David was in Manhattan a few weeks ago and we met for dinner. There was a lot to catch up on – we hadn’t met since his wedding – and it was, as always, delightful to see him.
We’ve both lost parents and talked about that for awhile. His mom was sweet, mine was entertaining, and they both died too soon for their lonely-only children. We discussed obituaries, and tributes, and grief. David went back for his mom’s service, but mine didn’t want a funeral. It was comforting to talk to someone from home, if surreal to sit in a Manhattan restaurant comparing hometown mortuaries.
Skipping across other topics, we compared notes on what the old crew is doing lately. Back then I only knew people who were seated alphabetically around me in classes: H-M was the limit of my social horizon. But David had friends (from Boy Scouts? Grade school? I never knew) with surnames that started with letters as esoteric as B and G, and the weirdest amongst us coalesced into a social group. Our collective teen years revolved around classic pretentious youthful venues: the art room, the drama department, band, international club.
We had lockers in the same hallway by happenstance, and then by choice. We shared rides, gossip, mix tapes. Our little crew encompassed miscreants but most of our misadventures were pranks – forking lawns, moving effigies between stands of trees, trick or treating and egg hunts out of season. We adopted exchange students and dragged them along, often against their will. We threw candlelit dinner parties in supermarket parking lots, and skipped school to take the ferry to Seattle to go to matinee performances of Shakespeare plays.
I’m neither sentimental nor nostalgic but it was good to laugh with someone who knew the version of me sporting despised pink spectacles and a JC Penney perm chosen by my mother. When we met, David had no idea that I was in the middle of cancer treatments, and I still don’t know what secrets he was harboring. But there is huge value in talking to someone who was there, who knew the same people, walked on the same beige carpets, suffered through the same pep rallies.
We talked and laughed for hours before he said something casual about the summer he worked on Mt. Rainier. I smiled and shrugged, then watched as the emotions raced across his expressive face. Counted one, two, three, and there it was: the flinch as he remembered what happened the day I drove up to visit him in Paradise.
This is the inevitable part of any visit with friends from home. Eventually, inexorably, no matter how well intentioned, they remember, and the memory hurts. Not just the fact of the accident, but the aftermath. Four lives destroyed. Five years of lawsuits. Injury, devastation, violence, chaos.
I can recite the facts, because I was the only witness and my testimony was required. But I’ve never discussed that day with anyone who was there, or the kids who were supposed to be there, or the people we visited on the mountain. What could I possibly offer? They’re lucky they don’t know, can’t remember. I wish I could forget, but thirty-one years later I still have a box of photographs, transcripts, hospital bracelets, blood soaked clothes cut off broken bodies in a ditch in rural Washington.
The accident isn’t a suitable topic for any social occasion. I steered the conversation toward safer subjects: how much we miss the mountains and the water, how the place that made us lives in our bones.