Out Of The Blue
My daughter Robin’s best friend died today. Her name was Sarah. She was sixteen.
In fact, last night, Friday night, Sarah had a birthday party. It was different, at least from my experience. Her parents rented a limo which gathered up Sarah and her seven closest friends and rode them into Boston for dinner and an excursion into Quincy Market. They like going into all the shops there, like listening to the street music, and watching the jugglers, mimes and clowns. It’s such a grown-up thing, being chauffeured about Boston on a Friday night. The parents, of course, followed along in their own car. They’re good that way. They’re protective of their children.
Sarah was a terrific kid. She was a good student, played soccer and liked to ski. She loved going to concerts and listening to music, all that rapping, jamming, jumping, moaning music none of us grown ups can understand. She smiled all the time.
“We don’t know the cause of this, why this has happened right out of the blue,” Pam, her mother said. She was talking to the twenty of us who had gathered outside the Intensive Care Unit, waiting, shocked, wondering. She had a blankness in her face like something had ripped out her soul. Five hours before her daughter had been so alive, her life stretching before her in endless waves of opportunity and hopefulness. Now, “The doctors think she had a heart attack.” She began crying again. “Either she had a deformity in her heart we never knew about or there was a virus of some kind. I’ll let everybody know as soon as we know. I’ll call you.” She turned and threw herself at her husband, clutching at him, sobbing, wailing. The father’s face was like stone.
I didn’t know Sarah’s parents very well. Over the years, I’d seen them at soccer games and at various school events, and they always seemed like nice people concerned, more than anything, for their children. Now and then I’d spoken with Pam, mostly about the logistics of picking up the girls and dropping them off. But I didn’t even know her father’s name. I know it now. His name is Jim. After Jim came out of the ICU to tell the girls they could go in and say their last good-byes to Sarah, I hugged Jim and said, “I’m sorry.” What else could I say?
I’ve been crying; it’s a strange thing really. I mean, I wasn’t’ that close to this family. I only knew them through Sarah and our daughter. Sarah was always around, always sleeping over, always on the phone. I liked her because she wasn’t dark and snarling like most girls her age. She liked to smile and actually would talk with us, my wife and I, as Robin stood there arms folded tight across her chest, foot tapping, lips pressed firmly together. You’re not supposed to talk to the parents, we’re the enemy. Sarah even went so far as to laugh at my jokes and my fooling around. Sometimes, for example, I’d pick up the extension phone and break into their tense teenage conversations by baaing like a sheep or mooing like a cow. My daughter would scream at me, “Dad get off the phone, get off the phone now!” But Sarah, she’d be laughing like crazy, trying to muffle it so Robin wouldn’t get too annoyed.
I remember the last thing I said to her because it was only last night. As she and Robin were heading out the front door off to their limo adventure I yelled upstairs, “Do you girls have everything? Do you have your skis?” They both looked at each other and broke out laughing. I had truly forgotten they were doing the Boston thing. I was a week behind. Last week they had planned a ski trip but it rained so hard they went to the movies and the mall and had a sleep-over instead. All those details get lost in the blizzard of life, for me anyway.
I don’t have many special anecdotes of Sarah to tell. She always was just around, smiling, and plotting and planning things with Robin. There was that time I took her driving. That was kind of funny. I always take my children driving about a year before they get their permits. I figure the more practice the better. Sixteen year olds driving is simply the scariest thing imaginable, so I try to get them comfortable early on. There’s a large, sprawling parking lot nearby, with narrow spaces and driveways and little buildings and roads, even a fire hydrant and a basketball playing area. On Saturdays and Sundays it’s empty, so we go over and drive all around, the children with bright faces and wide eyes, me with sweaty palms and a thumping heart. “That’s a fire hydrant right in front of you, Robin, try not to hit the damned fire hydrant, O.K. Robin?”
Sarah came with us once. Of course, I let her drive too. It was her first, and perhaps only, time behind the wheel. She was so excited and so careful, driving about half a mile an hour. I was worried though about her parents being angry at me. They were so protective. But I knew it was safe, there was no danger. There weren’t even any other cars over there.
“They’re going to be mad at you, Michael. What if they call and they’re mad at you? You should have asked first.”
All I could do was shrug at my wife’s admonishments. “It’s too late now, Honey. Besides, Sarah promised she wouldn’t tell them.”
Well of course she told them, she had to tell them, she’s just a kid after all. They didn’t call me to yell, thank goodness for that. They only rolled their eyes, Sarah said, and frowned. “But they did seem particularly perturbed when I explained how you and I stood there like road cones so Robin could practice her parallel parking between us.” Her eyes glinted at me then and she smiled. Girls. God’s most perplexing invention.
I’m upset for the family more than I can say. But, mostly, I hate to admit it, I’m upset because of how close this tragedy came to my own family. I mean this freakish sort of thing can happen to any of us at any time. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, no fault to be laid, no guilt to nurture. It just happened, that’s all. And there’s nothing much to do about it either, except to pray if you believe in God or even if you don’t. There’s nothing to do but shrug and sigh and continue on, hoping that time will help mend the wound. And be thankful too that this one missed you. The meteor crashed into someone else’s living room this time, killing their child instead of yours.
Michael Estabrook is a medievalist at heart (and by training), disappointed (though reconciled mostly) with the modern world, particularly with the materialism and mercantilism bludgeoning life, smashing our brains into the ground, our hearts into dust. He is still hoping to find a true and meaningful “cause” in life, other than scratching out pale poetic murmurings like trying to write in hardened concrete. But he needs to find his “cause” pretty soon before he turns to dust himself.
Photos courtesy of Freeimages.co.uk.
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