Thursday, January 19, 2006

Losing Buckaroo Banzai

My mom just called me with the news. I should have known something bad was on its way, since she was the bearer. FOr some reason, my mom has this uncanny knack of retaining the saddest, most ragic stories of the world and community events. Tales of bright futures cut short, horrific child abuse, and heartbreaking animal neglect are the ones she chooses to share with me. Why does she do this? To remind me of my mortality? To unburden herself by sharing her knowledge of such terrible things? Everybody knows misery loves company. It's not like she takes pleasure in telling me these things, in seeing me saddened by her words... she just does. So when she called me today with that catch in her voice, I should have known that what she was about to tell me was not going to be good.

"Aric just called me and told me Walter Ludlow was killed this morning. I think it was some kind of car wreck." Instantly my mind flashes back to this morning's traffic report.

"A sigalert is in affect on the 52 in Santee. Officers are at the scene of a fatality crash between a motorcycle and a semi." Even then, before I knew who was involved, I winced. The motorcycle guy never had a chance.

But that motorcycle guy isn't some random person in a faceless sea of the San Diego County population. He was my friend. As my mom keeps talking, I log onto the Union Trib website, still having a hard time believing that what she says is true. She must have made a mistake. People Iknow aren't the ones who are killed in traffic accidents.

The article isn't hard to find.

"A 26-year old El Cajon man dies today... Walter Scott Ludlow fell off his motorcycle and was struck... Officials don't know what caused the bike to crash..." There it is in black and white. It's so jarring to see his name next to the word death... like someone spelling your name wrong. You see it and you know it isn't right. But here it is. It can't be avoided or denied.

I get off the phone with my mom who reminds me to drive safe and that she loves me. "I love you too, Mom."

There are so many thoughts swirling around in my brain right now - it's hard to grasp even one. So many memories... so many times our paths crossed, each one making an indelible impression.

Buck was the kind of person everyone said was unique... and probably the one person of whom it was actually true. His real name was Walter, but he started going by Buck sometime in jr. high or high school to distinguish himself from his father, also a Walter. He was 1 of 5 close-knit siblings, all of them freckle-faced and impish, nearly carbon copies of each other in physical description. In his teenaged years, his divorced mother married a man who had 5 children of his own. I started referring to them as the Brady Bunch. After a period of adjustment, they referred to their combined Ludlow/Woodward family as "The Woodlows."

I was friends with Buck's older sister (by 1 year) first. She was my age and we were in the same grade at school. I met her at a summer camp hosted by our church and we became fast friends. I started hanging out at her house, during the summers and after school. You couldn't help but like Buck, right from the get-go. He was wholesome (being a Mormon kid) but was warm and friendly and funny and could always make you laugh. When swingdancing was big, he was one of the guys who would twirl me around the dance floor. He grew his curly orange hair out into a giant, Ronald McDonald-esque 'fro and then used clippers to style himself a new 'do every week, starting at the mohawk and finishing with a buzzcut. He was an artist - one of the best cartoonists I knew. His birthday was the same exact day as mine - just one year after. We used to joke that it was our destiny to get married, just so our families would be related. At one point, I started hanging out with Buck and his friends when Sharlyn wasn't around. We would pile into his Geo Metro at 3:00am and tear around our local 24-hr Wal-Mart before heading over to Dunkin' Donuts for a sugar boost. We shopped in thrift stores, trying to find the most outlandish things to wear. One of Buck's favorite outfits was a grew sweater vest and red bowtie. Another was a pair of slacks, button-up shirts and yellow power ranger suspenders. They were way too small, but that didn't matter - they were too cool to pass up. He liked to wear his get-ups to church and shock all the conservatives. He had this crazy laugh that would send everyone into giggles when they heard his "hoo-hoo-hoo-haaaaa" except for his teachers who would turn around and glare at him. This only made us laugh more. He became good friends with my brothers and the group of us would go to dances together or play capture the flag in the local park at midnight.

When he was older, he served his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Australia, learning a new language in the process. This gave him the distinction of being of one the few pale, freckle-faced carrot-top fluent Mandarin Chinese speakers in the world, I think. When he came home, he created a life for himeself, getting a job, a car. Living near his family. Getting married and have one and then two children. One looks just like him. Today, the oldest is not quite 3 years old.

The last time I saw Buck was right after Thanksgiving at my niece's 2nd birthday party. He was there with his kids and wife. I hugged him and introduced him to Mike. I enjoyed the party, relishing the friends and family were who there, still friends after so many years. Sharlyn and I used to talk about our "rocking chair" futures... that years and years out of high school, we would be able to sit on our front porches and reminisce. It seemed like we were on our way there.

Mortality and time are funny things. I can go home and open up my yearbook and read his crazy entry, all crooked lines and funny doodles surrounding the text - his tribute to that previous high school year. But in reading, the little voice in the back of my mind will be reminding me that this person is no longer here. It's hard to picture this vibrant and colorful person without the life in him, like someone turned off this lightbulb inside of him and now all is dark and cold and... dead. What of his friends and family? His brothers and sisters and wife and children? How does Rachel tell her son that Daddy's not coming home? And how does she handle a crisis like this? One minute her husband is home getting ready for work, kissing her goodbye before he goes out the door... and the next she gets the news that she will never see him again.

How do you handle tragedy when it hits this close to home?

1 comment:

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