"Time has imprisoned us in the order of our years."

A friend and I were walking from my apartment into Northampton last night and I realized that, of all the hundreds of people I've encountered in my life, there are only eleven that I can confirm are dead. In approximate chronological order (please assume the "so it goes" after every entry):

  1. Nana Marilyn: My mother's stepmother, my grandfather's second wife. She died of lung cancer in her late seventies, I think, when I was six or seven. She never smoked a day in her life. Thus my mother was faced with the task of explaining death to someone who was just getting used to life. Her funeral was in Omaha, Nebraska. It was snowing like ash from a distant fire falling from the sky. These are flashes of old memories.

  2. Christine Dory: A girl in Mrs. Gonfiantinni's fourth grade class who died of a brain tumor. I sort of knew her, but probably only remember her name now because she died at such an early age. The only part of her funeral that I remember was looking at one of her good friends just as the priest said, "Her classmate Teddy (I was a Teddy then -- oh, the folly of youth) said about Christine, 'She was a nice girl,'" and it didn't seem fair that a person's life could be summed up in a five word sentence. I still remember the date of her death: October 9th, 1987. If I squint, I can sort of remember her head and face, bald from chemotherapy. Her laugh? The way she smiled? Her singing voice? All of the important stuff is lost in my memory.

  3. Some kid in my eighth grade class: One of the popular kids committed suicide and I felt some sort of sick satisfaction because for once all the cool kids were unhappy. I didn't gloat, I don't feel guilty, but I wish I could remember his name.

  4. Mrs. Gonfiantinni: My fourth grade teacher died after her fourth heart attack. She was a friend of the family's, so we went to the funeral, which was my first real experience with Catholicism when I was old enough to realize how creepy Mass is. Stand, chant, sit, stand, chant, sit, kneel, rise, rinse, repeat. Mrs. G used to tell us to eat our desserts first because we never knew which meal would be our last. She was the first dead person I actually missed.

  5. Mrs. Bennett: My first grade teacher. She wore platform shoes and lots of make-up and was probably eighty when I was in her class. She was a stereotypical goofy old lady. To think of her now reminds me of the postal clerk from Waking Ned Divine. I didn't go to Mrs. Bennett's funeral, although a friend of mine did. I was, for some reason, extremely jealous.

  6. Vivian Terry: My grandmother on my dad's side, dead of an inoperable brain tumor, but naturally batsy and prematurely senile. My sister went to visit her in Texas before she died, but I stayed at home because I didn't want to watch someone die. I did not go to grandma's funeral.

  7. "Dale": An old fiancee of my sister's, whom she left because he had this nasty habit of physically abusing her. Dead from diabetes a few months after she left him. Some things are poetic.

  8. Terry Milton Terry: My father. He was suffering for about a year of cancer when he committed suicide. His last gift to me was an electric shaver. He died on the first day of my sophomore year in high school. I, of course, remember my father, but not as well as I'd like to. I don't feel that I ever knew him. My parents separated when I was three years old and made it final when I was ten, so I only saw him on the occasional weekend when I'd visit him at his home or work in Lake Tahoe. Anyway, I didn't find out about exactly how he died until I saw the death certificate. My sister and half-brother tried to keep it from me because they didn't know quite how I'd handle it.

    Dad's death was very business-like. Taking care of the funeral. Planning the memorial service. Shipping the body to Texas. Picking out the headstone. I didn't even cry until I saw the casket. His memorial service was standing room only. People were either in tuxedos or cowboy attire. A woman sang the Lord's Prayer. He had an American flag because of his involvement with the Army Corps of Engineers. After the funeral, dad's friend Mr. King went to Waco to get a book of matches, and my mom, sister, and I went to Austin and had some of the best root beer I've had in my life (Stewart's Root Beer dispensed from an oak barrel from some restaurant that I now know to be located across the street from Waterloo Records).

    I would spend the next few years either hating him or admiring him, which, I guess, is how the grieving process goes. When I moved from the west to the east a year ago, I stopped at his grave and caught him up with my life. As far as I could tell, he had no complaints about his current condition.

  9. Joe Navarro: high school was my death years. Navarro was an ESL kid in my school who needed a transplant and died waiting for a liver. The announcement came over the intercom system that he had died and everyone spent the rest of the day pretending they had some connection to this kid. He got a page in the yearbook. I might've seen him in the halls. I don't remember. I don't even have the yearbook anymore.

  10. Theodore Armstrong: My grandfather on my mom's side marks the last of my high school deaths. I had been kicked out of my mom's house due to teenage bullshit, and only vaguely remember him moving from Arizona to a rest home in Reno after his third wife kicked him out. I visited him once a couple of weeks and he seemed happy to see me, but he was ninety-four and had lost most of his characteristic spryness. I didn't go to his funeral because he didn't have an obituary, and I was too stubborn to call any of my relatives to find out the when and where of it all. This is one thing I regret.

  11. Mike "Eggplant" MacDonald: Reno-area pirate radio DJ, died December 31st, 1998, although very few of his friends found this out until about February of 1999. The cause of his death is widely unknown, although it is suspected it was either AIDS or cancer. Before I left Reno, I would drive by his house and feel his ghost. "I should've visited him more," I'd think, but it wouldn't have changed anything. He was a good person and he died. He was a person and he died. He was a person. He is dead.

The tallies (including the addendums):
Suicides: 2
Cancers: 5, maybe 6
Family: 4
Dead during my tenure in high school: 9
Under sixty: 5

I had forgotten a few of these people last night. I'm sure there's more, but this seems more comprehensive with the three dead people I'd forgotten. Making this simple, morbid little list has made me feel so much better. Maybe now I can take Joy Division out of the CD player.

I'm much better, now... thank you.

Inevitable addendum:

  • Chuck Southworth: As I was driving around my hometown of Reno recently, I saw a large white Dodge van that reminded me of my friend's dad, who had died a year after mine. High school was hell on us, but harder on our fathers.

    Chuck was a large man with a larger beard who had a profound appreciation for life that I'm not sure many people will ever be able to grasp. I think he was a plumber, or some sort of sanitation engineer, and succumbed to cancer of the stomach in his mid-50's. His funeral was what I consider ideal: a celebration of life, rather than a ritual of mourning.

    We decorated his van with crayons and fluorescent paints. The more I thought about it, me behind this breaking down van, the more I realized how much I miss Chuck Southworth.

  • Bob Kellermeyer: Another dead father of another old friend in high school. I had forgotten about him because I've fallen out of touch with his son. Bob was a large man who died, I believe, of heart failure during my sophomore year in high school. Because he contributed a lot of money to the school band (which I was a member of), we played his funeral. That sounds callous, like it was just another gig, but it was a surreal sort of sentiment, especially since the circular Masonic temple we played in seemed to just make every note hollow. I'm not sure how many of the kids in the band felt sad about Bob's death, especially the freshmen, who largely regarded him as one of those scary right wingers who was only getting special treatment (if you could call a tone deaf handful of high schoolers "special treatment") because he had thrown a lot of money at a cause.

    After the funeral, there was a wake at his house. I stayed outside a lot during the party: everybody seemed to laugh too loud, with too much purpose.

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