A Loss Still Felt
The year was around 1971, and I was in school in North Carolina. I was in an accelerated nursing program, along with over a hundred other students. I believe we started with 132. The program was intense and I became close with 3 other students, which whittled my contacts down to a precious few. As many friendships happen, it was not by intent or design. It just was. All four of us had “significant others,” which took any romantic issues out of consideration. We were a good foursome. I went through every day with these other three, named Kay, Mitch, Jerry, and, of course me, Mae. If we were involved in a football game, I’d have to say, “We killed ‘em”! We were invincible, or so we thought. We covered every piece of material we needed to learn, took turns in the ATL lab, studied together, and challenged each other with every bit of knowledge the school threw out. We trouble shot everything that could have even threatened to stand in our way. We felt invincible. We were the fabulous four. We were good. We knew we were good. And we had a bond between us that lasted from the first day of class until graduation and state boards. Then it was as if we never were. All of us went in different directions. What a time that was. When I nostalgically look back, I wonder what fate brought the four of us together in a solid unit, and then scattered us to the wind never to see each other again. It is a puzzlement the way things go, sometimes.
When we graduated, there were only 23 left standing. It was a killer program. It was intense and constant. We tied with Duke University for the highest grades on state boards in North Carolina. The very first semester almost half the class had dropped or flunked. Our little nucleus roared on. That was then.
I moved to Holland, Michigan after graduation, where my family had already moved. Jerry went to Dallas, Kay got married to a doctor, and moved out of town, and Mitch stayed there in Charlotte, working at the 100,000 bed medical center where we did our clinical work. It seems our lives went fast-forward, all in different directions and, looking back, I almost wonder if I was in a time warp.
I guess mainly, today, I want to talk about Mitch. He was tall, thin, wore his light brown hair back in a ponytail, and sauntered when he walked. We loved him. He was one of sunny disposition, and laughed often. I cannot, even now, think of his face as other than laughing. He exuded happiness. He always dated a girl named Rosie. Rosie was not one of us. I’m not sure she was even a nursing student, but she did go to the same college. When Mitch was not with us, he was with Rosie. I could not, for the life of me, figure out that pair. I’ve described Mitch; well, Rosie was the exact opposite. She was about five feet tall, had hair that was common in the late 60’s, early 70’s. It went almost all the way down her back, and was kinky, untamed, and wild. She was also very heavy and, with Mitch they looked like the most unmatched pair you could ever imagine. I liked Rosie, although I never got to know her. She was just part of Mitch. In thinking back, none of us talked about our personal lives to each other. We were just “school” from beginning to end. We intended to graduate at the top of our class and did. We were there on a mission. But, what about our personal lives? How did we not get into each other’s personal lives? I don’t know. It is something that I now regret. It was as if a whirlwind swept in and lifted us up, and when it was done with us, it set us down…all in different places. It was like all were headed to one goal, almost as a unit, and when that goal was met, it was over. It was ragged and raw. What about those deep feelings that we had never examined, or the love we all had for each other. What happens to that? “Where have all the flowers gone?”
One time, for whatever arrogant reason I cannot imagine, I asked the question that had been hiding far back in my mind for a long time. I was eating hamburgers and fries with Mitch in a little campus café, during a break in classes. Out of my mouth popped the question, “Mitch, what exactly do you see in Rosie?” (Have you ever kicked yourself for saying something totally inappropriate?) Mitch and I were close enough that I could ask him anything, but I should not have asked him that. He got a faraway look in his eyes and looked off a while before answering: “Rosie kept me warm during the coldest winter of my life.” I felt like some great truth had been bestowed upon me and I never forgot his words (or my arrogance in asking).
A few years after graduation, I got a call from Kay. I had not heard from her since state boards. She said she had some news she hated to tell. She quietly spoke, ”Mitch killed himself.”
The silence stood between us like a pall. Neither of us could go on. Neither of us knew what to say or ask. It was over. It was all over. That band of invincibles would never be again.