“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”
― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
For decades, whenever the calendar declares it is March 1, a series of images flash into my mind:
The sun was shining in between clouds that had a more summer-like appearance than I remembered seeing the last time I’d paid any attention to the sky. I was young, in my junior year of high school. The gusty winds of March had begun in earnest. It was wonderful to feel my hair blow across my face and into my mouth as I laughed at everything John said to me.
I had my prop, the basketball, which had been my ticket out of the house. I’d set up a play date at the basketball court at Lowell Grade School. This particular court was a place my sisters and I escaped to often. It was across the street from our house. Neither Dad or Irene had any problems with us going there. That was a very important part of growing up in my house, I was never allowed to go far from home.
On this day, March first, the snow had mostly melted, leaving mushy puddles in scattered spots across the court. For the most part, I tried to avoid them but my first serious crush, John, worked hard to hit them with a force that covered us both with freezing slush. It was a glorious day.
I see him so clearly in my head on this day–a date that has become such an odd anniversary of sorts. His dark hair, dark skin, early beard, kinda goofy walk with his feet angled outward and a pace that would be called speed walking today. He was always in a rush–I’m not sure if even he knew where he was going.
All I knew was I was in love with him–he was cute, funny, full of energy, mysterious, and troubled.
He lived with his mom and his younger brother. His mom worked a lot which meant he was responsible for his little brother. He was adamant he had to be home in time to cook dinner for his brother when his mom was working. That fact made us a good match–I was responsible for my sisters, too.
As the school year ended, so did our relationship. I was devastated–how could that be? We were so perfect together–he introduced me to the Rolling Stones and Bill Cosby’s Noah’s Ark routine. He played “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” over and over again. This was one of the first times, and by far, not the last time, I realized I was so very naive.
The last time I had any real contact with him was a Saturday night just before the school year ended. For whatever reason, he just showed up my backdoor. Luckily, Dad and Irene were out because it would NOT have been okay for a boy to show up at our house. He came to the door and asked if I would come with him. I’m pretty sure he’d been drinking–my naive mind saw no danger–I only knew he was there–at MY door. I went with him.
The part of the street we lived on had no stop signs or stop lights for a very long distance, making it the perfect stretch of road for kids to race their cars.
My gut told me he was angry and sad. My gut was also screaming at me when he floored the car leaving our driveway. By the time he got past the grade school, he was beginning to lose control of the car. I was sitting next to him so I could see that the speedometer was steadily climbing–I buried my head in his shoulder as we began to slide–I think it was my movement that brought him back to reality. He slowed down, turned towards his house, and parked the car. He looked at me for a long time, saying nothing.
We sat in silence. My gut told me that he was in very deep trouble. I told him I was going to walk home and got out of the car. He grabbed my arm and pulled me back, saying he was sorry, and he’d take me home. He hung his head and told me that he just could not do this anymore.
The next time I saw him was after we’d graduated. Actually, I did not see him, none of us did.
It was the first freeze of the winter and John was speeding when he hit a railroad bridge in the little community where he had just started college. He was killed instantly. His head injuries too severe for an open casket.
As my friends and I stood beside his coffin, my gut screamed at me that his accident was no accident.
My heart still wonders what happened to his little brother.
May we all stay aware.
Many thanks to my dear friends, Kimberlee Salimeno, for allowing me to borrow her picture for today’s story. Love you.