It Seems Like Yesterday
(Rapid City, SD)
I lost a special friend in a flash-flood 40 years ago. She was 17-years-old, and I was 16. Over 230 people were killed that night. I managed to fight my way out of the water- she didn’t. I knew that she had climbed onto a building to get out of the water, and the building collapsed, throwing her into the flood. Her body was recovered about 5 miles away. That was all I knew. I wasn’t allowed to go to her funeral because the city was having trouble dealing with all the death and aftermath of the horrific tragedy; and my parents thought it would be better to make me stay home. I didn’t even have a picture of her. I was so devastated. It was bad enough losing my friend, but my little town had suffered such an enormous loss, which made everything so complicated that I don’t think I ever got to properly grieve for her. I know I never even talked to anyone about how much I respected and admired her; how I would gladly trade places with her in a heartbeat. My whole life has been haunted by her memory- she lives in my dreams.
We commemorated the 40th anniversary of this flood in my town a couple weeks ago. Everyone sharing their stories and a week of remembrance and renewal were on the platter. Then I read a story from the mayor at the time of the flood that I had not heard before. He talked about a young woman who was clinging to a tree in the heart of one of the worst areas, and a National Guard crew who were trying to rescue her, and she slipped away. They had come within 10 feet of her when they lost her. The National Guardsmen were devastated, the Mayor said. This was between the area where my friend was thrown into the water, and where her body was found. It could have been many people, but I felt in my heart that it was my friend. Now everything has been reawakened. It feels like it just happened yesterday. I walk by the places where I know she was that night when she was killed; I walk by the schools that we shared together. I found her grave in a nearby cemetery and plan to visit it, but I haven’t yet. I cry almost every day for her. I really do feel like I’m going crazy. I think maybe because I was not allowed to properly grieve for her back then, maybe I am grieving for her now. I got a picture of her from the local paper that had posted memorial pictures of the victims- you can’t believe how much that picture means to me.
I have lost other people in my life and I handled it much better, I think. I even lost several other friends in the flood. It was this friend that made such an impact on my life. Looking back on the past 40 years of my life and thinking about everything she missed out on is so painful from this perspective, perhaps even worse than losing her when I was 16-years-old. She has made me realize how precious every minute is, and how incredibly fortunate I am to have everything that I have. Thank you for giving me the time and space to say I love you so much, Gayle. You would be so surprised if you knew how very much you meant to me.