A vacation to Newport Oregon returns happy memories and a sad mystery.
I’ve written before about not having many relatives to visit in cemeteries. On a recent vacation, I realized I could visit a long-ago friend, and maybe put a few pieces of my past to rest as well.
My family lived in Toledo, Oregon for about a year when I was in junior high school. I have lots of fun memories of Newport, just down the road, where I’m on vacation at the moment, and thank goodness I do, because my memories of life in Toledo aren’t that great.
In the late 1970’s Toledo was a rough, blue-collar lumber town. I was the nerdy girl of white-collar parents, so I definitely didn’t fit in. I was bullied on a regular basis: I had lit matches thrown in my hair and my locker, and the Mean Girls threatened to make me bow down to their ringleader. The one and only time I ever skipped school, it was to avoid the bullying and my mother caught me sitting on a bench in downtown Toledo.
Somehow, I managed to make a few friends. Chris, Kenny, Alice and Leslie and I were all “weirdos” in some way or another and we pal-ed around and got along well. I remember Chris as being tall, blond, blue-eyed with slightly effeminate features. He had beautiful handwriting. He was best friends with Kenny and I’m sure they were called “faggots” all the time. Leslie was bullied as well.
In May of 1979, Toledo Junior High School burned to the ground. Some of my classmates and I missed all the excitement as we were on a school trip to Ashland, Oregon. There are some good photos of the fire on the Toledo history web site. After we got back from the trip, everyone got shuffled to the high school and the bullying slowed down. It was easier to hide from the Mean Girls in a bigger school. Not long after that my family moved to the Willamette Valley.
Sometime in the mid-1980s, Alice (who moved to Albany for awhile) told me that Chris died in 1984. He would have been 19 or 20. I don’t remember what else she told me. I always wondered if Chris was gay and if he killed himself. it would not surprise me. I would like to find out what really happened with him and get closure on that, but that may not be possible.
Yesterday I drove to the cemetery where Chris is buried. The nice woman in the office steered me to the right area. I wandered around a bit, eventually using her directions plus GPS coordinates from findagrave.com to find Chris’s stone marker. From his resting place, one can barely see the surf of the ocean. I’d rather have Chris alive in the real world, but if he has to be dead, this is a pretty nice place to be.
Afterwards I drove through Toledo to refresh my memory of the place. It was such a beautiful, sunny spring day, it took the sting out of some of the memories. I didn’t feel re-traumatized or anything. But I don’t forget. Because Chris is still dead, and bullying is still a thing.
Brief were my days among you, and briefer still the words I have spoken. But should my voice fade in your ears, and my love vanish in your memory, then I will come again,from The Farewell by Kahlil Gibran
And with a richer heart and lips more yielding to the spirit will I speak.
Yea, I shall return with the tide,
And though death may hide me, and the greater silence enfold me, yet again will I seek your understanding.
And not in vain will I seek.
If aught I have said is truth, that truth shall reveal itself in a clearer voice, and in words more kin to your thoughts.
If anyone can shed some light on the Christopher M Grogan mystery, please do get in touch.