Dale Says

February 21, 2012

Talking to Cathy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dale @ 3:58 pm

I visited Cathy Koch’s grave last week. It’s a ritual I allow myself two or three times a year when I go back to visit my mother. This time it was a cold, cloudy day and a sharp, icy wind blew from the west. The walk to the cemetary was quieting, and my shoes crunched the rocks on the road as I made my way.

The rows of headstones at the little cemetary in Chappell, Nebraska form a miniature skyline at the top of the hill. The arched entranceway is welcoming, although signs warn against littering or trespassing after 9:00 PM.

I walked up and down the neat rows of familiar names; people I grew up with — Peterson, Newcomb, Taylor, Kayton. I found some comfort in the continuity of it, but it is a little unsettling that life could go on without all of those mainstays.

Cathy’s headstone is in the second row, near the northern fence. It has been cared for, and the name, dates, and peace sign are easy to read.

Cathy Koch
1950 – 1970

That’s all it says, although the peace sign below the dates adds a lot for me.

Cathy was beautiful! She had dark piercing eyes, full lips, and long, straight black hair. She was the prettiest girl in our class, although not the most accepted, since she had joined us during our junior year when her parents moved to town. And there might have been a little jealousy from some of her classmates (especially the girls), because Cathy was so pretty, and because she made cheerleader.

Cathy dated Joe Bayne, one of my best friends, and I believe he loved her. He’s dead now, too, the victim of a hideous car accident a year after Cathy died.  Some people think Joe’s death was intentional, and that he fell apart after Cathy died.

Unlike many of her classmates, Cathy didn’t go to college. Textbooks and tests were never her thing, and she had no interest in the collegiate life. Instead, she moved to the mountains of Colorado and lived with a group of friends, trying to “find herself.”  Word was that she got strung out on drugs. I visited her once, and it was an unusual lifestyle; several people crammed into a tiny mountain cabin, with few modern conveniences and little structure. There were drugs in the cabin, although I don’t remember Cathy taking any hard-core drugs while I was there.

After I saw her, I went back to college and left her in her mountain hideaway. Sometime after that, Cathy visited her parents in Chappell, and during that visit something went horribly wrong. The way I heard it, her parents talked her into getting mental help (maybe for drugs?), and they loaded her things in their car to take her to see someone. Everyone was in the car when Cathy said she had forgotten something and ran back into the house. She grabbed her father’s shotgun, loaded it, and blew her head off.

As I stood in front of Cathy’s grave an overwhelming sense of loss came over me.  I thought of all the special occasions Cathy had missed – marriage, children, anniversaries, travel, Christmases, birthdays. She would have been a terrific wife and a wonderful mother. But she missed it all. It is so incredibly sad!

I told Cathy I was sorry, and I let my sadness flow down to the place where she is buried. I stood that way until the cold Nebraska wind started to make my fingers numb. Then I turned around and walked home.

I’ll probably do it again the next time I’m in Chappell. I don’t really know why I put myself through this, but afterwards I always feel something special. I’ve had another chance to talk to Cathy.

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