A high school girlfriend of mine died on Monday. By all accounts it was as tragic as a death could be. She married a loving man and had two beautiful children. She had a 20 year teaching career where we grew up. Life was idyllic till the breast cancer showed up. She passed away quietly at home in the arms of her husband and children after a lengthy battle with the disease. Kim was only 42 years old.
I sit here among the clutter and dust that is my office, conscious of her loss and mostly feeling sympathetic towards her husband, David, and her kids. I sit here hoping that they might take some comfort now that the difficulty and pain that is the act of dying is over and peace might have returned to their house. She can finally rest, free of the disease as well, for once. I’m sure she’s earned her rewards, whatever they are. However, the overwhelmingly hollow sadness of her indiscriminate choice to carry such a painful burden like cancer will remain for sometime.
I thought perhaps some form of memorial might be in order. Even though almost all of us that graduated high school together have drifted far apart, there would be those that would reminisce on her life and good works. I thought I might be one of those, that is, through my weak little word processor, as I am prone to do. But, ironically, after sitting here for more than a few moments, nothing really came to mind as fitting. Not that Kim doesn’t deserve as many pretty words as folks can speak; I was dumbstruck by the sadness of it all.
In reality, I had no recent knowledge of her habits or ways. Who would I be to comment on her life cut short?
As a further annoyance to my progress, I seemed stuck on the heartbreak that is a vibrant young woman taken from her family with such calculating ease. In fact, it’s something I really can not get past this evening, and Kim deserves better than my ranting of deconstruction, conspiracy theories, and vengeance.
So, I glanced up on a dusty shelf and spied my copies of my high school year books. The Corinthian Columns. How they have stayed with me all these years, especially after I worked so hard to shuck off pretty much any association to the place, I’ll never know. But they were here and I was feeling poignantly nostalgic, so I sat back in my office chair under the humming glow of my desk lamp and started in with the year 1980.
The dim light washing my desk brought the rarely seen pages back to life again. I found myself fixated under the frozen stares of so many young faces and memories. It’s all becoming so distant now, those times gone by. The smiles and wind-blown locks and lake tans stopped in time fortified my fading memory, somewhat. I managed to extract a few personal memories of my time in Kim’s life as I flipped through the dusty books.
We had done the boyfriend/girlfriend thing in junior high and dated briefly during the winter of 1984 when we ended up at the same college, but I hadn’t really talked to her in 20 years or more.
I did get to spend a few hours chatting with her during the odd airplane holiday spent at home several years ago. Motherhood had done her well, I remember thinking when I first saw her for the first time in a long time at a supper at her mother-in-law’s house I happened to attend. She wore a bright smile and was bubbly and truly seemed fulfilled as she showed off snap shots of her tanned offspring reclining on a Florida sand dune. I ooh’d and ahh’d between forkfuls of Rotel Chicken. Her kids looked just like her; white teeth from ear to ear and both just as sparkly and shiny as new copper pennies. It’s what every parent would hope for, I suppose. Simple, honest happiness.
We exchanged a small flurry of emails upon the eve of our 10 year class reunion. Always the conspiracy theorist, I asked how much my sainted Mother had paid her to pose as the bait for my return and ultimately, my voluntary participation in the festivities without the use of sedatives or tranquilizers. I realized my reply was probably quite insulting about the time I pushed ‘send.’
She replied in a gracious manner and laughed off my ridiculous behaviour. I remained suspicious of her tactics but we managed to catch up a bit. She was polite, curious, responsive, and somewhat concerned. And that was it. That was the last time I spoke to her.
My mind’s eye remembers her as the absolute cutest of pint-sized cuties who always seemed to have a smile for everyone. Her beginnings were humble, but she persevered like most of us who were unsure or shaky back then, and made do with what she was given. She put herself through college, got her teaching credentials, and returned home to begin teaching younger children in one of the county schools.
She raised two kids of her own and made a comfortable and loving home for them and her husband. They were happy and a family and all together.
I believe she did well. In fact, I know she did well. We should all be so lucky with the time we have left.
originally published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, January, 2008.