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“If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”
—Barry Lopez
(as Badger, in Crow and Weasel)


To be nobody but yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.
- e. e. cummings


Remembering Kim

------ It started out like a normal Thursday. As my classmates and I were preparing for our favorite class, jazz band, the director walked into the room. We paid little attention to his demeanor and began to exclaim hallelujahs when he said he was giving us the day off. But with a sudden plunge of the emotional roller coaster, we noticed that something was not quite right in the tone of voice. He solemnly told us that there had been a horrible accident. Our head majorette, one of the most popular and bright leaders of our high school band, had been shot and it was doubtful that she would live.
------ In total shock we began asking questions to which there were no answers. Details were sketchy at best. We each talked about how we had just seen her the day before, and I flashed back to the memory of that afternoon. She had seemed to be less energetic; not her normal effervescent self. I remember asking her if there was anything wrong, not thinking twice when she told me that everything was fine.
------ But fine it wasn’t. By the end of school that day we had learned that the gunshot was self-inflicted. I could never begin to describe the flood of emotions that came over us. It was simply beyond belief. We each tried to determine what could have caused such despair. We lamented our own role in the drama. Why couldn’t we see it coming? Why couldn’t we help?
------ With the speculation and lament came the rumors. So wide in scope they were. With the rumors came the anger. Why did shallow people who didn’t know or care about her have to find some form of entertainment in her tragic death? Were they so incredibly insecure in their own lives that they had to find solace in her demise?
------ The days to come left an indelible mark on my existence. The night after her death was to be our next band performance at halftime of the football game. I didn’t see any way that show could go on. But her parents insisted that it must, and our director gave us the option. We decided unanimously to perform and dedicate the show to her, but we also made it clear that we didn’t want the other majorettes to feel like they needed to perform with us. But perform with us they did.
------ I will never forget that night. The tension built toward halftime with everyone doing everything they could just to hold it all together. When it came time to enter the field it was a surrealistic spectacle. Hollywood wouldn’t have written it any differently. The routine called for her to be the one to lead the formation onto the field alone, followed by the other majorettes in a two-by-two formation. My place in the formation afforded me the opportunity to view the whole entrance. The empty spot where she belonged was unknown to most of the audience but it was all any of us could see. As the majorette stepped onto the field, it was apparent that each was crying uncontrollably. As long as I live I will never understand how we were able to perform that show, and to do so at a high level of quality. I trust we truly were dedicating our efforts to her, and none of us wanted to let her down. I know in my heart that it was a very important part of our grieving process.
------ So many questions remained unanswered in the aftermath, and I couldn’t help but grieve for her parents and sister. They were among my favorites. They were the parents all of us looked up to and admired. We all secretly wished our parents could be so much fun to be around. I never heard any reasonable explanation for what was wrong in her life. I guess I’ll never know.
------ There are so many things about that time I will never understand. For some strange reason, the Elton John song “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” has always brought back the feelings of that time. I remember driving around day and night listening to it after her death. The lyrics are about an entirely different subject, but somehow it captured the mood for me. To this day I can’t hear it without recalling those days. I often wonder about the title’s irony.
------ The most puzzling aspect of the whole experience is in trying to understand the actions of my friends and I that weekend. As a friend and I drove through her neighborhood we were struck by curiosity. The description given in the newspapers of the location of her death indicated a small patch of wilderness a few blocks away from her house. I’d explored that area before. There was a small dead end street with a wooden fence at the end. A path had been worn from the small opening in the fence all the way to the creek bed several hundred feet away. As we came upon this dead end, we noticed a close friend trimming the hedges of the people’s house who lived there. He was only a few feet away from the opening.
------ I remember asking him how he could stand it. He didn’t understand where I was going with the question. I wondered how he could stand the curiosity of being so close to the place were one of the most significant events of our lives had taken place. I also wondered why it wasn’t the foremost thing on his mind. In a matter-of-fact tone, as if it was an afterthought, he mentioned that the proximity of his whereabouts had in fact come to mind. Whatever he had done to put the curiosity out of his mind was lost on me. I suggested to my friends that we walk the trail on which she had likely made her final walk, very early in the morning two days prior.
------ The first twenty yards or so of the trail was in an open area separating the tree-lined creek bed from the housing development. As we approached the trees, I became very nervous. My breathing became very shallow and my belly swarmed with butterflies. As we walked toward the creek bank, something called me to my left. I departed from my friends momentarily and walked toward a small natural cove in the trees. When I reached the opening of the cove I was afraid to be alone, so I quickly reversed my direction and rejoined my friends who were facing the creek a few feet away. What happened next still gives me a chill. In some very macabre and mysterious manner, without saying a word, the three of us turned toward the cove and walked there very quickly, as if being drawn. We walked inside and were immediately drawn to the same sight. The image is ingrained in my mind as if photographed with a high-resolution zoom lens. There we saw ants crawling on a stained spot on the dirt and grass. Tiny particles of my friend’s head were the object of their attention. Almost knocking each other over, the three of us ran as fast as we could. By the time we got to the car, our friend had already resumed his yard work in a very nervous and frantic manner. As we drove away, very awkward and embarrassed laughter ensued as we thought about our hasty retreat. I don’t think we said a word the rest of the way home.
------ I don’t know why I felt the need to go there that afternoon. In many ways I wish I had been able to let the memories be only of the times we shared while she was alive. Memories of the way she and her friends had allowed me, two years their younger, into their lives. The first solo trip I ever took in an automobile was in her car. She was playing in a softball tournament that had gone well into the night, stranding her friend without a ride. Her friends only way home was if I rode with her and brought the car back to the ballpark, all the way across town. I didn’t have a license; I was only fifteen. I pleaded and begged for her to find someone else, but there was no one. I can’t remember when I was more terrified. But I completed the trip successfully, and the moment had served as a rite of passage for me.* The insecure and terrified little boy felt like a man.
------ I will never know why a person so full of life, one who had shown me so much respect and shared so much joy, found the need to take her own life. I guess none of us knew her as well as we thought we did. I always thought that those who took their own lives were the walking dead who finally decided to make it official. I never dreamed that someone so full of life could pull the plug so suddenly. Maybe she helped me to understand just how fragile and precious life is. Maybe there is something to that song title. Maybe someone did save my life.

*I couldn't seem to work it into the story, but as I wrote this part and recalled the feelings of that night, I recall that "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" came on the radio as Jane drove herself home in Kim's car with me awaiting the return trip.

© 2004 The Trill House