My first peer death happened at the end of my sophomore year in high school. At first, Dylan was just missing. I remember leaving school late and running into my friend Gina. She was the first theater goth I ever knew. Our moms were friends.
Gina was crying. “Dylan is gone.”
“What do you mean?”
“They can’t find Dylan. He’s been gone for three days. Somebody took him! Something’s wrong!”
Neither my friend Alicia nor I could console her. We thought that maybe he’d just gone to Portland. Klamath Falls was a drag, especially for talented skater-artists like Dylan. I didn’t think about it for a few days, even though the gossip and speculation around the halls of Klamath Union High ran rampant.
I can’t remember where I was or what I was doing when I found out Dylan was dead. It was probably on the evening news.
Dylan had been in all of my art classes since junior high, except when I was in eighth grade, because he was a grade ahead of me. We had a science class together with bitchy Mrs. Carroll (who, later I found, was fun to drink with). He lived a few neighborhoods over from me. I didn’t cry, but I felt really, really weird.
Dylan and his girlfriend Kim had been out and had parked on the side of a road somewhere. Apparently some guys had a beef with Dylan and had followed them. Rumor was, it had something to do with a stolen car. They dragged Dylan and Kim out of the car and bashed them over their heads. I think Kim may have been raped, but I don’t remember. The guys left them both for dead. Kim lived. Dylan did not.
My friend Michelle and I, having known Dylan before he joined his “skater” crowd, decided to go to the memorial service, not to look cool, but because we would miss him. Other people didn’t have such honest motive. I remember Most Popular Girl in my class going with a small posse of her friends. I remember that she wouldn’t pay attention to Dylan in class (not that he sought it out), because he didn’t have the kind of social cachet she was seeking. Until he died. The memorial was the place to see and be seen.
Michelle, myself and some other girls got interviewed in the parking lot after the memorial service. All we could say was that we were friends from a long time ago, and they should really talk to people closer to him now.
They caught the guys who killed Dylan. A few years later, one of them died in prison. I think he got his throat slashed with a tile. Violence begets violence, I guess.
I never knew what happened to Kim. She went to Mazama High School and hung out with some girls I didn’t really like. Her dad ran the town’s only tattoo parlor, but he took his shop to Medford.
Each year thereafter, there was at least one death, someone I knew. I didn’t always know them well, but I still got that weird feeling inside, the sort of becoming-aware-of-my-own-mortality tingle.
When my mom died, that tingle became a roar, and I had a six-month out-of-body experience. Now I was feeling what families and girlfriends felt those years in high school. Your life changes forever. It’s always in the back of your mind.
Later, when more friends died, I went to the funerals and memorial services and cried. I tried to mourn more properly than I did after my mom died. It doesn’t get easier when it happens, but the passage of time smoothes over the burning wound.