This very day, as a matter of fact. It is not very often that October twenty-first falls on a Friday, and when it does, I am blessed with a long day of memories of another Friday, long and long ago, where my entire life changed rather abruptly.
This is the part where you turn back. As I take the lantern from it’s hook, and trim the wick, and light it, and swing open a thick door, covered in cobwebs, and you see the stairs there before us, winding down into darkness…
I look back over my shoulder at you, and one of my eyebrows, over a cold blue eye, as the shadows flicker, raises, asking you silently, are you sure you care to follow?
Well, then…watch your step…
My first memory of the day is lying there, on my back, looking up at the clearest, bluest sky I have ever seen, it marred only slightly by a rising column of black smoke.
Well, how in the heck did I end up here? I ask myself. Weeds tickle my ears, but I am too encumbered by lassitude to bother moving. I hear the crackle of fire, and my leg hurts with a dull ache, and I hear sirens wailing off in the distance, and I think I’ll just lay here and rest for a bit.
This day actually began about two months ago, on my first day of classes at my first University. That was a good day, and in my Sociology class, I met the woman who would become the greatest love of my life.
I was surprised she even talked to me, a woman, well a girl, really, but one of such beauty and sophistication that it was like an abrupt altitude change just to see her. And she wanted to partner on our first assigned project with me! I was surprised, pleased, and flattered all at once.
She drug me off to the library, and we worked and laughed and played and touched, a little, the tentative first touches that signal interest. The arm, close to yours, the slight touch of the side of her perfect breast as she leaned over me to point out something in a book. The hand on the leg, briefly, the playful punch on the shoulder. The lightest of taps, but electrifying.
We became fast friends, very quickly. We made up reasons to be in each others presence. We lurked outside each others classes, and acted surprised when we bumped into each other.
Within a few days, we were holding hands everywhere we went, and kissing, and she would walk beside me, holding my arm, and we’d gaze into each others eyes, and walk into things.
She lived in the dorms, I lived a town away. When we had to be parted, we dominated our respective telephones. Cell phones were still a dream, so we hogged the phone at our respective dwellings and whiled away the hours, getting to know each other.
She sang opera. She was a music major, on a scholarship. She had a place waiting for her back east, singing in a big opera, some group whose name you’d probably recognize if I could remember it. She sang like an angel, and sang everywhere we went. She sang to me, love songs. I still can’t listen to Roberta Flack sing ‘First Time Ever’, and ‘Killing Me Softly’ well, kills me.
We loved and touched and petted, heavy, and neither of us were virgins, but we never made love, because we decided in the first week or so that we were going to get married as soon as we could, and we wanted to save it. I still don’t know if I regret that, or not.
She had a heart condition, newly developed, that frightened me considerable. I caught her several times when she’d just drop. Then her eyes would flutter, life would return to her, and she’d smile and kiss the worries from my face. She had a doctor’s appointment on Monday, the 24th of October, to start looking into what caused it. In the meantime, we tried to avoid anything that would startle her or overexcite her, and if we danced, we danced close.
I woke up once, in the ambulance, and cried out her name. The attendants looked squirmy, uncomfortable. They ended up sedating me because, even tied to a board, my neck in a brace, and in really interesting pain, I fought them so I could get out and go be with her.
She had a roommate, a pretty little thing, as vivacious and outgoing as you’d ever want. She loved me, too, and was always teasing us about stealing me. We three spent a lot of time together, and I’m sure I received many envious glances in the college beer joints we frequented at the edge of campus, but I wouldn’t know, because I was caught in the eyes of my beloved.
This Friday, this fateful Friday, I was to take them both to the roommate’s hometown, where My Love had agreed some weeks before to stay the weekend with her roommate at her parent’s home. We were to leave after the last class of the day, and after we finished packing my car with the baggage two females require to survive two days in a comfortable home.
My car was a red ’64 Chevy Impala SS, with a 327 V8 High Performance engine. It had barely 10,000 miles on it, and from a standing start in the middle of the street, I could floor it and throw the wheel in a hard turn and spin the car aiming back the way it had come in a whirl of tire smoke and engine roar. It’s dual exhaust pipes would alternately burble, growl, or roar, depending on the demands I put on it, and I loved that car nearly as much as my woman.
It was the most comfortable, responsive car I have ever owned, and I’ll never own another like it. Roomy, clean, comfortable, two could lay, intertwined and cooing silliness into each others ears, on either back seat or front. When she was with me, I drove fairly sedately, but when alone, I was a terror. I drove like a madman. No more, though, no more…
Oh, get to it, man! This is what you came here for, right? Still here? Enjoying tasty little sips of my agony, are we?
Well, here you go…
The roommate wanted to stop by ‘our’ bar before we left school. She wanted to get a snootfull before we left, because she was a party party girl, dontcha know. We had thrown all of their crap into my car, most in the trunk, but the roommate wanted her little portable TV in the back seat with her, along with her stereo. It was the TV that would break her neck.
We stopped by the bar, and My Love wasn’t drinking, because we were already worried about her heart, and I nursed a glass of beer because I was handling precious cargo, and roomie guzzled for a bit until she was satiated and decided it was time to go. We went to stand up, and My Love slumped against me, and I held her until she came back, and I begged her to let me take her to the hospital. She said no, she’d be fine until Monday, and therefore chose another route.
We got into my car, and Hi Ho Silver, away we sped.
The roads were nearly deserted. A college town can empty out like magic on the weekend. We ate the road up, My Love there beside me, snug up against me, her warm hand on my thigh. She eschewed the seatbelt, that she might be closer to me, and her pretty legs were crossed at the ankles, resting there on the transmission hump, and all was right with the world. We were both realizing the coming agony of being separated for an entire weekend, and being incommunicado due to long distance charges. There was a sort of loving melancholia as my car ate up the distance much quicker than I would have liked. The roomie sat behind us, and left us alone for a change, knowing this would be our last time together for a while.
I know that I gave my car a name, but for the life of me I cannot remember what it was. But I’m sure that it was a female name. She had never let me down, and every part of her was perfect, and she died in agony and flame.
We finally got out of the more citified areas, and off the freeway, and into the rural countryside. Is that redundant? I don’t care, because the roomie was guiding me through some real hillbilly stickville. Except it wasn’t. Most of the homes spoke of money, little wild, country estates. I was desperate to remember all of the twists and turns, so that I could find my way back out of here, and then back in again to pick them up again.
The roomie told me that we were nearly there, and we were passing down a small street that was unusual in that it had houses on each side, several of them, a little country neighborhood. Suddenly, dogs rushed up all around the car, laughing and jumping and barking and just saying hello, and My Love became anxious and worriful that I would strike one, even though I was moving at a crawl, and I was becoming some anxious, too, that one of the little bastards was going to scratch my car, and My Love slumped against me, and her crossed ankles rolled off the transmission hump, her insensate, and knocked my right foot off of the gas pedal and under the brake pedal and I turned to push her legs away and rolled the stop sign I probably wouldn’t have seen anyway, it being covered with overhanging brush as it was, and I rolled out into the intersection and some good old boy in a pickem-up truck with his wife, going an estimated 120 miles an hour, T-boned me and sent my car 200 feet and My Love flew out behind me, out the window and was decapitated immediately and the roomie flew out and landed somewhere and I, safely in my lap and shoulder belt, sat slumped, unconscious in a burning car that was shattered beyond recognition.
The radiologist was trying to take x-rays of me, and I was slipping in and out from drugs and trauma, and he was having a tough time. I was shivering, probably shock, and he asked me to please hold still, and I tried, I really did. Then he said he had to take a picture of my left knee, and would I please turn it a little, and I tried, and pain shot through me like a bolt, and gave me the strength to push up on my elbows and look to see, and my leg was a nightmare of ripped meat, and glistening white bone. Hey look! I can see my kneecap from here!
I slumped back down and prayed for darkness.
There’s more, oh there’s more, but I’ve wallowed enough, I think. If you could distill the pain and anguish and loss of that time into a tincture, a bottle of it the size of a perfume sample would be enough to kill a grown man.
Moments of time still flicker, though, flapping by like the tape left at the end of a Movietone News Reel, little pictures that jump up onto the screen as they flip flip flip past the light.
Her favorite color was yellow. The funeral, closed casket of course, was redolent with the smell of literally thousands of yellow roses. The mourners stared at me, wondering who this scarred, broken man was, sobbing out his life in the wheelchair in the back of the church. Then the whispers, then more stares.
She seemed to have hundreds of family and friends. I had never met any. We had only had time for school, and for each other, and hadn’t gotten to the family stage.
It was a bit awkward.
My grief gave me cachet, though. Greater than any of theirs, even her parents, it was my passport, my badge. No one could face it and doubt that here, here sits someone who loved her more than any of you ever thought you could. More than even you, you who saw her first baby steps, heard her sing for the first time in church.
And, I had a witness. The roomie lived. Though she had no more memory of the crash than I, she had full memory of our love and commitment to each other, my dead love and I. She had shared in the gushy girl talk roommates do when the beau has left and his beloved dishes and they giggle and say filthy girl things and talk goofy romantic talk.
The roomie had heard My Love’s end of many long phone conversations, as she labored to study and ignore it.
She eventually came out of her coma in a few months. Wore one of those Halo neck/head brace thingies for awhile. Last time I saw her, one hand twisted up a bit, and she walked with a not severe but noticeable lurch. We cried together. She asked me, begged me not to kill myself.
Flip flip flip flip…images…
Me, gun in my mouth, smelling the oil, and the cartridges. Then, no, that’s not right, no one should have to see someone they love up in the front of the church in a closed casket. I stared at her death-box until they took it away. Then I went and mourned as they lowered her into the ground. I wanted to be in there with her so badly…
So I took the gun out of my mouth and pressed the muzzle against my broken heart, and ratcheted back the hammer. I was six ounces away from going to be with My Love, and I couldn’t wait. Joy mixed with anguish is a bitter ambrosia, indeed.
Something, her voice, maybe, said no, I don’t want to see you go like this. I can’t watch it. Can’t bear it, my love…live. Live for me.
And a warm hand closed over mine and helped me lower the hammer gently and I slid the pistol back into it’s holster.
And died, every year again, on the 21st. For a long time. And then I looked into the eyes of my first newborn son, and thought I might see a bit of someone I knew once in there. And then another newborn, and another.
The Lord, He give. The Lord, He take away.
He gave me six beautiful, wonderful children, and now, I am married to the Greatest Love of my life. My first great love understands, I am sure. Heaven’s choir has it’s finest Mezzo Soprano, and my wife sings like an angel, too.
On earth, as it is in Heaven.
One thing before we go, here. I’ll just tack it here on the end, because I don’t know where else to put it. It is an anomaly, but it needs to be told, so I guess here is as good a place as any.
I have mentioned my wound. It was grievous beyond description, but clean. A precise knife cut in the shape of the number 7, paralleling and crossing over the top of my knee. It was the only real wound on my body. I was otherwise relatively unscathed, just a few bruises and scratches.
As I healed, I obsessed with the idea of seeing my car. The intersection. My memory stopped at My Love, slumped at my side, and to this day, I have not one recollection of the impact, nor anything subsequent, except for what I have related here.
I assumed something sharp in the car had gouged me, and that I had somehow crawled out on my own and passed out in the field. But I wanted to see.
My parents drove me to the wrecking yard where my car had been taken. I tottered out on my cane, wincing with every step, having just gotten out of the hospital the day before.
The keys still hung in the ignition. I looked around inside, and could find nothing that looked like it could have or had, indeed, cut me. There was no blood visible in or on the car, and I went over it carefully. Then, startled, I noted that my seatbelts had been cut, sliced clean through, as if by razor or scalpel. Hmmmm, that’s odd, I thought.
I scavenged a few things from the car…her family, their families had already gotten the suitcases and anything that wasn’t broken. I got our notebooks and shared projects book, and her notebook, with doodles in it, our names in hearts and such, that tore me open yet again; yet I still treasure them on a certain day in October, then lock them away.
Then, to the scene of the crime. My Dad had apparently been there, already, because he knew the way. I couldn’t have gotten there myself if you’d have held a gun to my head. Nothing was familiar. It was as if I had never been there before, and maybe this was all a dream.
And then the laughing dogs surrounded our car, and my blood went cold.
We were here.
As we slowly approached the intersection, I almost didn’t recognize it. All four corners had been mowed down close, cleared way back of weeds and brush, and four shiny new stop signs glowered in four different directions. Nice, big ones, and no bullet holes, neither.
This place was a shrine.
I asked my Dad to park, and I got out and hobbled to the sign I may or may not have been able to stop at. Have you ever had an opportunity to stand literally at the crossroads of your life? Where things changed in an instant? It was eerie.
I placed my palm against that sign, and then turned away and hobbled to my right, down the road, towards the impact crater, for that is indeed what it was. Every step hurt, and I relished the pain, the only penance I could perform. Also, I wanted to get in shape as soon as possible, so I could get back into our class, and finish it. Weird, huh.
I hopped across the ditch and hobbled several yards across the rutted field to where dried pools of fire retardant and my own, black blood spattered in and around a deep gouge in the earth.
Lost in my reverie, a voice startled me.
“Howdy…” and I jumped, and turned. “Sorry to scare ya, there, but I was talking to your Daddy over there, and he told me you was the fella that was in this here accident.”
I said that yes I was, and I noted that a small group of neighbors had formed around my parents car, and they were all smiling and talking.
To make a long story short, and because I am tired and at the end of this, just let me tell you what he said.
He told me that everybody heard the crash, and came running down the hill to see, and as they were running up to the car, taking it all in, and people running back to call 911, and it must have been chaos, and they notice a stranger, through the smoke, reaching into my car and lifting me out like a child, and laying me down on the ground and kneeling beside me as they all rushed up and milled around and then they noticed he was gone. They didn’t see how he got there, or how he left, and they never saw him before nor saw him again.
“Din’t even stick around long enough for us to say boo or thank ya or howdy do…” he told me, and then nodded wisely and said “Musta had warrants…cops was comin down the road by then…”
Yes. Musta had warrants. Or maybe be somebody who knew that, if left unscathed, I would have surely killed myself from the agony and the anguish and the terrible guilt of it all. That I needed my mark.
Okay, I’m done.