Lynnette's Story, by Kerry Spencer
Updated: Jan 5
When I see her in my head, as I saw her that first time, she is slightly back-lit, slightly bow-legged, with her slightly masculine round face, standing in her too-tall athletic socks, her black hair falling wild around her shoulders. We had both arrived to play Intramural Basketball for the Chemical Engineering team and we were outnumbered.
“There are two of us!” she said, looking at the way we were surrounded by only boys.
“Thank goodness,” I said. “I’m bad enough as it is. I wouldn’t want to make all girls look bad just because I can’t play.”
“Oh, I am not very good, either. They really shouldn’t expect much of our team.”
I remember it was cold and it was dark and by this I guess it was late fall or early winter. It was on the first floor of the RB and the echoes of sneakers squealing against the basketball court were so vivid I can still nearly smell the sound. I was 17 years old. I had dropped out of high school the year before to come to college early and it was my first year at BYU.
“It doesn’t matter to me if we win or not,” she said.
“Good,” I said. “Because we probably won’t.”
She laughed and it was loud.
Lynnette always laughed loud.
It has been about twenty years since I last saw her, spoke with her, or heard her laugh.
All of my memories of her are conditional by that.
I can see her, sometimes I can nearly hear her voice. I am not sure about any of it anymore. Not even the parts of the story I thought I knew at the time. Over the years it has only become more clear how much I didn’t understand.
Once, after a game, she said, “We should go somewhere.” Maybe we’d won, maybe we hadn’t, I don’t remember. “To celebrate.” She was grinning. She did not look you in the eyes when she grinned, she always looked away, as if even—maybe especially—happiness was not something you were ever supposed to fully share with someone else.
“Where should we go?” I asked her.
“Somewhere with food. Hamburgers. Ice cream. I can drive.”
I remember she had a muscle car, but I didn’t know anything about cars, let alone muscle cars, so maybe it was just something sporty. It was red, or maybe it was brown. We drove through the dark, our t-shirts damp with sweat, shivering and looking out the window. I remember seeing stars. I don’t remember how far out of town we had to drive to find them. We listened to Chicago. I knew she was older than I was, and the way she sang along with the lyrics, I decided she must be much, much older than I was, even though she was an undergraduate, just like I was. But who can say. I sang along with the lyrics too.
Once, I remember Lynnette, struggling with a television.
“You didn’t have to bring your TV here!” I laughed at her, as she set it down on my dorm-room desk. My roommate Rebecca was lying on her bed, eyebrows askew.
“We needed a movie night!” She was unrepentant.
“We could have gone somewhere.” I said.
“Sure, but, you know. Here we are? I also brought snacks.”
My roommate Rebecca sat up then. “What snacks did you bring?” she asked.
Lynnette’s pockets were stuffed, overflowing with Ziploc bags. “All sorts of snacks,” she said.
I remember I thought of hugging her, but I stopped myself. I stopped myself because once, she had reached out for me, as if she wanted to hug me, and she had pulled herself back, quickly, and completely, and with a finality. It was in this way I understood: Lynnette was not someone who you were supposed to touch.
I accepted this, even if I never thought to question why.
One night we sat overlooking a part of campus we called the Ruins. They were overgrown, terraced as if they used to be part of a stadium. I don’t know if they ever actually were. They were hidden behind some faculty offices, a secret place.
“Are you going to one of those dances this weekend?” I asked her.
If she laughed, it was silently. “I don’t go to dances,” she said.
“Why not? What’s wrong with dances.”
“There are boys at dances,” she said. “And they might, you know, want to dance with me.”
“You don’t like boys?"
“None of the dances look that good anyway,” I said. “And they’re all off campus somewhere. It’s easier when things are on campus.”
“Our Tribe of Many Feathers Club,” she said. “I’m Navajo, have I told you that?”
I don’t know if she had.
“We’re having a big party in a few weeks. There will be dancing and there will be Navajo tacos, which are possibly my favorite food.”
She paused and she looked at me. She looked at me for maybe too long. And then she looked away.
“You should come with me,” she said.
We moved in together at the end of Winter semester. An apartment, just South of campus. It didn’t have a dishwasher and, in the fall, six girls would have to share a single bathroom. That summer there were only four of us, though. She sat on the porch some nights, fixing an old bicycle, her bag of tools spread around her in a circle.
The Utah Jazz were in the championships that season. At night, we would make dinner and we would watch basketball.
Whenever I laughed she would look at me until I noticed she was looking at me and then she would look away.
She came into my room once, holding a tape recorder. "Hey," she said. "Can I... Can I ask a favor?"
"Depends on what it is," I joked.
"I'm supposed to make a meditation tape for one of my classes. I wrote up a script." She waved a paper. "Would you read it for me?"
"Like on tape?"
"Your voice," she said. "I don't know. It's just soothing."
I laughed. "Literally no one has ever told me my voice is soothing." My voice is deep, nearly masculine. It has a throatiness to it where words sometimes get muffled.
"Well I think it's soothing. Listening to it would help me sleep."
I nodded. Neither of us were particularly good sleepers.
"Sure," I said. "I'll record some tapes for you."
The script was about what it would be like, being welcomed back into heaven. That the pain would be over. The struggle would be over. She would be made perfect, and whole.
Sometimes I still think about that.
About how it was in my voice.
One night, I got home from school late.
The door to our apartment was open, debris was scattered from inside out onto the porch.
“Hello?” I called, tiptoeing into the apartment. “Is anyone home? Hello?”
Lynnette’s bicycle was turned upside down next to the couch. There was a row of cherry pits, lined up on the edge of the kitchen table. Tools were scattered everywhere. Clothing was on top of the television, dishes were turned upside down on the carpet.
I stood in the doorway when Lynnette appeared, arms waving, looking at the wall and laughing. “Peaches hunt at midnight,” she said.
“They… what?” I said.
“Yellow dance up with a fox?”
I just looked at her.
She picked up one of the cherry pits and put it in her pocket.
“Are you… Okay?” I asked.
“Mugthought akemp.” She laughed again and turned back to the table.
I snuck past her, taking the phone off the wall and I called 911.
I rode with her in the ambulance. She kept standing up, sitting down. She laughed as they took her blood pressure, she laughed as they asked her questions. She laughed for no reason at all.
“How long has she been like this?” they asked me. “When did it start?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know,” I said. “I just got home. She was alone.”
We were in the Emergency room for hours, most of which was me trying to keep her from leaving as she became more coherent and wanted to go home.
Imaging eventually found she’d had a mini stroke, cause uncertain, and she was admitted.
My aunt drove me back to my apartment.
Sometimes I wonder how things would have been different if I went immediately to bed when I got home.
Would I have finished my engineering program? Would I have taken a job as an RA? What about her? What would have happened to her?
But I didn’t go immediately to bed.
Lynnette had given me a list of things she wanted at the hospital, and I wanted to bring them to her.
It was one in the morning, I was bleary with exhaustion. The carpet seemed to hold my feet to it as I went into her bedroom.
She wanted her tape player, some music, and she wanted her meditation tapes--she couldn't sleep without them. I reached onto a shelf she’d built, out of particle board and stacks of concrete cinder-blocks, four to a shelf. I set aside the tape player, I pulled off a box of tapes and I sat down on the floor, back to the improvised bookshelf.
I’m not sure what happened.
Maybe I bumped the shelf. Maybe I’d destabilized it when reaching for the tape player, when I removed the box of tapes to sort through them, maybe she’d done something to it when she was having the stroke. I’m not sure the whys or hows matter.
The bookshelf collapsed, two dozen cinder blocks falling as much as six feet down, hitting the back of my skull one after the other, and burying me beneath a mass of particle board, concrete, and debris.
The girl who found me and dug me out estimates it was several hundred pounds I was buried beneath. I don’t know if that’s right, but it certainly isn’t wrong.
I was flown out of Utah a couple days later later, neck still braced. I needed to be watched for longer term effects of a brain injury and my parents lived in California.
I didn’t talk to Lynnette that summer. (I didn’t really talk to anyone that summer.)
I lay in a dark room (the light hurt) at my parent’s house, head propped against pillows, neck needing to remain braced for weeks. I watched what was supposed to be my high school graduation on television. I listened to a girl named Serena give the Valedictorian speech I would have given, had I stayed in high school. Had I spent the last year at home instead of at BYU.
When I went back to BYU in the fall, I had trouble concentrating, I had headaches, math seemed so much harder than it used to. I dropped all of my engineering classes for the semester. Eventually I dropped out of the program entirely.
I had taken a job as an RA on campus, so Lynnette wasn’t my roommate anymore and, having dropped our shared classes, I didn’t see her anymore.
She could have reached out.
She did not.
I could have reached out.
I did not.
Sometime the next winter, Lynnette called two young men from her ward and she asked them to drive her to the hospital. While she was there, she swallowed an entire bottle of antidepressants.
They were unable to resuscitate her.
Sometimes I still think of her.
I think of her holding a plate of Navajo tacos.
I think of her singing loud, with her window down, Chicago and starlight.
It is only pieces.
Broken pieces, skewed by memory.
But Lynnette can’t tell her story.
And the pieces are all that are left.