October 13, 2012
If you follow my blog to hear about my life in Mongolia, I apologize for the continued interruptions; your scheduled programming should resume on a more regular basis next month. Bear with me, and you will understand why this month in general, and today in particular, have made that difficult.
Fall has always been my favorite season. It’s the season of sweaters and mulled cider, of apple picking and pumpkin pie, of crisp, sunny days and cold, clear nights. It’s when the trees dress up in their best and brightest in preparation for Halloween, my favorite holiday. It’s the season of my birthday, and also those of an aunt and three cousins – all within the space of a week! Every romantic relationship I’ve ever had has begun in the fall, and a great many friendships have started then too, as I meet new people with the start of each school year.
But it’s also a season of loss and death, and not just the metaphorical everything-dies-down-for-the-winter kind. October in particular is littered with dates of loss and unhappy memories, though they just barely stretch back into September as well. My paternal grandfather died on October 24, 2008; my maternal grandmother, on September 22, 2009; and this year, my paternal grandmother, on October 1. That’s a lot of loss in only a few years, and it makes each October more bittersweet than the last.
October 13 epitomizes that feeling for me. I’ve celebrated it one anniversary, and October 12 as another. But before it ever marked a beginning, it marked an ending. October 13, 2006 was the Friday before homecoming my junior year. That particular Friday the 13th delivered on its promised misfortune when two teenagers from my home town – one a high school senior, the other a graduate of the year before – got drunk and wrapped their car around a tree. The other passengers survived, but Ross Trace and Danny Bell did not.
We lost other current and former students in the next year, an alarming number of them, but none of those dates are imprinted on my psyche in quite the same this way. I know without consulting a calendar that October 13th fell on a Friday in 2006, a Monday in 2008, and a Thursday in 2011. I didn’t know Ross or Danny, had never even met them, but their loss affected me all the same. It was a wake-up call for all of us, the first time many of us had experienced the death, not of an elderly grandparent with a long life full of stories, but of someone just entering adulthood.
It was the reason that the following Monday was the quietest school day I’ve ever experienced, as we all stumbled in shock from one class to the next, too solemn and shaken to make the halls ring with the usual talk and laughter. It was why we had no homecoming parade that year, out of respect for the dead. And it was when the orchestra director’s usual pre-dance pep talk – “the most important thing is that you come back on Monday, and that you remember what happened” – stopped being funny. Two students didn’t come back that year, but the rest of us will always remember.