the woods are lovely
It wasn't where we were going, but it was where we ended up. Junie and I were bouncing
up the forest road on our way to somewhere else when we came across a stand of maples in
a crease in the hills, and it was so beautiful it stopped me cold. And the more I thought
about it, the more I figured it must be a place Debbie and I
happened to wander by once almost thirty years ago. That was during her horticulture
period, and we stopped and explored the ravine because it looked so lush and verdant.
I learned the other day that Debbie's mom was dead, the same way I learned six or seven
years ago about her dad, by bringing flowers to Debbie's grave and finding a freshly populated
one next to it.
Virginia was Tontitown's Queen Concordia in 1952 when she was seventeen years old.
Two years later she gave birth to a baby girl. Twenty-three years, five months, and twelve
days after that, the erstwhile baby girl was murdered in a convenience store robbery.
Twenty-five years after that, she died.
They were better to me than they had to be, Debbie's mom and dad, much better than I
realized at the time. There were long stretches when I practically lived at their house,
and I must have spent the night on their sofa hundreds of times and mooched who knows
how many meals. And there was never the slightest hint that I was ever anything but
welcome. Maybe that was more for Debbie's sake than mine, but even so when I think
of it now it amazes me. But then, there was so much that was amazing then.
We lost touch after Debbie died, of course. Oh, we got together a few times, but when
we did there was always a ghost in the room, and that soon put an end to that. So, I
hadn't seen Virginia in close to twenty-five years when I found her new grave on a cold
January evening and saw by the date on the temporary marker that she had died a
couple of weeks before. Saying thanks is such a puny thing, but I wish I had somehow
thanked them better.
This is one of those convergences that still happen from time to time, when my lived life
intersects with that other one, the one that disappeared when Debbie died and took that
future with her. This would have been a hard time for her had she lived, and it's
impossible not to think about that now, that alternate life where we would have been
standing together over her mother's grave. I think that was the hardest thing about it
for me; more than just mourning for Virginia, I think I was also mourning for those
other lives, the one that was but then vanished, and the one that might have been.