Memories of friends who have departed
August 18, 2006
A few years ago, I was awakened in the middle of the night by the sense that my mother’s sister had unexpectedly died. Actually, it wasn’t a sense – I had been bludgeoned with the news to the point I was shaking and could feel my heart racing. The smell of death was heavy in the dark room and the knowledge that my aunt had just passed through there, on her way to other horizons, was as real as the fear I felt. It was around 4 a.m. and I had just resumed sleep a couple of hours later when my dad called to give me the news.Some people think I’m crazy for mentioning the above, but it’s not a particularly unusual occurrence for me. The product of an overactive mind, perhaps. Or maybe, I have talent in another realm? Difficult to think about! If you’re young, attractive, and drawn to older men, you can trust that I’m totally within the window of normalcy.That said, I’m not getting strung out by the fact that I’ve lately taken to dreaming about Janie Stapleton, who died in June of this year. In the latest, we went to her memorial service together, and as we moved through the crowd, she more or less explained the proceedings to me, pointing out personalities, commenting on the food, and mentioning something about me always arriving with a bit of a disheveled look. We had a good time and when I remembered the dream later on, it brought a smile to my face.Janie and I were reasonably cast together when I became an itinerant tenant after she married my roommate, Don Stapleton. They were kind enough to let me stay on until I found a place, and our friendship was cemented in those early days. But, even as effervescent as she was, she had a horrible habit of keeping tabs on my sobriety, or lack of, which was not always appreciated. One morning, after finding myself on the living room couch and not in my upstairs room, I eagerly took the offered cup of coffee from Janie’s hand, and heard her say, “Oh, Mr. Vagneur, we hoped you were going to make the top of the stairs on the third try, but were glad you settled for the couch before you broke your neck.”Janie didn’t like my first name and usually referred to me as Mr. Vagneur, although she just as readily picked up on “A.J.,” as though she innately knew that’s what my immediate family called me.We were like a couple of school kids, requiring Don’s admonitions from time to time. Janie was working part time and I was, in the aftermath of the ski patrol strike, on call as an ambulance driver, which gave us both a lot of free time. Don, who worked at the office all day, speculated that between the two of us, maybe we could get the dishes and other menial tasks done in a timely fashion. We’d solemnly agree that it might be possible, and then fall right back into our habits of fighting over or dissecting the books we were reading, discussing the strange (Janie thought so, anyway, and I sometimes concurred) women I occasionally brought home, laughing over the latest dumbassed stunt somebody had pulled, and forever procrastinating.I don’t suppose she and I had more than a couple of real conversations in the last 10 years, although she’d occasionally call to give me news of this or that, usually on my answering machine. We began an e-mail correspondence of sorts after I starting writing this column, but the impetus for serious discourse had already been stolen by the incessant march of time.My farewell – just as Janie herself might have been heard to say – “God bless you, ya little darlin’.”Tony Vagneur, when asked, will no doubt refuse to take his place in line. Read him here on Saturdays and send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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