Monday, March 11, 2013

Gone, but Not Forgotten

As I may have mentioned before, I help manage a Facebook group dedicated to high school classmates who've died.  Today, I put out a plea for three obituaries--Allyson Brown's, John Woodard's, and John Russell's.  All three from my class.

Allyson and I hadn't gotten along since Mrs. Jordan's second grade, when, while giving a book report, she sneezed and wound up with an amazing bungee-booger that flew from her face, then snapped back and splattered her cheek.  Being SEVEN YEARS OLD, I laughed.  We had been friends.  We were no longer.  In fact, she went on a scorched earth campaign that wound up with me nearly suspended from school (thank goodness my Dad was away and never learned of this!) for cheating on my homework assignments.  What can I say?  At seven, I didn't know much about self-consciousness or being embarrassed before an audience.  Had I been nine when it happened, I'd never have laughed, and I'd have helped her stare down anyone who did.  It was just plain ol' bad timing, and it ruined what might have been a long and wonderful friendship.  Allyson went on to pursue an education, had settled in Pennsylvania, and had met a man she loved.  Strangely, she settled just miles from where my family almost wound up when we moved east, and was poised to marry a man who is almost certainly related to my Mom's family.  Allyson was only 40.

John Woodard?  John and his then-friend Dwayne paid me five bucks to beat up a boy named Brent Butler.  That I did grab Brent by the coat and swing him around at their behest?  Not my proudest moment.  By then we were in fifth grade, and I was the target of relentless ridicule for my weight, my name, my religion, and pretty much anything else.  I was foolish enough to believe that these popular boys would count me among their friends if I did their bidding.  Hey, I was ten.  John later came quite close to killing the daughter of a doctor my Mom worked with in a car accident.  I remember John's obit a few years later.  No, I can't remember how he died--another car accident?  I'm not sure.  As a kid he was handsome, talented, funny, and just a bit smug.  Who and how he was as an adult, I don't know.  He was a smart guy, I know that much.  Try as I might, I can't pin down when I saw John Woodard's obituary.  Late 80s?  Early 90s?  Later than that?

And John Russell?


I'd known John, like the others, from first grade on.  He was always nice, always kind, which was funny because he looked--well, he looked a bit snotty.  I remember a friend saying, "How can you like him, he's such a snob!"  I said, "A snob?  John?  No he's not!"  She said, "Look at that look he always has on his face!"  I said, "That's not HIM, that's just his face."

Thank you, Ringo Starr.

It was a nice face, but he did have a bit of a "down his nose" look.  It wasn't at all reflective of his heart.  He was a kind, friendly, truly nice kid.

John and I weren't close until the very end of our shared school career.  What happened between us and the deep connection it created will never be sprayed on a blog page or a Facebook group or anything else like that.  In fact, I have never shared it with ANYONE we went to school with, ANYONE who knew him.  My husband knows.  Another person who was there when it happened knows.

Immediately after the end of 12th grade, I married and moved 50 miles away.  John moved a few hundred miles away for college (John was a terrifically good student).  I had no access to our old local newspaper, I had no TELEPHONE, in fact.  I was in the throes of a gawdawful marriage to a gawdawful guy, and my life was incredibly lousy.  I'd been isolated from my friends, my family, and had to walk three blocks just to use a payphone.  So there I was, standing in the entryway at Harmon's grocery store, calling my Mom collect.  We got to our goodbyes, and she said, rather testily (we'd been arguing), "Oh, yeah--that John Russell boy you know?  The one who used to come over?  He's dead."

I dissolved.  Literally.  It was the first time in my post-toddler existence I had ever just utterly lost cohesion.  Sitting on the floor beside the phone, sobbing.  A very nice woman drove me home, but I don't really remember anything about her.  John's funeral had already come and gone, so even if I had been able to swing (or hitch) a ride, it was too late.

I found a Genweb-type text version of Allyson's obituary today, and an old classmate who was, in some way that escapes me, related to Allyson (sister-in-law to Allyson's brother-in-law?), is kindly looking for a picture to go with it.  No one has said anything about John Woodard's obituary.

And John Russell's?

A former teacher from our high school posted it today, in response to my request.  And I cried.  Can you believe that?  It's been . . . 29 years?  Is that right?  He died in 1983, so yeah.  Thirty years this fall.  And I cried, reading his obituary which, while lovely, did not begin to communicate all he was or a fraction of what I know he would have become.

I'm reminded of another friend who died young--Tammy Linford.  She died when we were fifteen in a car accident.  She was my very best friend in early elementary school, and the sweetest, funniest girl.  I think about them both, John Russell and Tammy.  They never had PCs.  Apples were something you ate.  Cell phones?  Star Trek communicators were the closest they came.  No Challenger disaster, no 9/11, no growing into the amazing adults they were going to be.  I imagine Tammy, perhaps in Utah, perhaps in some sunny place like California or New Mexico, surrounded by grandkids, a heart big enough for a whole village of babies, grandbabies, nieces, nephews.  I always picture her with an amazing garden, an explosion of color and fragrance.  I see John in the Pacific Northwest, politically aware and joyfully himself, adored by and adoring kids and pets, hiking, sailing, swimming in the ocean, and perhaps trying his hand at painting or photography.  Why painting?   I don't know, it just pleases me to imagine him with a paintbrush in his hand.  Painting crashing waves and dazzling sunsets.

Not much more to say.  I thought of posting John's obit.  Tammy's, too.  Because . . . because part of me wants YOU to know them, too.  I want you to see them, miss them, mourn them, even.

I want you to remember them.  Because they're gone.  They're gone, and if they aren't remembered, they end.

I don't want them to end.

Do not reprint without permission. © KAQ


  1. It is the not wanting people we love, or ourselves that invites many tp want to believe in god and the hereafter. People even imagine a heaven for their dogs and cats. Look at any road kill, or a chicken in the meat case, and you will know dead is dead. Wish it were different, but unfortunately it is not. Live today.

  2. Oh, I agree. I WISH there was more, I think that would be great, wonderful, and super-fancy. But I've never been one who could "decide" to believe something I feel confident is untrue. There's no afterlife, no matter how much I wish there could be. And that sucks, but it's what there is. So I'd better make this one fun--it's the only one I get.