Monday, July 16, 2012

A tree as a reminder

You know how you have that moment when as a kid where you realize for the first time, the world can suck? It's not always a sunny place where people play nice and behave and consider whether their actions have consequences.

While I've been in Sunnyvale visiting with family, I went jogging and passed this tree outside my old elementary school, Ponderosa. This tree reminds me when that moment happened to me. I remember when this tree was planted. I was in 5th grade. My classmates and I gathered out here for a ceremony on Arbor Day 1989. The tree was planted to honor the memory of a classmate, Ricki Saxon, and her mother and her 9-month-old brother. All three were killed in November 1988 by a drunk driver. I still remember the day my 5th grade teacher broke the news to the entire class and I was completely taken aback. You get used to seeing all your classmates every day. It was hard to imagine that I wouldn't see Ricki again. I didn't know her that well but we had played together during recess now and then with other girls. Even then, you could tell with her long, wavy brown tresses and her face with just the right number of freckles, she was going to be a magnet for boys. She seemed like the perfect, all-American girl. She was also the daughter of a Girl Scout leader and, if I remember correctly, she liked to dance. It's hard for me to believe that it's been 24 years and I'm now older than her mother was when she passed. I remember as a kid, thinking about how there were these kinds of monsters out there who could take one of our schoolmates away forever. The fact that it was because a man made a stupid error in judgement made it even more senseless.

When I was in 5th grade, nobody ever told me much about the man behind the wheel, except that he had sustained a broken leg. Well, today, I still didn't know much. So, I went into journalism-mode and did a public records search on the man after finding some old newspaper briefs on the collision. Back then, he was a 23-year-old mechanic who was also an alcoholic. His friends that night tried three times unsuccessfully to stop him from driving. His parents had spent thousands of dollars in the past trying to treat his alcoholism. Nobody it seems prevented him from going on the road that morning and killing three people. In the end, he was sentenced 15 years to life in prison. But, in my records search, I turned up a man with the same name and right age currently living in a house in Sunnyvale, not too far from where my parents live _ something I can't help but be perturbed by. Part of me wants to knock on his door and ask if he thinks about what he's done every day and is he living life as someone who stops and thinks about his actions first. But I know it's not for me to ask.That would be for Ricki's family.

If I happen to be out for a run when visiting home, I do like passing by the tree. I enjoy seeing how tall it's become. As much as it reminds me of the first time I felt like our school was a sad place, I like that it makes me remember Ricki.  I like to think that maybe she knows all these years later, even her classmates that didn't know her that well haven't forgotten her.