I just learned that an old friend of mine passed away. Her name was Cheryl and her family had a cottage on the same road as mine in Bradford, N.H.
I was closer in age to her two older sisters, but the three of them, my brother Mike and I, and our next-door neighbors John and Mike, were quite the gang of teenagers on Howlett Road in the early ’70s.
Most of our fun was good and clean: we hung out at French’s Park, a rocky beach right down the road on Lake Massasecum, we played endless games of cards (knuckles and 45s), and we rode dirt bikes on the backroads.
I remember one particular day when we all went riding. I was 16 and Cheryl was 12. She was the lightest of the passengers, so she rode with me on the back of my Honda 50.
She was wearing a pair of dungarees that were split nearly all the way up the seams of the legs. I should have made her put on a different pair of pants, but I didn’t, much to my regret.
We had all driven up to the top of Rowe Mountain without incident. It was when we were on our way back home that those split pants legs came back to haunt me.
I was in the lead, Cheryl sitting behind me, as we neared home. We were cruising along the final stretch of dirt road at a pretty good clip when the pants legs slipped out from beneath Cheryl’s butt, where she had tucked them, and got caught in the chain.
The bike immediately jerked hard and Cheryl fell backwards as I dragged to a stop.
She was screaming as she lay on the ground, scared, hurt and hysterical, still attached to the bike by her pants.
I didn’t know what to do. Where were the boys? Why wasn’t anyone coming?
I ripped her pants out of the chain and tried to get Cheryl to move to the side of the road but all she could do was scream for her daddy. Her legs were scraped up and bleeding, but otherwise she didn’t seem too badly hurt.
In desperation, I took my helmet off and ran up the road to the top of a rise about 30 feet from where Cheryl lay on the ground. I put my helmet in the middle of the road, praying the others would see it before they ran her over.
I told her I was going to get her father, and drove as fast as I could down the road to her house — about half a mile away.
I pulled into the driveway and shouted for Mr. Manning. He came out of the house, calm and unruffled, even after I told him what happened.
The details are fuzzy as I look back and try to remember how the scene played out.
I can picture Mr. Manning, a big, affable guy with a kind face, listening intently to my story when suddenly John came skidding to a stop on his bike, yelling that Cheryl was hurt.
Mr. Manning commandeered John’s bike, which was bigger than mine and could (barely) accommodate his 6 feet and 220 pounds, and drove, or more like puttered, up the road.
Anxious and impatient, I led the way to the scene of the accident. By the time we got there, everyone else was clustered around Cheryl, who was still crying for her father.
He knelt down and soothed her, then picked her up in his arms and started carrying her back down the hill.
Mrs. Manning, who had returned from the grocery store in their station wagon, soon pulled up in the car with John. Cheryl was loaded up and taken to the hospital, where they dug pebbles and grit out of her legs and bandaged her up.
Although nobody blamed me for what happened, I knew it was my fault. I felt terrible. Why had I let her wear those stupid pants! How could I have been such an idiot!
I bet Cheryl had those scars on her legs when she died from cancer a week ago. The photo of her in the obituary perfectly captured her fun, caring and loving spirit that I remember so well from long ago.
She had a great laugh, a wry sense of humor, and loved and enjoyed life. I learned that she had three children, and I feel sad that they lost their mother who was just 51 years old.
I lost touch with Cheryl and the gang not long after the accident. I finished high school and moved away from home. A couple years later I moved to California and somehow, we just never seemed to run into each other up in New Hampshire.
Now Cheryl is gone, having preceded her parents and five siblings in death and leaving all who knew her to wonder why? Why did she die? Why do the good ones always seem to go first?
These are questions we ask ourselves every time there is an untimely death. We all know that one day, we too shall depart this life. It’s never easy, and it’s never painless. But it’s always inevitable, no matter how hard we fight.
Cheryl was surrounded by loved ones when she passed away — small comfort to ease the pain and loss of a life cut short.
Our scars tell the stories of our lives in a visceral way. The physical scars cause intense pain when they happen. But it’s the emotional scars that wrench our hearts, long after the initial pain was felt.
Rest in peace, Cheryl, your family and friends will remember you always with love and appreciation.