Footloose. It was the movie that winter. Everybody was seeing it, but we never made it and I have never been able to watch that movie.
I was looking back at Ginny, saying something to her about our plans for the next day, when we sped through an intersection. I saw the car coming at us. At full speed but with the beginning squeal of brakes and the car just starting to veer from its straight line aimed right at us, it slammed into Johnny’s car. T-boning it right where Ginny sat. I can still see the metal frame collapsing in on my girl. The window shattering into a million stars scattering across the back seat and then everything going dark as our car was slammed into another and we came to a stop.
The funeral was one of those, where teenagers huddled in groups, their heads bowed, their cheeks lined with tears. There was crying and shrieking and Ginny’s family sat in the front row, shell shocked by the whole thing. I suppose that somewhere along the way, if her mom had reached out to Ginny’s friends, to me, we may have all healed together. But she didn’t and I can’t blame her now. She lost a child, when I look at my own and think back to that time, I can’t imagine the hole Ginny’s parents must have fallen into.
School was a somber place for days after. It was really only with the coming of Spring that things began to change. But, for Johnny Mac and me, Spring didn’t change a thing. After the funeral, I went back out into the furthest arc of our orbit and stayed there. We didn’t talk about that night. Didn’t talk about much of anything. I heard he quit school with five weeks to go and joined the Marines the day after his 18th birthday. I went off to college. Not the one in Oregon that filled my dreams with Ginny, but a state university down south.
And so, I lurked out there, on the furthest edges of Johnny Mac’s world. Until he called me back to it four years later. 1988. You’re coming back, aren’t you, he asked. I was a few months from graduating. Johnny was AWOL from the Marines. Just to get back home where he insisted I had to be. I couldn’t deny him and on February 29, we met at the cemetery where Ginny was buried. We sat on the grass in front of her marker. Virginia Tamblen, Beloved Daughter and Friend, 1967-1984.
The light was red, Johnny told me then. What? The light. It was red. I ran a red light. You what? I couldn’t hear his words anymore. This was nothing I had heard before. There had never really been much of an investigation. It just seemed to be one of those unfortunate events. A storm, slick roads, poor visibility, whatever it was. An accident. That was all it was.
Johnny Mac was telling me something different. Something I really wasn’t ready to hear. Sure, I had finally moved on. Got over it, in the inevitable way one gets over the loss of your first true love. I was young. Aren’t the young resilient and resourceful. Indeed. My first year of college was a bit of a fog, but eventually the sun cleared that fog and I had a few girlfriends here and there. New friends. Different dreams. But, in the back of my mind, Ginny was always there. The idea of what our dreams could have been.
I got up from my spot in front of Ginny’s grave and walked away.
Johnny, I assume, went back to his base, maybe served a little bit of time in Marine prison, or whatever it was he might have to do for his AWOL. I slipped back out into space where I got my degree.
… More To Come …