The basement of her parent’s house was quiet and nobody ever disturbed us there. There were candles stuck in Chianti bottles caked in layered wax, pickle jars of upturned paint brushes, the smell of raw clay and drying canvases, gesso and pine wood walls and her father’s pipe tobacco. She was a sculptor, her mother an art teacher, her father an executive.
Our relationship started when I was about sixteen, and getting to that basement was a great reason to take Driver’s Ed. Our relationship lasted for most of high-school, on and off. She went away to college white I stayed in, and that was the beginning of the end. We wrote letters and talked on the phone once in a while, even saw each other as friends a few times after we each married other people and had kids. But eventually the friendship fizzled.
On cold nights we’d build a fire in the basement fireplace, sit beside it on the brown and orange carpet, talk and neck. There was always dried medium of one kind or another around the nails of her slender fingers or smudged on her jeans. She smelled like hay and horses, musk and rose petals. She was older than me, more mature, a better artist and far more intelligent. To this day I have no idea what she saw in me.
On a summer night in the late seventies, after a long evening in the basement, we ventured upstairs for a snack. It was almost midnight. We stood in the kitchen and ate homemade yogurt with fresh blueberries on top. A typical snack at my house was potato chips and grape soda. Under the circumstances, homemade yogurt was mystically nourishing, a spiritual meal.
Eventually it was time to go. In the back of the house there as a picture window facing the rear yard, and beneath it a daybed where the cat slept. We stood in front of the window and kissed goodbye. Her mother came in just as we broke apart. I complimented the yogurt and thanked her for her hospitality.
In the direction of the window I sensed movement.
I turned and looked out into the yard. The moon was nearly full in the distance. The scene was clear, bright and rendered in silhouette. At about forty yard’s distance there was a wood pile on the left and a piece of farm equipment on the right. Between them was a twenty-yard expanse of neatly cut grass. Walking slowly from behind the woodpile, from left to right, was a large dog or wolf. In the center of the open space the thing stood up on hind legs and continued walking. It never broke stride. In the shape of man with a dog-like head, it then moved behind the tractor and was gone.
My girlfriend and her mother had turned to follow my eyes. They saw it too. We stood there talking, pointing and staring out of the window. I’m allergic to cats but I didn’t care. We sat on the cat’s day-bed for half an hour and waited to see if it would reappear. It never did.
Eventually I had to go. They turned on the flood lights and I made it nervously to my father’s old station wagon in one piece. I climbed in and locked the doors. When I was a mile away I opened the window and listened to the crickets and cicadas buzzing in the ditches by the road. Watching the country turn into suburbs under headlights, I drove home in a strange mood.
Thirty years later I would stand in that basement with her sister and help dispose of her adolescent things. That was long after her mother had died and her father had moved away; after her divorce; after she had died in a car accident along with her two daughters. The fact that she had left her entire estate to an environmental charity, and that her name would live on as a memorial fund, was little comfort.
I’ve been unable to make sense of what I saw that night. Neither have I been able to understand the sudden and senseless death of my high school girlfriend and her two daughters. In my head there is only a desolate array of strange and disjointed thoughts, feelings, and memories. Everything associated with her is like the thing that walked across the grass over thirty years ago — moonlit, liminal, and unexplained.