Disclaimer: This post is not about Crossfit or eating healthy or minimalism. It is, however, about my life.
David se murio.
Such a short sentence. But one that still rings in my head after two decades.
School is in session and I’m taking Spanish 101. I love this class! My teacher is Russian (seriously) and he is very tough. No cell phones, no drinks, no excuses. If you don’t something you obviously haven’t studied. In me he has a model student so we get along famously. He is passionate about Spanish and is constantly speaking of the inherent beauty of the language and it’s elegance. There are no tricks with Spanish, nothing to trip you up as long as you follow its rules. Unlike English, which is a cumbersome cacophony of homonyms, homophones, and syntactic ambiguity. I already knew some Spanish, having taken in in junior high and living in several cities where it is spoken prominently. This immersion has been a mostly joyous journey, but it has also awakened some memories from my teenage years.
One of my best friends in high school was Esther, the daughter of an American mother and a Colombian-born father. They spoke Spanish at home as her father did not know much English (although I always suspected that he knew more than he let on). I spent a lot of time at their house throughout and they became my second family. She had two much younger sisters and an older brother, David. David and I ran in cross country together and formed our own friendship. I knew about the girls that captured his attention, helped him pick out just the right outfit for a dance once, and knew of his love of classical music – something I was sworn to secrecy about. I slow-danced with him in a snowy orchard one New Year’s Eve. And then, in April 1991, he and another friend, Jose, died in a car accident – killed instantly in a head-on collision.
I remember so much of that day and am sure those memories will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was my stalwart friend and class president Jared who told me the news. I remember his hand on my shoulder and his kind face as he broke the news to me. He immediately enlisted my friend Ben to take me to Esther’s house. I assume he made it right with the powers-that-be at school because I was never reprimanded for leaving school that day. We arrived at the house, but sat in the car, not sure what to do or say if we went to the door. Then David’s very best friend in the world, Ryan, came walking toward the house, his face showing that he had heard the news as well. Sarah, David’s youngest sister came out of the house and ran to Ryan. “Oh, Ryan!” she exclaimed, “He was your best friend!” He reached down and scooped her into his arms and cried, “But he was your brother!” Those moments will stay etched in my mind forever.
The next few days were a blur, although with many moments of crystalline memories. I remember the face of our friend Juan as he poured shovelful after shovelful of dirt into the graves after the caskets had been lowered into the ground. I still regret not reaching a hand out to him although at the time I was worried even a small look or touch might cause him to break into a million pieces, his pain was so bright and brittle. The cemetery where David and Jose were laid to rest is up on a hill overlooking the town. It was also the starting point for one of our regular training runs – I’ve always wondered if our coach kept that run in the team repertoire. The rest of the school year went on and graduation came and went and I barely remember it. I did the things that were mandatory and did not do anything that was not.
That summer I traveled to Colombia with Esther’s family. I was an interesting novelty – a brown girl who barely spoke Spanish. I spent a lot of the with the younger sisters as we were the worst Spanish speakers. I also quickly picked up a Colombian boyfriend, Carlos – for some things language is unnecessary. I have a lot of fond, beautiful memories from that trip. I turned eighteen in Bogota and remember the gorgeous bouquet of roses that greeted me that day when I came downstairs for breakfast. I remember kissing said boyfriend in the back of a cab after we had gotten caught in a sudden downpour in downtown Bogota. I also remember bargaining with emerald dealers and coming away with three tiny precious green stones. But our main task on that trip was mourning – and we did a lot of it. We traveled all over visiting with extended family and everywhere we were met with weeping and offers of food. And then there is the Spanish phrase I will never forget.
David se murio. David died.
A teenage friend of the family had heard of their arrival and popped in for a visit. She was chatting with the family when she asked (in Spanish) , “Where is David? Staying in Bogota?” And time just stopped – it was just like when Jared first told me the news. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t find the correct translation to speak the words, and then David’s mother said, “David se murio.” She went on to explain the circumstances of his death. But all I can remember is the look on that poor girl’s face and the tears streaming down it. Watching her work through those first few moments of grief brought back all of the emotions I had so recently experienced. Again, I sat paralyzed, not knowing what words to say – in English or in Spanish.
David se murio. Such a succinct and devastating phrase. Beautiful and elegant, just as my Russian Spanish professor claims Spanish to be. The first day of class this phrase spontaneously burst into my brain and the emotions it unleashed left me dazed for a few minutes. Now it comes in quite frequently but I am better equipped to handle them. I can conjugate morir (to die) like a champ and have no problem saying, “Estoy muriendo de la risa.” Apparently, for me, the Spanish language will always be associated with David and with the loss of him.
Over the years I’ve noticed other things that spawn those instant mental flashbacks. The scent of gardenia-scented candles bring me right back to the moment I opened my apartment door to the man who would become my first husband. He had brought me a gardenia candle and our first date was a magical night I’ll relate some other time. By the end of that date I knew I would marry him and we bought many gardenia candles during our time together. Gardenia candles now make me cry – much to the chagrin of a sweet, young store clerk who once helpfully handed me one and then watched helplessly as I broke down in tears (sorry, dude). Hearing helicopters overhead gives me heart-racing flashbacks to the WTO riots in Seattle and my personal 9/11 experience. Penguins remind me the moment I heard that Kurt Cobain died (seriously, that is another long story). I recently heard the first few bars of The Day Brings by Brad and immediately started weeping – sometimes iTunes is not my friend.
My psychology class has recently enlightened me about autobiographical memories, the memories we carry about our personal experiences. A subset of autobiographical memories are flashbulb memories which are especially vivid memories about emotionally-charged events in our lives. These memories can be triggered by olfactory, auditory, or visual stimuli. Knowing the biology/psychology of this phenomenon is mildly interesting but doesn’t actually make me more or less prepared for when these memories flood in.
David se murio, pero también vivió. David died, but he also lived.
And it is the memory of his life, not his death, that I still hold close to my heart.