I was once young and foolish. I met the girl of my dreams when I was summering at Chautauqua. She was short, small, witty and incredibly musically talented. She made the french horn sound like a lover's call. In all the miserable relationships I had had, I had never met anyone anything like her.
I was eighteen and had just graduated from high school and was already in the U.S. Army's delayed entry program, counting the days until I had to report to active duty. She was seventeen, shy and reserved with a smile that dwarfed the stars. It took us a fumbling and confused four days before we realized that we were madly and passionately in love. Of course, also being in a free and outdoor environment like Chautauqua, we were also incredibly horny. We practiced in the little practice cabins, stopping to make love when we couldn't stop giggling. We'd go walking around the Institute in the dark, kissing in Palestine Park and underneath the Miller Bell Tower. We played miniature golf. And we performed with the Chautauqua Youth Orchestra. When we finished up our final piece, Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, my heart soared as I heard her horn lead off the brass section at the end, with my lower brass section dramatically finishing it off. It was the last perfect summer there would ever be and we knew it, but we knew enough to make it last.
I went off to basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. I felt like the luckiest man in the world because my love lived just over an hour away. Just knowing I would see her again kept me going. Eventually the time came where we got our only 24-hour pass of the whole basic training cycle and I rushed to see her. It was like we hadn't seen each other in years instead of just a short ten weeks. I had her parent's approval immediately and I never knew why. Maybe it was the uniform. Maybe because they were seeing their little girl deliriously happy for the first time. I never knew. Eventually, the glorious day was over and I had to return to base. I was transfered to Fort Devens, Massachusetts for my advanced training. It was intensive, both physically and mentally. I had no time. I couldn't call, I could barely find time to write and never as often as I wanted to. We got our Christmas leave and I went down there, nervous but steady. I had bought a ring.
She said yes.
I never thought it was possible for a person to feel so deliriously happy. I skipped. I laughed. I was so madly in love. We decided that when I finished my advanced training and went to my permanent duty station, we would arrange the ceremony. Everyone was excited. She was radiant. Her father was proud. Her mother started sewing.
Christmas leave ended and I went back to Fort Devens and threw myself back into my work. After about two weeks, I was finally able to call. There was no answer. I called every night for a week. There was no answer. I was miserable and my friends knew it. One of my fellow soldiers tried to help me...and I ended up in her bed. The sex was fantastic and the company was better. I forgot my misery for one evening and cried on my friend's pillow and on her body.
I called again and finally got her mother. She was gone. Her and her father were in a car wreck the week before. Her body was shattered and it took her a week to die, all of it in excruciating pain. Her mother did not want to jeopardize my career with the Army by telling me and having me rush down there. I wouldn't have cared. I wanted to see her, to touch her to be with her when she needed me, when I needed her. I never even saw her grave. I've never spoken to her family since.
I finished first in my class at Fort Devens and got the assignment that anyone would have killed for. I didn't care. I worked and worked hard because it was all I had left.
The wreck was twenty-five years ago this week. Eventually I found love again, married and had children, one of whom is as old now as she was when I met her. Despite all that has happened since, I still mourn the day I left love lying bleeding and was too powerless to help.