. The summer between seventh and eigth grade
. Kristen was still in San Diego
at her grandmothers. Kerri was always inundated with so many camps
, family outings and classes at the Rec Center we hardly ever heard from her. That left Jenn and I to embrace the languid heat of the Valley
in the summertime together.
Jenn's family was not the happiest one. There was never any secret there, really. Her father, Steven, had a good job, but her mother couldnt's seem to manage the finances at all. And by mismanage I mean she had, more than once, drained an entire bank account purchasing porcelain dolls off of TV. I never understood why or how she was allowed access to their money, but month after month new dolls would arrive and for a few days you wouldn't think of calling or visiting the Durham house unless you wanted to be suffocated by the tension in the air. I remember, though, that as many dolls as were delivered to that house, only one was ever displayed, in the middle of the dining room table as a presiding centerpiece, changing with the seasons. The rest stayed hidden in the attic, I'm sure because Christine was just as ashamed of her neurotic obsession as the rest of the family was. To this day I cannot look at a porcelain doll and not find myself wondering if it would have suited her taste and which shelf it might have occupied in their attic. She also suffered from the most severe case of manic depression I have ever witnessed. I knew that she held a job at the school district, but I don't know how many days she actually attended work. It seemd that she spent more time repainting bedrooms and stripping wallpaper every other week with the QVC Doll Extravaganza blaring from the television set than anything else.
Christine's compulsion was not the only source of tension in the house though. Jenn's little brother, Gregory, was a psych case unto himself. At six, he was a terror to say the least. Tantrums on the hour and an attention span of milliseconds. He was hyperactive learning disability at its worst. And for some reason his care, during the summer months, and after school and weekends the rest of the year, fell on Jenn's shoulders. Not the healthiest thing for a girl our age to endure, but someone had to do it and Christine was not exactly up for the challenge most days. There weren't many people that would have spent much time at their house, but mine wasn't much better and for some reason Gregory had taken a liking to me and was actually a smidge more calm when I was around. So I was always more than welcome.
I remember August began with a terrible heat wave and Christine had taken Gregory to their grandmother's house for the week. We could hardly contain our unbridled excitement at having a whole week free to be kids. We went to the public pool mid morning and basked in the sun watching the high school boys show off on the diving board and envying the older girls who were allowed to wear two piece bathing suits. Both our moms were big on modesty. When it got too hot even to be poolside, we would go to the mall or see a movie. We saw "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" seven times that week (four different days, three of them we saw it twice!). Thinking back, I can't imagine ever spending that much money and time on one movie, but we couldn't get enough of Kevin Costner and Christain Slater.
That Sunday evening Jenn's mom and brother had just gotten back and everyone and everything was relatively normal. Her dad even seemed more sociable than usual. He had emerged from his garage sanctuary and was telling us funny jokes around the dining room table and showing us his collection of swiss army knives. He noticed I had taken a liking to a smallish black one and told me he wanted me to have it, that no girl should ever be without a good swiss army knife. I thanked him profusely, and remember thinking for a second that I wished her dad was my dad and how I felt so bad for him. He was so nice and so gentle and didn't seem to deserve the maddness that surrounded him. A few minutes later my mom arrived to pick me up and I was on my way home.
The next afternoon Jenn called. Her father had hung himself in the garage that night and she had found him in the morning. She was so calm, numb, I guess. She told me she didn't want any of our friends to know and asked if I could come over. Of course I said yes and I did. I was there alot, even moreso than usual right after it happened. It seemed strange, like I shouldn't have been around during a time so intimately tragic for her family, but I understand that Jenn didn't want to be the only sane(?) person in the house and she couldn't exactly leave. Her mother held it together surprisingly well and almost had a bounce in her step arranging all the details for the services and again, things seemed almost normal, not at all like someone, a father and a husband, had just committed suicide.
I spent alot of time with Jenn those weeks after her father died, before we went back to school. I never saw her cry. Even at the memorial service where her mother spoke the eulogy and her grandmother was wracked with sobs, she was a figure of pubescent stoicism. Maybe it was because everyone who she hadn't wanted to find out was there and she just couldn't. I never did tell anyone, had avoided their calls, and was surprised when all our friends showed up until it dawned on me that Kristen's mother also worked at the school district offices.
In September when we returned to school Jenn and I didnt have any classes together. Kerri was, as always, encumbered with every extracurricular activity daylight would allow. Kristen and I shared a couple classes and remained close, but Jenn and I drifted apart that year till it was no more than an acknowledging smile and nod in the hallways. I know I failed her. I am so sorry and she will never know.