Sunday, November 25, 2007

Oh Caroline, No

Where is the girl I used to know?

Jan was my mother's best friend. They were cousins. Jan had a hearing people and battled a speech impediment. I don't think that ever mattered to my mom.

I lost my mom in 1986. Jan died in 1970. I think sometimes I could scream loud enough for it be heard in 1986, but '70 is a reach. My parents had only been married two months when it happened. I'd venture Mom and Jan hadn't seen each other for a few years, but she was there at the funeral. Her life was just beginning and Jan's ended abruptly on an August afternoon.

It's funny - trying to reach out and yank at the bottom of the pain it caused the family. They still speak of her in hushed tones. There are raw nerves.

How could you lose that happy glow?

I went to the library once to read about what happened. It was on the front page of the Daily Progress, so different then from the paper I read today. How do you begin to understand something so horrific laid out on a microfiche screen?

Jan wanted to be a gym teacher. She loved sports and horses and music. She wrote all over my mom's yearbook in blue pen, warning her best friend about North Carolina boys. In the end, there was no worry, because in North Carolina my mother met a boy from Virginia. I have no doubt she wrote Jan about this, then their breakup and then the eventual engagement in Kansas.

My Uncle Dan is Jan's father. He's in his eighties now and cried when he saw me at a family funeral. "My God, I thought you were Georgie," Dan told me, wiping his eyes. "My God, they're both gone."

People thought I left early because I had to work. I actually drove to Montford and sat in the car crying for an hour.

You 'd never change but that's not true...

By chance one summer I met my mother's ex-next door neighbor. They grew up together on Belleview Avenue in Orange. Joanne and Jan later became college roommates. Jan had been engaged in early 1970 and her parents weren't happy about it. The engagement ended and Jan started drinking. Joanne told me all this and changed the subject.

Mom and Dad were married that June. For whatever reason, Jan wasn't at the wedding. It had been four years since Jan did all the scribbling in the senior yearbook. My parents moved to Northern Virginia and Jan stayed at Averett College.

July passed and I guess things were beginning to settle into an even keel for Georgia and Stu. Jan kept arguing with her parents, and came up to Charlottesville to spend some time at home. Her family bought a house off Barracks Road.

Who took that look away?

As August drew to a close, there was a heat wave that settled over Virginia. Tempers flared and Jan got into a terrible argument with her mother. I'll never know what the fight was about, but Jan was drunk. She stormed out and took off down the driveway in her father's little truck. I imagine Aunt Jean listening to the wheels crunching on the gravel and the sound falling off and dying in the summer air.

We don't know what happened. I can theorize that she was going too fast on the slight curve near the Georgetown Road intersection. It's really not much of anything, just a slight rise where 250 dumps out.

But she lost control and truck flipped. Somehow. There was an out of control moment.

There was an explosion. Jan was thrown out. Passersby rushed to her, but she was smouldering, bloody and unconscious. She died on the soft shoulder of Barracks Road on a late afternoon. The future teacher and my mother's best friend. Burnt to death.

I wish I knew how Mom reacted. My father doesn't remember, but hell, it was 37 years ago. They buried Jan in the little churchyard in Unionville. Maybe my 21 year old mother was shaken by the sudden death, or wrote it off with her typical surface practicality. I imagine she would have dwelled on it, like I would.

It's so sad to watch a sweet thing die...

When Mom died, my father sought out Aunt Jean and had a long talk with her. He came away sad, realizing that you don't so much get over these things. You deal with them in different ways over time. Jean did say that not long after the accident, she was in the kitchen putting dishes away when she heard Jan's voice. "I'm okay Mom," was all she heard. That was the first and last time anything like that would happen.

There's so much I don't know about Jan. I know she used to listen to the "Pet Sounds" album because her copy's boxed up in some of my mother's belongings. They gave it to Mom a few years after Jan died. That's about it. I drive by that intersection every once in awhile and sometimes I think about it. Other times, I don't.

I've given up on looking for familiar faces around Orange. Almost everyone's gone. There are some Sunday mornings, though, I'll drive up there before the mist has cleared out. In my mind's eye I can see all of them. They wouldn't know who I am, but I know them. And Jan's always there, smiling at me.

She knows.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Flight 514

I'll tell you

one day
about my
last breath

It came