I saw a PowerPoint slide recently that said that in 1995, Internet penetration was, amongst Americans, less than 5%. So it's not surprising Google and the Internet in general have failed me in writing down this story because the facts, the details, they are not online. There's no Facebook legacy page or online guestbook or the opportunity to donate via Paypal to the deceased's charity of choice. An odd occurrence in today's world, and one which might make you wonder, in this age of search query strings, if this all happened at all, or if it happened in the way I say it happened or when it happened and how.
So let me start with what I remember as happening. Friday, October 13, 1995. I am doing what amounts to nothing in my college dorm room, ready to head home for fall break. It's relatively early, before lunchtime, when the phone rings. A real phone. A heavy one. IT IS ATTACHED TO THE WALL. And it has a real bell inside it that rings and rings and rings until one of my roommates stops doing her hair while drinking Diet Coke and watching Sally Jessy Raphael (or maybe it was Montel) and answers it.
It's my editor-in-chief. I work at the university newspaper and I am GOOD at it. So is my editor-in-chief. At age 19, 20, 21, he (to this day) is one of the best bosses I have ever had. We make a good pair.
It's odd to get a phone call from John at 10 am on a Friday morning. All 13,000 copies of the paper are on their way to the dining halls and the classroom buildings or, well, to the recycling containers. (I think we recycled more in the mid-90s than we do today.) The paper is OUT. It's done. Unless I've messed up. That happened once before when I let a feature about the campus pizza delivery guy go out as "Hot, Cheap and Easy." John was a little upset about that. So was the pizza guy. But now I never let my section go to bed before signing off on it.
"Are you sitting down?" John asks.
I live in a college dorm room full of couches and bean bag chairs. Of course I am sitting down.
"I don't want to be the one to tell you this, but I wanted to make sure you found out sooner rather than later."
"There's been an accident."
"Rob is dead."
"We think there was alcohol involved. Campus and the police won't tell us anything."
Rob is my on-again-off-again intermittent hookup, my concert critic, and my source of all new music. He makes me mix tapes. At various points in our relationship, I have fancied myself in love with him and as the mother of his children.
So yeah, someone I know and sort of love--in the way that you love someone in that way when you're in college--is dead.
I will skip the stages of grief. You know them. (If not, you can Google them. Google's all caught up now.) A week or so later, I find myself in the campus cathedral (yes, we had a campus cathedral) with the rest of the editorial staff. I am sobbing in the arms of one of our columnists, who is now, today in 2012, a famous food writer.
Rob has been to a party. To this day, 17 years later, I don't know where and I don't know with whom and I don't want to know, really. He drove his Dodge Neon to the party. It's a car my father, the insurance investigator, calls a "death trap." "Don't ever get into a Neon," my father has told me. I drive a shiny new Toyota Camry, with airbags everywhere. (Is it possible to order extra airbags? I think I might have had extra airbags.) It's a mom car, but a good car. "Always make sure you have at least eight feet in front of you and 12 feet behind you in any car," says my dad. (This is sort of impossible, but his point is made.)
Rob had too much to drink at this party. A lot too much. And somehow, he gets himself back into his car and tries to drive himself home and he instead drives himself into and around a tree.
And he dies.
It's tragic. Tragic. Tragic. Tragic. And all everyone on campus wants to talk about is how stupid he was and what an idiot he was and how he wasn't thinking and all I can think is "Of course he wasn't thinking. But it's over now, so you can stop it."
A year or so later, I am living in Chicago and out on a pseudo-date with a guy who likes to show everyone his old driver's license, and how good-looking he used to be. (I really can't make this stuff up.) There's a big boxing match on TV and he wants to take me to his friends' house to watch it. His friends are nice. Nicer than him. He drinks a six-pack while we're there. Maybe more. I lost count. And I was counting. I had some to drink myself. And that moment came, around one in the morning, where you don't know where you are--there's no Google Maps yet--and the streets are dark and empty and you want to go home. There's no Taxi Magic. There are no Uber Cars. This drunk boy wants to drive you home. And you refuse to get into his Honda Civic because not only does it ride too low to the ground (says your father) but he has also had too much to drink, in your judgement.
"Get into the car!" He yells. "Get into the car, you bitch. You're such a bitch. Just get in the fucking car."
You turn around and walk away and even though it's one in the morning and you're sort of drunk and you don't know where you are, there's a taxi there, randomly, on that dark corner in that neighborhood you still can't remember. And you get in that taxi and you go home.