It was summertime in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. Probably 1979-80, I don't remember exactly. I was a bookworm and my favorite book at the time was Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I so admired Harriet. I wanted to be Harriet. So I became Harriet. with the help of my friend Diane Dunovan (sp). That sticky Kansas summer was spent hiding under the bushes planted outside almost every duplex on base - bushes my mom referred to as "funeral bushes". I have no idea what they were actually called, but they made good hiding places, that is a fact. Each duplex in my neighborhood had several concrete steps up to a tiny concrete porch leading into a rickety 3-bedroom home that might or might not have a basement. They were all exactly the same, except for the basement factor. We had one and oh how we loved it. But that's another story...
Diane was a gawky like me, pale like me, more freckled than me, bespectacled like me, and had light, carrot-colored red hair--unlike me. (I just realized I have had redheaded friends my whole life; Kirsten, Diane, Kelly and now Kirby -- hmmm.....) Diane was as nerdy and bookwormy as me, and maybe even a little bit more shy. We were also in girl scouts together. Again, another story for another time... In any event, she would pretty much do whatever I wanted to do. And this summer, I wanted to spy. So we both bought spiral-bound notebooks and began creeping around our neighborhood for hours at a time, "spying" on people. We would hide under the bushes and listen. In all honestly, I don't remember a thing we "found out" about anyone, as it was more about the covert ops than about anything we might have overheard. I can still smell the evergreen bush, feel the gritty dirt under my knees as I knelt, poised to run if discovered, notebook in one hand and pen in the other. I wish I knew where those notebooks are now; my mom no doubt has them somewhere in her attic, but it might be decades before they're unearthed... anyway, kneeling under the evergreens, trying to be still, trying not to giggle at Diane's funny faces; my heart pounding in my chest, wondering how much trouble we would get into if we got found out--those were the days of summer. I don't remember if we ever were discovered, I just remember the adrenaline rush that kept us going throughout that long, hot, Kansas summer. Me and Diane.
The summer before 5th grade, Diane's family moved away to Ft. Riley, KS. It was the way of the military; you met people and befriended them in two or four-year increments, then one of you moved on and most likely you lost touch. I really hated to see Diane go, though; she was quirky and could make me laugh at almost anything. I remember going to visit her in Ft. Riley for a few days late in the summer, and it already wasn't the same. She had a new baby brother and she was having a hard time adjusting. While awkward at first, we warmed up to each other over the next few days, and we spent the nights in sleeping bags on the giant screened-in front porch of her parent's house. Talking and giggling until we fell into sweaty sleep, then reluctantly rising with the sun. We would talk about everything -- moving, school, boys. I remember one night we pretended to be each other's boyfriend and took turns holding hands and kissing on the lips -- such innocent pretending, such high hopes. We would try to be serious, as we imagined a boy and girl would be in such a situation, but without fail we would dissolve into a pile of giggles. Someday we would know, for real. And we would sure as shit talk to each about it.
And then school started and another year passed, and the next summer my family moved back to San Antonio. And Diane and I lost touch for good. I wrote her a few letters, but she never responded, so eventually I just stopped. We would get Christmas cards from her family every year, and one year, while I was in 8th or 9th grade, the card came and said that Diane was very ill. Maybe terminally ill. With some unpronounceable illness neither my mom nor myself can remember now. Her mom explained in the card that that was why Diane had lost touch; she didn't want to explain to anyone what was happening to her. We were so, so young. She must have been so, so scared. I like to think I tried writing to her again after that, but I truly don't remember. My feelings had been hurt when she hadn't responded years earlier, and even knowing the reason why didn't make it stop hurting. In fact, it made it worse. That was the last time we heard from her family.
In the craziness that was puberty and first love and teenage angst and dad-wars, the high-school years passed and I didn't really think about Diane that much -- and with each passing year, the memories faded. But I've never stopped wondering what happened to her. I have googled her, but no luck. I also don't remember exactly how she spelled her last name, so that's also a hindrance. I think she's probably gone. And that makes me really sad.
She was the quirky, redheaded girl who pretended to be my boyfriend; who listened to my silly, girlish hopes and dreams; who even crept around underneath the bushes all summer, dutifully taking notes on every screaming toddler that rolled by on a Big Wheel. Ah, the glamorous life on an army base.
I hope Diane had the chance to have a real boyfriend, as I did. I hope she knew how much I cared for her. I wonder if she ever thought of me in those later years. I wonder if she might still be alive. I wonder, but I may never know.
And that's the thing about life that really eats at me; so many people pass through our lives, people who are huge or small influences on us at one time or another, and then they can just be gone, just like that, and no matter how hard you look, you can't find them again. I hate losing people.
I hate losing Diane Dunavon.