This post lived in “the vault” for probably a decade. As I reflected on today’s date, I edited the last paragraph and decided to finally share it.
I was a band geek. I have to admit that I loved it. Being a part of the band was like belonging to a high school fraternity. We hazed each other, we were initiated into the fold, and we were family. Years later I would laugh until I hurt when the movie American Pie coined a geek’s phrase, “This one time, at band camp…” I have band camp stories, (clean stories, mind you…) but I dare not share them after that movie came out!
The summer before my junior year I had the privilege of meeting and growing to love a crowd of rowdy freshmen boys, all ready for high school, toting their instruments to – yes – band camp. There was Keith with his blond hair and freckles whose feistiness overshadowed his size, and Taco, a fun-loving guy whose name was actually Jeff…Taco fit better, and so it stuck. Larry sort of hung back a little, but he was friendly and liked to joke around. Chris was tall and dark-haired and seemed to have girls swooning over him at random. David was new to our area, and despite having just moved here from Los Angeles, fit in with the guys quite nicely. And Aaron…sweet Aaron, who was pixie-ish with dark hair and a sheepish smile. Stacey and I nicknamed him “A.O.” for Awesome One. AO in turn nicknamed me and Stacey each “Gorgeous.” If we were having a rotten day, AO could make us feel better with one greeting.
And then there was Duck. Jonathan Wayne Duck. (I howled when he told me his name was Jon Wayne. I got The Look and the retort, “I fail to see what is so dang funny.”) Everyone called him Jon, but Pretty in Pink was one of my favorite movies, so I instantly took to calling him “Duck.” Duck stole my heart in the way only a good buddy can. We would talk every day at school and then we’d be on the phone in the evening together. There was never anything romantic between us…I just really liked being in his company. He was a great jokester. He could take a joke, too. If my parents answered the phone when he called, they would quack to let me know it was him. I’d pick up the line to hear Duck sarcastically saying, “Uhhh, yeahh, Lori, your folks are quite the comedians tonight.” And then he would launch into a National Geographic lecture on the sensitive egos of water fowl.
Larry and Duck and I would often find each other during the school day to chat. And at the end of every school day, Duck would walk me to my car. For two years we followed the same routine. We would meet in the band room, chat about our day, and walk outside where mom would be waiting to pick me up, or as was the case during my senior year, where my own car would be waiting for me.
We were closest in my junior year, and I feel in retrospect that I took his friendship for granted during my senior year. I had such “huge” things to think about…Prom, Homecoming, Graduation. We still chatted on the phone in the evenings, and he was always a source of comic relief at football games and band competitions. As a majorette, I wore the equivalent to a swimsuit at all band performances. And with a football team in the playoffs, those last games of the season were pretty cold. Duck would find his way to me before halftime, change his voice to that of a “roving reporter” and make comments like, “Um, you know, Lori, if you would wear more clothes to these winter events, you wouldn’t be freezing your ass off!” Sometimes he’d sneak up on me with questions like, “Does your mother know you’re dressed like that?!” He would always make me laugh. I smile every time I think about those sideline conversations.
Duck hated to be in pictures. I have only two pictures of him: one of him and Larry together, and one of Duck at my surprise 18th birthday party. He was always so casual about everything, but could not stand to be in front of the camera. I feel the same way, so I really shouldn’t complain. But I wish I had more photos of him.
I graduated and went on to college, though not too far. Stacey and Jill and I ventured just across the river for higher education. I kept in touch with Duck still, and a couple of times I stopped by the high school to visit with him. I do remember Duck coming to my mom’s house one day and visiting with me for a good part of the afternoon. I told him what all was going on in college, and I remember him saying he didn’t know where he was going to enroll.
I probably didn’t talk with Duck much during his senior year or after he graduated. I thought about him a lot, but I didn’t take the time to call him up and see how everything was going. By then, I was full-swing into Dominic and, honestly, I didn’t make time for much of anything else. Dominic was going to be at the fraternity house for the ‘93 Super Bowl, and by God, I was going to be there too. If I remember correctly, I dragged Stacey with me, neither of us interested in the least in football. But we watched the game for the commercials while Dom played cards most of the night. It was the first year of a streak where the Cowboys had finally made it to the Super Bowl. They actually won, a feat few thought possible after their many losing seasons.
I remember that Dom’s fraternity brothers had borrowed and set up a big screen TV for the event, and I know we were at the house on Robinson. But other details of the early evening are sketchy in my mind. What I do remember vividly is that I was house-sitting for Mr. Wilson while he was out of town that weekend of January 31. I had finally arrived at his house, exhausted, and was taking my makeup off when the phone rang. It was Stacey and she said she had some bad news. I immediately thought something had happened to Dominic and, cursing myself for not sticking around to drive him home, demanded she tell me that he was okay. She said Dom was fine, but that Duck had shot himself that evening. Her words stunned me and I lost my breath. As Stacey relayed the few details she knew, I stumbled to the foot of the bed and sat down on the floor and cried. I kept asking if she was sure. Was he okay? Could it be a mistake? How does news like that make it across the river and into my world within a matter of hours??? It had to be a cruel joke. But Stacey would never joke like that. This was all wrong.
I knew I had to call Larry. He seemed to be my closest link to Duck, and I doubted he knew yet. It was well after midnight when I woke up Larry’s uncle, who asked me if I knew what time it was. I sobbed that yes, I knew it was late, but I really had to talk to him. Somehow, Larry was immediately on the phone and told his uncle that he would take the call. I don’t even know how I told him the news. I was in shock, and Larry and I stayed on the phone for the better part of an hour consoling each other and praying that it was all a mistake.
Duck had left us for reasons I still can’t comprehend. At his graveside I saw many of the faces that I loved, shielded by dark sunglasses. I knew nothing would ever be the same. One song from that era seemed to bond itself to the moment, and from then on I could never listen to Garth Brooks’ The Dance without thinking of Duck and the boys in the band. He probably had no idea that his friendship was one of my most treasured gifts. Or that his memory would fill me with sadness for a number of years before my thoughts of him, finally peaceful again, found joy and gratitude for who he was while I knew him.
It’s been twenty years today since Duck chose to go where we could not follow, but I can’t relive a single high school memory without thinking of him, simultaneously saying a prayer for him and thanking him for the dance.