I went to several memorial services this past week. Wow, that’s a packed statement. Either several friends (or family) were in an accident, or you are old enough that this is just a natural occurrence. The other idea is that you will not have to go to memorial services, if you are the first to go.
This last service hit me hard in several ways. The first I heard about her death was from Facebook. In fact, I hadn’t seen this person in almost thirty years. Still, we were very close. Close enough that we were roommates twice in our lives.
In 1968 I had a girlfriend, the girlfriend was not Kathy. The girlfriend was Kathy’s best friend. We were all attending college and still living at our respective homes. My girl friend’s parents were making her life miserable, since she was twenty-one she thought she would move out at the end of the semester. She asked Kathy to join her.
Kathy was a year younger, and had great relations with her parents, but she was the oldest in her family, so she said yes. I drove the two of them around all afternoon, looking at apartments. We found several that were nice and affordable, but the landlords didn’t seem to want to rent to two young women. Finally I suggested that I could pretend to be a husband instead of a boyfriend, and that the three of us could share an apartment. The very next apartment that we looked at agreed to rent to us. I had three days to marry my girlfriend in order to make the rental contract legal.
In retrospect, that was probably the worse reason to get married, but I was also madly in love, so I couldn’t see the mutual red flags. The three of us lived together for about a year. I believe it is possible that the downstairs neighbor was a writer for television, because “Three’s Company” was pretty close in comedy to the situation in our apartment.
I recall one afternoon that the girls were coming home late for class, and I had about an hour to myself. I decided to take all the doors off their hinges, flip them upside down and reinstalled them. It worked out that they couldn’t shut the last two inches and the only visible problem was the doorknob was about a foot higher. It was a perfect bizarre prank. I sat on the couch and waited.
The girls came home and immediately they went to their rooms. My wife came back with a very puzzled expression, knowing that things were wrong but not knowing how they got wrong. Kathy came back squealing with joy, and went from door to door, laughing all the way, and finally exclaiming that she felt like a little girl because the door knobs were so high. That was how she saw most things, extremely uniquely.
The three of us became very close. At the end of our lease we didn’t get our deposit back. I had started to teach Kathy the basics of saber fencing, and we had gotten wild enough to cause many long scratches in the flocked ceiling. I still can see her white/sparkled auburn hair flowing out of her mask. It looked like she was covered in fairy dust.
My wife and I left for a long trip that summer, and when we got back I was informed by the draft department that I was being called up. I’m not sure where Kathy went, I know that we kept in touch, but later that winter I was in New Jersey, and my wife was about to give birth. We had a son! Then I was posted to Pennsylvania for more than a year. Kathy remained in California with a few phone calls and several letters, mostly to my wife.
I thought I was going to finish the Army in Pennsylvania, but I was surprised by getting orders to ship to Korea. This was a disaster to my family with many arguments, my wife saying “don’t go”, and I said that I had to go, it wasn’t my choice, I had to follow orders. I went.
After about four months my wife took my child and left the state. I was in Korea but I didn’t get a Dear John letter. Well, I did get Dear John because my name is John. My wife decided that it was tough enough that I was in Korea, so she decided not to tell me that she had left. Unfortunately, someone wrote me anonymously that I needed to get back because things were not good.
It took another two months to put together a plan, but I finally left Korea on a phony leave and landed in California. My wife and child were already gone but I was told that she would be back in a few days to talk to me. Let’s just say it was traumatic, and things did not work out. In the end, she left to go back to Wyoming, and left me with my son until she could get a steady job and apartment. I thought that perhaps that could be several days, several weeks, or several months. I was still in the Army and had to report in a few days.
This was when something pretty remarkable occurred. Kathy came from out of nowhere to help me take care of my son while I worked out things with the Army. I came home every night and Kathy watched over him during the day. Usually, when a couple breaks up, the friends make the split as well. Kathy was friendly with my ex-wife, but she was still my friend!
It turns out that within a month that my ex-wife came back to collect my son, and both went back to Wyoming. I was still devastated, all my plans, my future, was tossed. I was truly lost, I was changed by the military experience but now I was no longer in the army. I no longer had a wife. I had a son but he was three states at a distance, and never very long in one place. In that first year he was in Alaska, Hawaii, Connecticut, and Utah.
Kathy offered to be my roommate once more. She had a job, and a boyfriend, but she said that it would be good for both of us in order to save some money. It’s true that I was dead broke, but I was living in my parent’s home after they had moved to Washington. They were willing to help out but I was stubborn, and didn’t want help to put my life back together.
It was only today that I realized that Kathy knew that I was hurting and she wanted to help. She listened as I bemoaned my existence, and she distracted me with activities. I realize now, that she forced me back up in the mountains with camping trips. She even dragged me to dance clubs with her boyfriend. One of the bizarre reasons given for the divorce was that I didn’t dance. It was true, I didn’t dance. But Kathy made me get out there on the floor, where I was as foolish as anybody. I went from being afraid of what I looked like, to the understanding that no one cared, as long as I was having fun.
It was Kathy that helped me find myself again. After a while she was gone a lot, tending to her own relationships, but she would come back periodically to check on me, and her wonderful Irish Setter, Rita. That dog was beautiful. And it’s true that emotional wounds heal better with a pet. The only bad thing about Rita was that she ate my couch.
Eventually my parents sold the house and Kathy and I went separate ways. I found a place in Point Richmond, and I had my first real job at the college. Kathy went to Martinez and had a job driving busses. The college had it’s district office in Martinez, so I would often stop by to visit Kathy between her shifts. Slowly over the years we drifted apart.
I had gotten married again and Kathy came by to visit. I don’t think she was married but she came by with a nice guy. We talked for several hours and that was the last time that I saw her. That was over thirty years ago.
Four or five years ago I got a Facebook friend request. It was Kathy! We began a steady communication with monthly plans of getting together for lunch. It never happened. We had mutual friends that encouraged us to meet, and we never did. Still, we maintained a genuine friendship online.
So now I’m faced with several brand new revelations. A dear friend never got the credit she deserved for saving my life, and that I am crippled by not realizing that there is no time left to download the good.
I shall attempt to do better.
There is one more bizarre item to this story. I remarried to Sherry and we have four children. Sherry had met Kathy that one time years ago. Timed passed. Sherry finally had the opportunity to teach one class at DVC, the only time in almost forty years of teaching. In that class there was one student that stood out to her. She soon became her favorite student and Sherry waited each week to see her in class. She even mentioned to me that I would really like her.
I found out about Kathy’s death from a Facebook announcement from her daughter Elissa, a daughter that I had never met, but Kathy had told me about her in our online communication. Kathy had said that I would like her very much.
Yep, Kathy’s daughter Elissa is the student from Sherry’s class. Every good thing is connected!