On August 14, 1983, I was just about to turn four. We were living in New York at the time, and my parents were sending me to Episcopal, a fancy preschool on the upper east side of Manhattan. But on August 14, 1983, we were not in Manhattan but in Vermont. Summer was about to end, and we were having house guests.
Two Episcopal classmates named Clementine Martin and Casey Johnson had come up from New York with their families. We sat together at a red plastic table and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on fluffy white wonder bread. Casey wore a pink sundress, Clementine wore a green turtleneck, and I wore Osh Kosh overalls with rainbow stripes. We drank milk at the table, and there was much to laugh about, because life back then was light like us.
My Mom says that Casey was my best friend that summer, because we were the shyest kids in our class, and we felt safe around each other. My Mom also says that our friendship fizzled that fall, when I visited Casey for a play-date and she refused to share her toys. Afterwards, I told my Mom I did not want to have any more play-dates with Casey, because she did not know how to share, and that was that. I guess I was a hard ass even at four.
I haven't heard from Casey since we graduated kindergarten, but from time to time my mother sends me newspaper clippings that talk about her antics — walking into galas wearing only underwear, stealing jewelry and clothes from her friends (and older men from her aunt), adopting baby girls from Kazakhstan, leaving vibrators on other people's beds, dancing on banquettes with Paris Hilton, mail-ordering all kinds of drugs — and when these salacious dispatches come to me I always think about how two people who once had play dates together can take such wildly different paths.
On Monday, Casey's dead body was found in her Los Angeles home by her house keeper. She was 30, and had been dead a few days. Her bisexual fiancee Tila Tequila, the reality television star, mourned on Twitter, "Everyone please pray 4 my Wifey Casey Johnson. She has passed away."
The whole thing was so bizarre that I could not say I was sad. Her death, like her life, seemed unreal, and sadness is usually reserved for reality. But then every unreality is real for those who love it, and when I think about it more, I realize I feel the dull and distant ache I feel when soldiers die. They are off battling different demons, but somehow the fight is universal, and deep down we all share a source.
My Mom got the trashiest tabloids she could find in Shelburne, and scattered the coverage of Casey's death across my carpet. The articles were predictably shameless and despicable, but then I guess her recent life was, too. The clippings began to make me feel sick, so I hunted through our family photo albums to see if I could find a different take, from back before choices had to be made, when life was pure potential and all you had to do was decide how to spend your summer.
Summers are three months long, but back then they seemed to last forever, and deciding what to do with your summer was like deciding what to do with eternity. Maybe we were pondering that very question over lunch on August 14, 1983. And maybe Casey's facing that same question once again.