On the way to work this morning, other people's deaths flashed before my mind.
What started it was a stupid bicycle commuter hit the road in front of me at about 15 mph from his apartment driveway, not looking for traffic even though his driveway gave him a long, unobstructed view of oncoming traffic (me). Despite the chilly, foggy weather, he was wearing a light shirt and cutoffs. This made me think of Clay.
Clay committed suicide by jumping off the Aurora Bridge in Seattle. I knew him from folkdancing, but everyone on campus at the UW knew him by sight because no matter what the weather, he only wore a pair of cutoffs. No shirt, no shoes, no hat, no umbrella. Clay was built like a linebacker, and while not on the order of a Mr. Universe, he was obviously working out regularly. He played the flute.
He drove a small convertible - I think it was an MG. One day he drove his little car to the foot of the tallest bridge in the city, walked out a ways, and jumped. I found out about it the next evening at folkdancing. It wasn't more than a mild surprise to us, Clay had always been strange, a loner, and most of us knew he wasn't doing very well in his major (math) and maybe was also in trouble financially. Looking back, I suppose he also may have been gay and afraid to come out (this was the early 70's).
And thinking of his death got me to thinking about others.
Carol was the commodore of the UW Yacht Club when I met her. I was the calendar editor for the UW Daily, and she came in to place a listing for some Yacht Club events. The chemistry was instantaneous, and somehow the next thing I remember is being in the Music Building on our way to the pipe organ practice rooms, making out with her in the elevator. Over the next couple of months, we dated and did a lot of sailing together (I had learned to sail when I was about 10) and one winter day we had an argument about whether it was wise to cast off from the dock while all the lines were still frozen, and that was the end of that relationship.
About two weeks later, her best friend called to tell me Carol had dropped out of school, gone back to her parents' home in Forks, and back to her old boyfriend, who had just driven them and his pickup into the bottom of a lake.
Our argument was my fault, I could have easily made it up to her the next day, but didn't. I'm sure if we'd stayed together she would have stayed in school. I still blame myself for her death.
John Doe is what the police called him, but my high school buddy Sam knew his name. Someone we went to school with, Sam said, had gotten hit by a car or truck when he decided to walk across the newly opened I-5 down the hill from where we lived. I didn't really know the victim, but what reminded me was the stupidity of his death. There's more to this story, actually:
In 1965, I-5 was being built through southern Seattle. A large chunk of our neighborhood was condemned, and families relocated to make way for the freeway. John Doe's was one of them. Before they opened that stretch of the freeway, it was perfectly safe to cut across it - I used to do that to get from my house to the police athletic league building for my marksmanship classes. John knew the freeway had been opened, but traffic was light, and he guessed he could judge how fast the cars were coming. He guessed wrong.
Mr. LaFrenz, (He should have shown up on an ibdb.com search, but didn't.) my high school drama teacher, had been a successful Broadway actor until cancer struck. He decided to take his family as far from carcinogenic NYC as possible, and since his time on this Earth was to be cut short, do two things which were far more dangerous than a man with a long life ahead of him ought to risk:
1. Race limited hydroplanes
2. Teach high school drama & English
He was at Rainier Beach High School when I got there in 1965, and was still there when I graduated in 1968. My little sister had him as an English teacher her junior year, I think it was. By this time he taught class while reclining on a sofa which had replaced the traditional desk at the front of the room. I remember her calling to tell me that he had asked one of the students to call an ambulance, because "it's time". He passed away later that day.
When I was at RBHS, we didn't have a theater. One had been in the blueprints, but demographics and budgets made the school district leave it out of our building, and instead put it in Nathan Hale High School in the north end, which was built on the same plan. Mr. L used to joke that by the time they got a theater, it would be called the Victor L. LaFrenz Memorial. Rainier Beach got their theater a couple of years ago. Sadly, it was not named for him, despite numerous alumni letters and petitions.