Day 16: Nostalgia Attack

January 30th, 2016


I‘m taking part in a 30-day writing experiment. The theme for me is “personal, not pretty.” See Kale & Cigarettes for details and the Facebook Group to read stories by other 500-words-ers.

Last night I had a dream about a friend of mine who died over 25 years ago. He was the first boy who stole my heart. His name, when I met him, was Darrin Schepanick. I have absolutely no idea how to spell that very Polish last name anymore, but I remember Darrin so well. He and his sister, Cherie, moved to our small town toward the end of my stint in elementary school, when their mom decided to shack up with Jake Dickinson.

In the small town I grew up in, the Dickinsons were large and in charge. A band of brothers, they were all big, gruff lumberjack types who didn’t speak much and mainly grunted to communicate. They spent a lot of time hanging out at the one bar—the same bar my dad would install us at all day during his Sunday custody sessions, and the bar my own mom later ironically bought and transformed into a nice family joint. When we were kids, though, it was a rundown roadhouse bar with two pool tables and a classic old Ms. Pac Man machine. My dad would hang out there all day, playing pool and drinking Budweisers, and we feral kids would roam free around town and do whatever the hell we wanted.

Darrin’s mom, Janine, was a boisterous, hilarious, self-deprecating sort, and she and Darrin were tight. No question about it, he was her favorite. Cherie, on the other hand, had to resort to a lot of pretty incredible shenanigans to get any attention at all.

Once, she threatened to stick her fingers in the outlet behind the stove if she didn’t get her way.

Once, when I was sleeping over, Cherie stuck her head through the metal rungs of her old farmhouse-style bed. She couldn’t get it out, and was afraid to wake up her mom, so I pushed the bed over to the windowsill and laid a pillow on it for her head. She slept that way all night.

Once, Cherie and I were taking a shortcut to the lake through a meadow of tall grass, and Darrin sped by on his Schwinn, his fishing pole dangling precariously across the handlebars. Somehow, the hook caught in Cherie’s pinkie finger, and she screamed. We all made it gingerly back to their house, Cherie howling in terror and pain the entire time. 

When Janine saw it, she calmly announced that she’d have to yank the hook out. Cherie panicked. “Fine,” said Janine. “Get lockjaw then. It’s your choice. You talk too much anyway.” Janine was not a mean mom; she was a matter-of-fact person. She didn’t baby Cherie.

But she doted on Darrin. They were the same. Funny, rough, smart, scrappy, tough. And inexplicably sweet.

I loved Darrin too. He was cute. He looked kind of like Ricky Schroeder, with sandy blond hair and big mischevious eyes. He was a flirt in the way that 12-year-old boys are flirts: he would push me off the dock into the lake, then cannonball in after me and ask me if I liked him. If I said yes, he’d laugh hysterically and say something like “Sucks for you!” then swim away. If I said no, he’d stick around to make sure I did. Sometimes, he would kiss me. Others, he would ignore me for weeks. I was hooked.

This went on for years.

In high school, we drifted apart and hung out with different crowds. Darrin was more of a townie, and a smartass. Teachers and parents didn’t like him. He was Trouble.

When I got my driver’s license, my mom bought a car for like $100 off someone she worked with at a restaurant. It was a giant white Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme which could comfortably seat about 10 people, but con: the battery would die if it rained. Every morning—assuming it wasn’t raining—I would spend about 90 minutes driving all over our rural school zone picking up my friends. 

Even though Darrin lived closest to my house, I would pick him up on the later side, after I had already gotten my brother, Colby, and Ingrid in the car. Darrin was always running late. I would pull into his driveway and honk, and he would pop out the front door with a towel wrapped around his waist and say “Almost ready!” before dashing back in the house to put on some Drakkar Noir. (Side note: I have never admitted this to anyone before now, but I still can’t catch a whiff of Drakkar Noir without feeling sad and slightly turned on.) I’m pretty sure he waited in the towel until we were there just so he could show off his adorable teenage-boy chest. That would have been his style.

Darrin was a year behind me in school, so after I went away to college, he finished up his senior year. I ran into him early in the summer after my freshman year, in front of the tiny little post office in our town. We caught up; he told me he was going into the military in the fall. I was shocked. We were hippies in a progressive hippie town. We were opposed to war and government institutions in general.

But when I thought about it, Darrin actually wasn’t. He wasn’t a hippie; he was a smart but wild kid raised by drunk townies in a rundown house on the edge of town. There was a cemetery in his front yard, where we used to play. Darrin wasn’t going to college. He wouldn’t have thrived in any kind of job situation I could think of. Actually, the military was perfect for him. Because he was the kind of kid that had two choices in life: military, or jail. And he was too good for jail.

That was the last time I ever saw Darrin. Later that summer, while I was working at the natural foods store I had worked at since tenth grade, I got a call from a mutual friend. “There’s been an accident. Darrin is dead.” 

This was my first experience with a friend dying, and I didn’t believe it at first. And even when it turned out to be true, and I couldn’t escape that truth—even after his funeral and seeing his body get lowered into a grave right outside the house he grew up in—it took me years to understand what really happened, although the truth was so stupid and simple: He was driving home from a party, drunk, and crashed his car.

My Darrin wasn’t a kid who drank at a party in the middle of the day and then idiotically drove home. He was better than that. He was mythical, immortal, and untouchable. I processed his death in a fog, and it took me years to understand that he was just a dumb kid doing some last summer partying before “real life” took hold.

He was also, it turned out, the glue that held his family together. Janine and Jake divorced. Their house fell into disrepair. Janine spiraled into a depression so severe she never managed to have a headstone installed on Darrin’s grave. Cherie disappeared from my radar. A few years later, home from college, I was driving on a lonely highway in our hometown, and picked her up hitchhiking on the side of the road. She was drunk, and we sat in awkward silence.

She had been my best friend for a few short years during a very lonely and important part of my life, and I eventually forgot all about her. But Darrin remained in my heart and always has, to this day. He’s one of the few people I have lucid dreams about. In my dreams about him—very occasional, at this point—he’s still the wild child with the heart of gold that I loved when I was 12.

I still can’t hear REO Speedwagon or the Fleetwood Mac song Landslide without falling into a major reverie. Just the mere mention of cinnamon toast makes me sick with nostalgia. 

Here’s a sad fact: There is still no stone on Darrin’s grave. Every few years, someone brings it up, and we talk about making it happen ourselves. I hope we do, some day.

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3 Responses to “Day 16: Nostalgia Attack”

  1. Kathy Somethingorother says:

    I remember a boy like that. I remember tagging along with that boy Darrin and his friends (my older sister included). I remember that teenage chest you spoke of in all it’s glory. I shared my first kiss with A boy who may or may not be named Colby on a bed in Darrin’s room a week before school began. I remember playing hide and seek in the cemetery thinking you all were potentially crazy. Or genius. I also remember the day of his funeral and barely being able to walk because I was devastated (and couldn’t see through my tears). He was the first person I knew, who was not some older distant relative, to die. Just like that, dead. Forever.
    I hope everyone has a boy like Darrin in their life. Preferably who lived. He was a good example on living life enthusiastically. He would have rocked the hell out of the military.

  2. Tom Bentley says:

    Strong stuff, Joslyn, written with attention, care and deep-water feeling. My high school girlfriend, my first true love, went missing in Colombia in her mid-twenties, never to be heard from again. I think of her often.

  3. Emily says:

    Beautiful homage to Darrin.
    The last paragraph brought a tear.

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