Thursday, September 21, 2006

Gone to Refugio, Back by 2!!!

Monica and I had known each other for four years. She was in my English classes from Mrs. Reuter to Mrs. Schurtz (quite the gamut those English teachers ran...) We were never especially close, however, until our sophomore year. That year, we competed in Certamen together and ran the Latin Club, and over time we became good friends. At first we didn't get along well because of some typical best-friend drama with her childhood pal, the result being that I was left out. But Monica was never the type to exclude someone, so by our junior year we had become like the Three Musketeers, but without the Muskets and all in Latin instead of French. Monica and I had more classes together our junior year, and she taught me how to raise a little hell but still be a good kid.

She was working at Grandy's at the time. When we had Certamen tournaments she would spend the night at my house after she got off work. That was better than driving all the way out to her house, trying to snag a wink of sleep, and then meeting us by the roadside on our way out of town in the small hours. We had always planned for me to spend a night with her sometime, just for fun. We looked forward to going dancing and sleeping late, rather than studying and going bleary-eyed as we usually did.

Junior year rolled by and Senior year came on and I quit taking Latin, but Monica and I still spent a lot of time talking because of all those events that happen to you in high school which are much bigger at the time than they ever are in retrospect. Well, one weekend in the fall, we were finally going to do it. There was a dance Saturday night, and we were going to go to it and then spend the night at her house. I had a physical exam for the Air force Academy that morning in Beeville, but when I got back that afternoon, my eyes were still dilated and my mom said I couldn't go out. My mom had the right idea - my eyes didn't return to normal until Monday. Hopes dashed again, we waited.

Some weeks later, however, everything was finally right. Monica had to work for a few hours on Friday afternoon. She came to my house and we "got ready", which couldn't have taken very long since neither of us really was the makeup-wearing type. Most likely she had to shower the fried chicken smell off herself and fix her hair. We went out to Inez Community Center, because TAB (the Texas Armadillo Band - in their day they were an act not to be missed) was playing there and it was just a half hour north of town.

We had good times, staying until the dance was nearly over. I met her cousin Bill, who she was going to visit two years later when the accident happened. On the way home, we sang to the radio and talked about everything and everybody. We got so busy talking we missed the exit where Business Highway 59 splits off of US 59 and goes into Victoria. We just kept on driving, singing, talking. After a while, we started to wonder if we had missed an exit, but there's no way to turn around on that stretch of divided highway, and we weren't sure how long we'd been driving, or how far. So we just kept on going and talking, and from time to time one of us would say, "Gee, are you sure we didn't miss an exit?" But neither of us remembered the merger of Business 59 with US 59 on our way out to Inez, so we couldn't figure out why there'd be an exit to miss. All of a sudden we were in Refugio. (For those not familiar with the route of US Highway 59 through south-central Texas, that's the next town down the road, a solid 30 minute drive from the south edge of Victoria.)

Neither of us had realized we'd been driving for that long, and we laughed so hard when we got there, I almost couldn't get the car turned around. Time flies, as they say. On the original route home, we had planned to take a shortcut her grandmother had described to her. By the end of that misadventure, though, we decided to simply follow the main road and get home as directly as we knew how. Afterwards, we had a secret between us that we never told anyone, but now I'm the only one who knows.

We were the kind of friends who can spend two hours out on the road together, not even knowing half an hour had passed. Predictably, when I left for school, we swore never to grow apart. Both of us knew we had the kind of friendship you don't let go of. She wrote and told me her milestones and her little things. I wrote back and we managed to stay close. I called whenever I was allowed, but freshmen at military institutions have precious and limited phone time. I tried to call her to catch up on her news on the night she died, Oct. 17, 1992. I got her last letter the next day, and it said she had to tell me something, but it would have to wait until a private time. I never found out what it was. I still think of her a lot, especially around Refugio.

In Memoriam - Monica Deanne Hartman - Ana Behabbek

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