the ghost on memory lane

OK, so over in the “real” world that is Facebook, the current all-consuming fad seems to be creating groups based on where you grew up. Well, isn’t that special? I “grew up” all over southwest Virginia, so there are several of those groups I could contribute to, but I landed in the one corresponding to where I, myself, landed and finally settled into in 1974. It is also the town where Hubby was born and grew up, and where most of his family still resides.

Yesterday, someone in the group was posting tons of pictures, old postcards from the early 20th century, through the heady days of Lakeside Amusement Park (yeah, you remember it, don’t you?), the cross-town rival high schools that were merged into one school my junior year, the subsequent re-emergence of my original high school in a much smaller form, right on through current day. And there must be over one hundred pictures on there now.

While it is true that I don’t recognize many of the faces, other than some career teachers from both high schools, there was one face that, when it scrolled across my computer screen, took my breath away. This picture:

The caption underneath the picture was no surprise to me, either:

R.I.P. Bobby…..

Then there was some discussion as to who this really was, because there was a Bobby X that graduated from high school in ’69, and another Bobby X that attended the same high school 20 years later. The ’69 folks were surprised to learn that their classmate had died, only this wasn’t their classmate.

He was their classmate’s son.

And our nephew.

I grabbed the phone and called Hubby at work to warn him, so he wouldn’t stumble across the picture himself and have the same visceral reaction I had. We talked on the phone a few minutes, both of us looking at the picture, peering into this young man’s eyes, thinking the same though: “Oh Bobby, what were you thinking?” Because, on March 4, 1994, just before dawn,  Bobby put a bullet into his head. He was 22 years old.

The memories of that day and the days following started flooding into my head. It was a warm, early spring Friday. Hubby and I both worked downtown. We met my dad in the church parking lot during lunch, as he had driven down from Virginia to pick up our 4-year-old Wubby to take him home for the weekend. The plan was for Hubby and me to have a quiet weekend at home. I was about 7 months pregnant with Baby Girl, and it had been a difficult pregnancy. Hubby’s father had suffered a massive stroke back in October that left him seriously  debilitated. The family had spent the winter trying to decide how best to take care of Granddaddy, the consensus being to place him in a veteran’s long-term care facility. It was a brutal experience.

But on this warm summer afternoon, our spirits were high. Wubby and my dad headed for the northern border, Hubby and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Taco Bell, and he dropped me off back at my office before heading back to his own. I stepped off the elevator on the 17th floor, where an admin assistant handed me a yellow post-it note. “Sister called. Bobby dead. Find Renee asap.” Renee was my boss. I walked down the hallway to the other side of the building where my office was, staring at the note in my hand and thinking to myself, “What kind of horrible joke is this?” As I turned the corner onto our wing and saw the faces looking at me, I realized that this was no joke. This was serious. Deadly serious. I went into my office and closed the door, collapsed into my chair and tried to call my husband, but got no answer because he hadn’t had time to get back to his office where I knew now there was a yellow post-it note waiting for him. I looked at my shaking hands. I put the note on my desk and stared at it. Someone knocked on my door, very quietly. One of my co-workers stuck his head in the door and asked if he could come in. I said sure, I was fine, really. He sat down and held my hand. We said nothing.

About five minutes later there was another knock on the door. It was my husband. I had kept my composure until I saw his face, the pain and confusion in his eyes. And down I went. He rushed over to my desk just in time to catch me, my co-worker quietly bowed out and left the two of us alone to try and comprehend what had just happened, and what was going to happen.

When I was calm again, we left and came home, threw stuff in a suitcase. I called my OB and asked him for xanax. We picked it up, and then we headed for the northern border. I think we stopped a couple of times because my husband couldn’t see through the tears to drive. The car radio was blaring about the untimely death of John Candy, about Hollywood’s tragic loss of a “comic genius.”

Here’s what we lost: a son, a husband, a father (he had an 18-month-old daughter), a nephew, a cousin, a friend, a landscaping master, a Civil War re-enactor, a caring heart, a loving smile.

And the last of our innocence, crushed by the realization that life was unpredictable, that bad things, unthinkable things, would happen and there would be nothing we could do but watch the horror unfold and hold each other.

Two weeks later, and 8 weeks earlier that expected, our Baby Girl came into this world, screaming, refusing to eat for 10 days, and expecting the world to spin in her direction. She has his eyes, the look of his mother, just like the cousin she never met, the cousin whose name  had some influence over her own.

Yesterday I watched her look into his eyes, and I wonder what she was thinking.


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