s parents when I can. I want them to know that we won’t forget them. I am very sorry for your loss, and I promise you, there are people out there who think of your child more than you know.

  12. I remember that day. It was right after I left Texas to go back to Washington. She was one of the best friends I had while I was there and it was so hard to not be able to be there for the other A. I think about that everytime I cross a train track. I will never forget it.
     
    They were both such special “kids.” I am glad you have fond memories of A. She was a doll. Thank you for your message.
     

  13. I have never experienced anything like this in my life. But your story helped me understand how it might feel. Thank you, Cherrye. You have written from your heart.

    Thank you for stopping by.

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