Saturday, September 20, 2008


(User’s Note: It’s 39 days until I turn 40, and I’m writing a blog entry a day until I turn 40 to deal with the unconscious pressures of being alive as long as I have -- longer than most cavemen lived. Here’s one that’s mighty personal – so personal you might want to wash your eyes afterwards to get the personal out. And while this is titled “Cindy Gamsjager”, it’s not about her, but about her and me. Solipsism is great; everyone should try it.)

The Personal One.

Cindy Gamsjager and I did not hang out a lot outside of high school. We didn’t hang out much after we graduated either. When she died in 1988, a lot of people wondered why I took it so hard. Really. I was a wreck. I cried more than I think I ever have, and I still get choked up about it now, 20 years later. I lost my mind a bit (not far to go for that), and have distinct memories of myself squatting on the ground after the graveside services and crying and crying. I do not do this sort of thing that often. My wife has often said she thinks it’s weird I’ve never cried in front of her – well, I have, but she wasn’t looking. It is possible I ran out of tears after Cindy died and had to make more. And damn that sounds like a lyric Carrie Underwood might sing (more on her big hit to come in future blogs).

Truth is, Cindy and I saw each other an enormous amount, but I didn’t realize that until after I graduated. We had band together (I was drum major and she held a slight grudge against me for making drum major over her), drama together, English – hell, 90% of the classes I took from 9th grade to graduation had Cindy in them. I think it was one of those “Damn, I just realized the most obvious thing ever” moments when I did figure it out. You know what those are:

“Oh, I actually did love (blank)!”

“Damn, I knew I shouldn’t have eaten that!”

“I am actually happier than I’ve ever been in my life!”

“So he was The Doctor all the time!”

Repeat ad infinitum.

After high school, I went to what was then known as CSU on a jazz music scholarship that I completely wasted (“Wow! I didn’t want to be a jazz musician after all!”). Actually, “couldn’t” is a better word to use than “didn’t”, but it was free college, and I blew it and dropped out. Luckily, you get a second chance for some things, and I eventually figured out what I wanted to do, started back at college, got a 4.0, multiple Dundies, and am now gainfully employed at the full-time/part-time job I’ve worked at for more than half my life – degree unneeded, debt exponentially growing. Cindy went to OU.

I saw her very sparingly after graduation: a couple of parties, some concerts we’d both attend, nothing big. I’m assuming we both had the same epiphany about how closely our lives intersected at about the same time, because the last time I saw her, we both mentioned it in the first few minutes.

Needed back story: One day, a mutual band mate named Bonnie Something-or-other told me Cindy had a crush on me. This was my sophomore year, just when I was beginning to turn into the ass I was in high school. I laughed and made a joke in front of Cindy a couple of days later, and she vehemently – I use the word specifically here – denied it. Good job, doofus (me).

Flash Forward, or Catch-Up: I had just started what would be my first real, long-term relationship that would come to an end about four years later.

ASIDE: Very smart move on her part. Verrrry smart. I could not agree more -- especially with hindsight.

I was starting to fall deeply in love with someone, and then I ran into Cindy again.

It was at a party that a friend of mine threw at his grandparents’ house. He wasn’t supposed to throw a party there, and definitely wasn’t supposed to smash the outside garage door mechanism to break into the house, gather all the precious stuff they had, put it in their car in the garage for safekeeping and have a bunch of drunken teenagers over, but he did. Great party. He got in shitloads of trouble for it, and would have gotten in even more trouble had the late Sean Shepler and I not concocted a scheme to lie just enough to keep them from pressing charges. Sean’s appreciation will come later in the series. Promise.

My girlfriend – Laura – was not there. Couldn’t tell you why, I don’t actually remember. Cindy was there, though, and we found ourselves drinking beer in the backyard and talking about high school when we both admitted we’d had that aforementioned epiphany about class and stuff. I realized then that we were having the longest, coolest conversation we’d ever had. I think she did, too.

ASIDE: I haven’t talked to many people about what happened next, and it’s it still hard (See above above above above above) to do so.

The morning approached, full of house-cleaning and me walking home (the party was close – too close). Cindy and I wandered into the front yard, still talking, and things got incredible very quickly: 4AM, we’d talked for a couple of hours, eventually got to the mutual compliment part, talked about going out some time, stood facing each other, stopped talking, looked into each other’s eyes, kept doing so, moved one hand toward the other person’s until they touched, and we kissed. It wasn’t some grand, movie-style embrace, just us, touching/holding one hand, bending slightly forward (in what my former drama teacher Ms. Franklin would have called a “tent hug”, where you bend forward towards the person, but don’t move your whole body), and kissing – closed-mouth. We moved our heads back, still touching each other’s hand and both said we’d really like to see each other again with stupid Pam/Jim smiles on our faces.

I don’t think anyone else knew about what happened that night. If she told anyone, I’ve never found out, and she may have gotten home and said something to her roommates, such as, “I will never drink that much again. I kissed David Murphy. Bleurgh!” (Stephen’s onomatopoeia, not mine.) We both went home – me two blocks away, her back to her apartment in Norman, where one of her roommates found her unconscious a few days later. She’d had an asthma attack, didn’t have her medication with her, and passed out from lack of oxygen. Her roommates took her to the closest medical facility – I am not 100% on the facts here – but not in time to save her. She slipped into a coma and never woke up.

I knew nothing about this at the time. I was still dealing with the ramifications of what had just happened. I was just getting serious with someone else, and suddenly an old friend had begun to possibly turn into something else (split infinitives, ho!). I decided to wait a week before calling Cindy, partially to give her some space to make sure she was actually interested, primarily because I was scared to death. A couple of days after Cindy had her attack, I was at my friend Khristi’s house – whose boyfriend’s sister I was now dating, and her mom asked me if I’d heard about Cindy. She told me. Cue Fanfare.

I wound up having to call Cindy’s ex-boyfriend Ross and tell him what had happened to her, and we both got together and cried a while, but I didn’t tell him anything about that last night, either. I figured it might get weird, as opposed to just depressing-as-hell. I found out they were going to turn the machines off in a few days, as they got ready to – well, she had checked that box on her driver’s license, you get the picture. I planned on going to the hospital next night, to say goodbye. At work the next morning, I read her obituary in the newspaper.

I think “babbling, crying fool” is a pretty accurate description of what I was like when I went to my boss to ask for the day off to go to her funeral.

Ross and I went together. We cried on each other’s shoulders, I wept pretty much constantly, and people looked at me with pity in some cases, raw hatred in others (I had pissed some people – adults – off by taking the head band director’s side in a power struggle between the band boosters and him. It ended with the director being demoted, and a lot of people not talking to me. Fuck them.). Most were confused. Again, nobody knew about that one night. After the funeral, Ross and I went out to Lake Overholser and talked, skipped rocks across the lake (I threw, Ross skipped. I cannot skip a rock to this day), and cheered each other up. Eventually, I dropped Ross off and went home.

Because I never said anything about this, I just went stark fucking crazy. I had a hard time being around Laura, to the point that I distanced myself from her and almost damaged our relationship to the breaking point.

I mentioned second chances somewhere before in all this. Girlfriend Laura and I got better, dated a long while, got engaged, and eventually she broke it off (see above – oh, fuck it). Again, smart move. She’s married with kids, and I am extremely happily married with kid. As the grief passed from all-encompassing to simply painful, I realized I had been given a gift – that’s how you’re supposed to phrase it, but in reality nobody gave that moment to us but us. I had seen her one last time, said everything I ever wanted to say to her, connected with her more than we ever had before, looked into each other’s eyes, kissed, and maybe would have done more, given time. I doubt it. I’m a realist. She was way too good for me at the time. Everyone was, back then.

Most people don’t get that kind of closure, although I guess it wasn’t closure so much as it was a possible beginning, a chance to start over. I at least had that chance. I couldn’t bring myself to visit her grave for a while after that, and I eventually forgot where it was. I haven’t tried to find it. I don’t think I could, even if I could.

The only other times I ever hung out with Cindy (hung out is such a cool term to use) were at Czech Hall, which was a place you could polka the night away and get beer when it wasn’t too crowded. Cindy and I danced a lot together, another realization I had later on. We loved to do the 7-Step Polka, where you take a couple of polka steps, and then four quick ones in the other direction. We used to like using the four steps to build up speed and ram into people, turning dancing into demolition dancing. It was fun, more fun than racing Brian Gorrell to the bottom of a glass bottle of Coke (he almost always won). Cindy and I laughed and laughed and crashed and smashed.

I’ve forgotten to tell you what Cindy was like. She was cute. Got rid of her glasses and started wearing contacts her sophomore (junior?) year, and stole Bye Bye Birdie as Birdie’s manager’s mother. In the movie, she’s played by Maureen Stapleton. Cindy was better. She wasn’t as tall as me, and when she dated Ross, they had to lean in towards each other just to hug; he’s a tall man. She had blue eyes and brown hair. She had a great smile and a nose some might consider a bit large; it brought out her eyes. She had an old, orange Opel she drove around, and I once got in it with a girlfriend to escape the cold outside Czech Hall. Rumors and Cindy’s screaming to the contrary, we did not have sex in the car. And it was not my idea. It was Dawnetta’s (Yup. Her name was Dawnetta). I simply agreed verrrry quickly. I think she’d gotten another car by the time I saw her after graduation, but memory fails me there where it is embarrassingly detailed most everywhere else. In Senior English, we sat next to each other and shared more “can you believe this shit?” looks than all four full seasons of The Office combined. The last time we acted together was in Drama class, where we played a high school couple who found out they were going to have a baby. We had to scream at each other and everything. Not true to life.

One other moment: Cindy and I sitting across from each other in Ken’s Pizza – which no longer exists – in Yukon after summer band between our junior and senior years. I mentioned that I was going to try and grow a moustache that year. Cindy had her glass up to her face, drinking, and never put it down. She simply stopped drinking, glass still tilted, and her eyes widened as if to say, “Oh, that’ll happen.” Given my own lack of facial hair then and not much more of it now, I’d say her reaction was spot on. We never spoke of it again, thankfully.

Last observation: Cindy Gamsjager is one of the greatest names ever.

I don’t polka any more.


Mark said...

I hate commenting on blogs when all I have to say is: it's a really good piece. That said: it's a really good piece. If you remember, I wrote to you (in an earlier correspondence) that words don't ever justify death. I forgot to mention that they can communicate an individual's response to loss. You do so here in a beautifully emotive way.

You are the Ippolit in my life, Dave. Thx. for the words.


Swordsandlace said...

I love this, David. Your memory is incredible. I had totally forgotten about Cindy's Opel. But now that picture is as bright as day. You've got some real treasure troves on this blog. I'm printing them out and saving them in a book because they are so awesome. Have you thought about writing a whole memoir for our class of band geeks? LOL I shared the Jay Hilburn blog with my husband earlier. He laughed so hard I thought he was going to bust a gut.