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.