Once upon a time, I met a woman who, like me, was, back then, an aspiring writer. Because her parents were Dutch Reformed, we found, almost immediately, a kinship that lasted for at least a couple of days. She was married, I was married, but we were thrown together at a writers conference and, for a time at least, spent some time with one another.
Not long after, however, this young, beautiful woman got herself royally wooed by a celebrity poet, and for the ten days thereafter the two of them were never out of each other's presence. Never.
When the conference ended, the two of us left on the same flight. It was a small airport, and I remember walking up a staircase to the plane. We'd been talking, about things in general. I'm sure I didn't say a word about her romantic coupling, even though, at the conference, it certainly hadn't been secret. Anything but.
We were on our way up those steps, when she said something to me that I've never forgotten. "Jim," she said, "I hope this plane crashes."
There's more to the story, much more, really, because that moment created the space for a self-evaluation in me, a bout with the possibilities of death itself. I was 32 years old. But that's another story.
As it turns out, she left her husband for the celebrity poet, and then, later on, divorced him as well. She's gone on to significant fame as a poet herself and written two memoirs which I haven't read and didn't even know of until just Sunday, her birthday, when I read a bit of news I must have missed months ago.
It seems she'd married a third time to a man who, not long after, had died of cancer. Many of her subsequent poems laid open her pain at his leaving her.
In April of last year, the cruelist month, she left home and walked to the football stadium of the university where she'd taught, climbed up to the highest row, and leaped to her death. The police ruled out foul play, but suicide is definitely a form of foul play.
I didn't know any of that until Sunday.
Thirty years ago I knew her, and I'll never forget the last words she said to me: "I hope this plane crashes."
Thirty years later, for reasons I don't know, in a way, I guess, it did.
I ordered her two memoirs. They'll likely arrive today. I want to know more about her life, want to know if after she got on that plane and it didn't crash, she ever found happiness.
I hope so. I really do.