Scientists would disagree, but time doesn’t always pass at the same speed. Anyone who has had to sit through a boring meeting can tell you that it seems to take forever, while a two-week vacation flashes by all too soon.
Day in and day out, time seems to pass slowly. But when you look back on events in your life, or the lives of people you know, it’s as if they came and went in a heartbeat.
A recent email from a man who attended the same elementary school I did is a case in point. He wanted to know if I knew whether a former classmate, a girl named Teresa, had been in my eighth-grade class at our school. He said she had recently passed away and he was compiling information for a remembrance.
My guess, based on an event that happened later, was that Teresa most likely had been in my eighth-grade class. The event was a dance at the high school we later attended. My memories of that evening are indelible. It was as if it happened a few blinks ago.
Teresa was my date for the dance. The reason for guessing that she had been in my eighth grade class was that I was painfully shy around girls then. A girl I would find the courage to ask to a dance would have had to have been someone I’d known for a while and in whose company I felt comfortable, or at least as comfortable as a nervous, socially inept 15-year-old could be.
An added bonus was that Teresa was a sweet girl who would let me down gently if she already had a date. Even so, it took forever to work up the courage to call and ask her. Over and over I rehearsed what to say when she answered the phone. Time and again I dialed her number, chickened out and hung up. My older sister alternately encouraged me and berated me for inordinate cowardice.
When the call finally went through and — a miracle — Teresa said she’d love to go to the dance, I almost disintegrated with relief.
To lessen the chances of long, awkward silences on the big night, my friend Justin and I decided to double date. There was a small logistical problem with this scenario, however. Neither of us had our nighttime driver’s licenses yet. Our fathers, perhaps having been in similar situations in their younger days, agreed to drive us and our dates to the dance and home afterwards. One dad would take the first shift; the other would pick us up after the dance and bring us home.
Three things still stand out about that night. Awkward dancing (mostly mine); nervous small talk with Teresa, who couldn’t have been nicer, and the band that played at the dance. It was the first live band Justin and I had ever seen, and we were instantly smitten. Decades later, he’s still playing drums and I’m still playing guitar, and it all started at that dance.
Every now and then through the years a memory of that night would surface and I’d wonder, as a person will about friends long unseen, what ever happened to Teresa. We were never an item; the date recalled so vividly was our only date. But I remembered her fondly and was mildly curious to know what became of her.
The answer came as something of a bombshell. My response to the man working on her remembrance resulted in an email from him with an attachment containing what he’d put together about her. It was all there — her entire life — in a wafer-sized attachment at the bottom of my computer screen. It took 10 minutes to read what was pretty much her whole life story.
After graduating from our high school, she attended Portland State University for two years and was married two years later. Two years after that, she and her husband moved to Arizona, where they spent a number of years running a doomed amusement park.
That was a surprise. I could have seen her becoming a teacher, a nurse, a doctor … But running an amusement park?
The park, according to Wikipedia, was “originally conceived as an Old West theme park in the mold of Disneyland.” It “endured a series of closings, bankruptcies and ownership changes throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and was never a significant financial success.”
Despite financial problems, Wikipedia went on to say, the amusement park “is still remembered fondly and held in high regard by locals who knew and frequented it in its heyday.”
Teresa and her husband spent six years in Arizona and divorced. She spent 15 years in Oregon and Seattle working for a phone company, remarried and spent the rest of her life in Arizona and Washington. She had a daughter. She had been an honor student, a cheerleader and a prom queen. She played the cello.
One of the last pictures in the remembrance is of her snow-covered grave, decorated with roses.
It was all there in that little attachment, from her birth in Aptos, California to her grave in Cle Elum, Washington. A life in a few kilobytes.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago since the night when we were shy, nervous kids at a dance.
Life is so fleeting. In a way, that’s its cruelest joke. Time passes so quickly and is so precious. In a way, it’s all we have.