From my second collection of short stories:
Running for the 2:10
to be published Spring 2017
Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte
Copyright © 2017 by Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte
Almost every time I roll on Skyline Boulevard in the Oakland hills, I wonder which tree was responsible. I haven’t checked them up close, but from driving by I can’t detect any visible scars or marks on any of them that would indicate the violent collision that took my friend Dot’s life on prom night 1967.
The song “Teen Angel” and others like it depicting tragic accidents were a part of our soundtrack. The songs scared us, but the fear did not translate once we were in the car as teenagers. We like everyone else our age then and since, thought we were invincible. So when it happened to someone at your school or in your town that you may not have known, it made you think about it, if only for a bit. But when it happened to someone you knew and had seen alive only a few weeks before, it changed who you were.
Dot was an only child and doted on by her parents. They were middle class people who gave her all they could and that it year included a beautiful dress and matching shoes for prom night. By the time that night was over, Dot would be gone and shock and sadness would arrive at their front door. Dot’s father would later tell my mother that Dot was so mangled by the impact that they would not be allowed to see her. Ever again. For a long time I had nightmares about that.
My mom and Dot’s mom had been friends since they were teenagers. A few months older than I was, my kinship with Dot began when we were toddlers and her mother was my babysitter. I was so close to Dot and her mother back then, I would only eat what Dot ate and shunned my mother’s cooking. Dot’s mother said I was just mad that mom went to work and left me with her, and then she would laugh that rich resonant laugh of hers.
When Dot became a preteen, her parents gave her an entire wall in the garage to use for “self expression.” At first couldn’t grasp the meaning of that but Dot knew right away that she would use that blank canvas to write the names of every recorded song she and her friends knew. In our world at the time, music was central to our very being and since no one else we knew was allowed to write on any wall in the house, it soon became a high honor to be invited by Dot to make an entry on that pale green expanse of drywall.
Dot had many friends but I like to think that because I knew her so early in life that made me one of her best. Although we only saw each other when my parents visited hers, we had a strong bond that became even stronger by the sharing of our new 45’s and her handing me the pen along with the silent sweet permission to write on that wall. As soon as I would get to her house, she and I would make a beeline for the garage and play the newest tunes on the portable record player that sat on her father’s workbench as we made our latest entries. One of her parents would always back the car out into the driveway to give us room to write, spin, “Temptation Walk” and stand back to see our handiwork in full. I don’t think I ever saw Dot’s bedroom, it was always about the wall.
We did this for several years and soon it became harder to find a space to write. Sometimes I would see handwriting I did not recognize and I must confess, it made me cringe just a bit. But then I would look at the entire wall and see that most of the handwriting was Dot’s and coming in as a strong second, was mine.
I don’t know how many song titles others and we wrote on that wall but it was truly the song track of our young lives. We enshrined musical and American history with “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “Heatwave,” “Uptight,” and “My Girl,” just to name a few of the hundreds of songs that eventually made their way to the wall.
In 1966, I remember clearly writing, “Land of a 1000 Dances,” as my last swirly cursive inscription. I know the song and the year because miraculously I found an empty space to enter it right in the middle of all of those songs. Dot put on the 45 as I wrote and then we did all of the dances as the life shift took place and then that was that.
Now full-fledged teenagers, boys and our own personal telephone lines had entered the picture and we saw each other less and less.
It would only be about six months after that last entry that Dot and her prom date would meet their fate with a mean redwood on Skyline Boulevard in the Oakland Hills, probably within walking distance from where I now live.
Years later I would take my husband and my three year old daughter to visit Dot’s parents. The house was exactly the same, but inside the air had shifted and was barely breathable by those of us who understood. Permanently unmoored, Dot’s parents reached up and grabbed something to make them happy to see us. And because they knew we were coming and they knew me, the car had already been moved to the driveway.
As I did so many times when I was younger, I hugged them both hard as we exchanged cautious pleasantries. And then, knowing it was all right, with my daughter in tow, I made a beeline for the garage.
The space had been freshly painted white, but the pale green wall with all of the songs written on it was untouched. Even the old portable record player was still sitting on the workbench and looked as if it had been freshly dusted.
I told my daughter the story of Dot and me and the wall. I sang parts of the some of the songs to her as she listened in rapt attention. I showed her Dot’s entries and I showed her mine.
As we headed back to the living room to join the others, she asked me where Dot was.
For me, the answer was all too clear.
“She’s in the music, baby. She’s in the music.”