It was by accident I discovered that Dale was forever gone.
An accident meaning, I was yanked out of a routine that had become so time sucking, I hadn’t realized how far I’d drifted away from who I wanted to be.
It was after 7 rounds of IT layoffs, my number finally came up. I knew it was coming as the original team I started with had shrunk to.. well...me.
The employer I worked for had been steadily cutting workers in the US while hiring in cheaper countries. They called it ‘outsourcing’ and that it was good for us. That thought rang in my head as I cleaned out my desk and then drove away.
And so after many years of being more my job than me, I found I had time for myself again. Time to dream, time to reflect and time to reinvent and that mindframe led me back to Dale.
The day I remembered him was about two weeks after my last day at work.
It didn't take long to slip into a new routine of lazily reading the morning paper while sipping coffee... and lots of daydreaming.
I wander around the house; with my head in the clouds. I’m loving the down time, feeling comfy in my white T and pink fleece lounge pants, Dilbert themed coffee cup in hand. I am living in the moment and it feels wonderful.
It is in this serene space I hear my brain whisper to head to the basement. I obey my mind as I always heed my inner instructions.
My husband sees my head disappear down the staircase. He calls out to me that ‘since I have time, can I start cleaning out my old stuff stored in the crawl space?’
I yell back “yeah, sure.”
At the basement doorway, I flip the light switch to reveal our stuff from past to present. My husband and I met in our late 30′s. The stack of belongings is from our lives before we met and since. We have added our years to the pile of things we can’t part with.
I manuever past the lawn Christmas Reindeer and the Halloween cobwebbed ghouls to a stack of weathered looking cardboard boxes with my name scrawled on the side. They look foreign to me. I haven’t looked inside these for decades.
One box in particular seems to beckon me. It’s at the bottom of the stack. I scrunch down to read scribbled in black marker, “old photos and stuff’.” I put down my coffee cup and start removing the boxes piled on top of it. Once the box is free, I open the cardboard cover and pull out some photos. I recognize immediately that they are of me from the 70’s and early 80’s.
My husband appears at my side and says, “Do you need help with that?”
“Yes, please bring to the office.”
I follow him and once he sets down the box, I open it and start sorting through piles of old photos. About an hour later, I pause at the black and white photo Dale took of me repelling in Park City, Utah in 1973. I study it and I’m flooded by memories.
I eagerly search through the box for the photos of mine and Dale’s European adventure but deep down I know I won’t find any. The negatives were damaged by water long ago. Damn it, I should have processed those back then but it was always something to do later and then I waited too long.
I sigh as I lean back in my office chair and stare at the ceiling. My mind focused on when Dale and I last saw each other in the summer of 1975. I shake my head thinking how time flew since then. I realize I have no knowledge of where Dale is these days.
Snap! ...But i can assume, as I sit up straight swiveling my chair to face my computer, is that he eventually got married; and though he loved to travel, his home is likely anchored in Salt Lake City.
It would be a logical starting point to find him, Right? I smile to myself as I imagine an analytical Spock agreeing.
I sip my now cold coffee as I google Dale. The results put me back to swiveling in my chair, thinking hard. Hmm. Lots of people with his name but not him. I mull more on how to find the real Dale.
Snap! Dale must be on Facebook by now and has shared photos of our trip with his friends. Of course he would have. It was an amazing time he had too. Once I found him, I could easily download the shared pictures electronically.
Feeling progress, getting excited, I search for Dale in Facebook but from the list that appear, none look like him. Did he change that much, I wonder?
An idea pops in my head to search his high school yearbook online. I had recently found my own classmates online so I should be able to find Dale by now via his High School reunion website. We had graduated the same year. He at Skyline, me at South High.
I google ‘Skyline class of 1970’. The search engine lists an ‘Skyline High School Yearbook’ link which I excitedly click on.
The classmates list is in alphabetic order by last name. I skim to the M’s and find Dale. I click his blue highlighted name. And then my excitement plummets. I am stunned to see Dale listed under his Class “In Memory” page.
Oh boy. Stunned turns to shock. It’s like time has stopped as I slowly read the blurb under his High School photo. It says he died at the age of 27 on Feb 21st 1980. No other info. No cause of death.
I search the internet but find only a California Death record that briefly states he died in Long Beach, California. I’m stunned again as at that same time in 1980 I was living in North Hollywood, Ca. Not that far away. How could this happen. So close yet so far away. I bury my face in my hands and cry.
I don’t know why I didn’t look for Dale sooner. How could I not considering at 21 we shared one of our greatest adventures together. We didn’t think too much of it all then but through the years, I learned that it was a big deal. Everyone loved hearing stories of our time in Europe.
Well...darn...this seemed to be the end of it. Dale was gone and so were the photos. Only the memories remained.
Yet... over the next few days, my thoughts kept drifting back to Dale. The memories haunting me. I feel overwhelmingly sad that the only words describing him in the end was that he died and when. It should have included: Adventurer, Friend, Witty and Smart!
It’s that lingering thought that compells me to sit at the computer, open a new document and without any effort, let the words flow from my finger tips.
My husband comes by and asks “what are you writing?”
I answer that I must write about Dale and our European Adventure. Especially now since he and all photos of that time are forever lost.
He says “do it then.”
So here goes.