I knew her for exactly one school year, our sophomore year, in High School.
I was a stranger to that town and for years didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. Moving from country to country has a way of making you both introverted and shy. You don’t want to reach out to others for fear they’ll soon be gone.
She was in one of my classes. I don’t recall which, but we got to be friends. Perhaps she took pity on me. She was very attractive and had the eyes of many others, including some of the more popular people in the school and I was, compared to them, a quiet oddball.
I admit it, I was smitten.
The year ended and we left on good terms (she even signed my yearbook!) and when I returned to school for our junior, then senior years, I hoped to reconnect with her but that was not to be. Apart from that first year we didn’t share another class together. I saw her here and there on campus but we never had another conversation and never shared another laugh. She had her circle of friends and they didn’t include me or my geeky friends.
I saw her one last time on perhaps the very last day of High School. It was an outdoor get-together for the graduating Seniors and we were milling about or sitting on the lawn and hanging out in groups. I saw her sitting with one of her female friends and by a teacher I knew and decided to formally say goodbye to her.
I was still painfully shy but built up my courage and sat down near her. My shyness had my mind in overdrive and I tried to work into talking to her by first acting like I sat there with the intention of talking to that teacher. I caught her eye but we wound up not saying anything to each other. Another friend of mine -one many students didn’t like because he was even more of an oddball than me- sat down next to me a moment after I sat and effectively broke whatever plans I had.
I never did get to say goodbye.
Many years later another friend of mine from High School told me -though my memories were vague about this- that she was in an accident and subsequently hospitalized and in a coma.
These were the days before the internet and given how far away she was from me by this point versus where I lived, there was no way to verify the information and so I could do nothing but hope my friend’s information was incorrect.
Fast forward to last weekend and some twenty two plus years later. My youngest daughter is about to go to College and she chooses one that coincidentally happens to be a short fifteen minute drive from my old High School.
We headed up there for that college’s orientation and in my free time I get curious and, thanks to the magic of Google, start looking up old friends from High School. I look up that girl I was so smitten with for that one magical year and what I find breaks my heart.
She passed away at the age of 34 in the year 2000.
I searched for more information but couldn’t find much. Her obituary simply states the date she passed away and lists her immediate family as relatives. There is no mention of a husband and, I suppose it was for the best, any children.
I searched even harder but the fact is she passed away just as the internet was about to become the fountain of information it is now and there was precious little I could glean about her years following High School. What I did find was that she went to college, joined a sorority, and was there for four years. Between her graduation from College in approximately 1988 and the year she died there was little else to find.
I contacted my other High School friend, the one that told me years before that she had been in a car crash and in a coma, and asked him for more details. Could he remember when exactly he found out about this? Was there any more he learned? Anything at all?
Sadly, he couldn’t.
Based on estimations and guesswork, we guessed he must have found out about her accident and subsequent hospitalization in and around our 10th year High School reunion, perhaps 1994.
Which crushed me all the more.
I’ve worked with victims of accidents and head trauma and any number of debilitating conditions and the sad fact is that one can live (though there is a bitter irony to using that particular word) for years in such a condition before passing away.
Had this happened to her?
I could only guess that perhaps it had. It explained why she had no significant other or children listed among her family and relatives in her obituary.
And it made me all the sadder.
While my old friend passed away 16 years ago (ironically, in and around the likely age we were when we first met), finding out about this now made the loss immediate. 2016 has been a terrible year, so far, for deaths and this one hit me just as hard.
Rest in peace, Julie.
I hope what life you lived in those too short years was as beautiful as you were in my childhood eyes.