This post is long and complicated, but so was the relationship. Hang in there.
I met Jason on the last day of tenth grade in the parking lot of my school. He went to a different school, but he had come to pick up some friends of mine in his Porsche 914 convertible. I noticed the car first, then the guy driving it. He was tall, had bright blue eyes and a smile that wouldn’t quit. A week or so later, Jason called and asked me out. I couldn’t believe it. A guy I sort of liked sort of liked me back? Unprecedented. We went to see “The Believers,” a horrible movie about Satan worship. Later that night at his house, he kissed me. It was a real kiss – the kind you see in the movies (just not Satan worship movies.) I went home and stayed up most of the night writing “I LOVE JASON” in tiny letters all over the front and back of a piece of paper. I was a goner. I fell completely in 16-year-old love with Jason that night, and to be honest, I never fell all the way back out.
That was a perfect summer. We rode all over the place in that little Porche. I remember the smell of Polo (he always wore too much), sweat and Porsche exhaust. We had so much fun together. We laughed all the time – to the point of tears – over silly jokes that were just between us. We would ride for hours up and down Dowlen Road, which was Beaumont’s main drag. We spent cozy evenings in front of the fireplace watching movies in his living room. He didn’t have a curfew like I did and many nights, I would be in bed when I’d hear a car drive by and honk three times. That was Jason. The honks meant “I love you.” Sometimes he would park down the street and walk up to the house. I would stand on my toilet, open the bathroom window and we would kiss through the window. Once, unbeknownst to my parents, he picked me up on a borrowed Harley and we rode all over town on that thing – my arms tight around his waist and my hair blowing in the wind. That night is still one of my favorite high school memories.
The flip side of the fun was the fact that Jason and I fought. A lot. The yelling, screaming kind of fighting that has no place in a relationship in which two people are supposed to love and respect each other. Also, Jason seemed to be a compulsive liar. That meant I couldn’t trust him, which turned me into an insecure control freak. I wanted to know where he was and who he was with around the clock. He was also very insecure. When it was just the two of us, he was sweet and warm and funny and fun to be around. But around other people, he tried so hard to be liked that he came across as being obnoxious. He embarrassed me a lot.
But I was hooked. My life revolved around Jason. My first thought every morning was “How soon can I see Jason?” I lived for hearing his voice on the phone or his car in my driveway. He’d pick me up from school on Fridays and we’d stay together until my curfew late that night. When it was time for him to bring me home, it was still too soon. Please, just a few more minutes with this guy I was so crazy about. We came to be known as a couple. People would say our names like “DeanaandJason,” like it was one word. I loved that. I loved belonging to someone. It made me feel like a whole person. There’s a picture of me lying on my bed, smiling and talking on my princess phone (to Jason, I’m sure). His letter jacket is hanging on a chair, and you can see his class ring on my finger. I was Jason’s girlfriend – that’s all I wanted to be. He became part of our family – having dinner with us almost every night. My dad baptized him at the beginning of our senior year.
If things were fine between us, I was deliriously happy. If they weren’t, I sat brooding in my room for hours. My poor parents. What a joy I must have been to live with back then.
I didn’t know our relationship was codependent and unhealthy. I just thought this was what it was like when you were really in love with someone. But there was a problem. I knew there was no future for us. I never seriously entertained the thought of marrying him. He was too unreliable. He couldn’t keep a job. He had a learning disability that was going to cause him to graduate from high school a year late. I was headed to college. He obviously wasn’t. Toward the end of my senior year, I knew I had to end it. It was awful. He couldn’t live without me, he said. I didn’t think I could live without him, either. I tried to stay away, but our relationship wasn’t completely over for another couple of years.
The last time I talked to Jason was a month before my wedding in 1993. He knew I was getting married. He called to wish me well. I told him I only had good memories of our time together. What a peaceful closure to a tumultuous relationship that had dominated four years of my life.
Two years later, right after Chad and I had moved from Abilene to College Station for him to do graduate work, my parents called me one morning. “Jason’s been in an accident…” my mom said. She didn’t need to finish. I knew they wouldn’t be calling me about Jason unless something awful had happened. I couldn’t speak or even breathe. My parents just sat there and listened to me sob on the phone.
They had to tell me the details three times before I could understand. A Mack truck – of all things – was trying to make a yellow light when Jason’s light turned green and he pulled out into the intersection. Jason was thrown out and ended up under the truck. He died instantly. His friend died at the hospital, and his friend’s seven-year-old son, seated between them, miraculously survived with no permanent injuries.
How many husbands would take their grief-stricken wives to the funeral of an old high school flame? My husband did. He tried so hard to understand and really couldn’t, but he still let me cry on him all I needed to. What a blessing from God Chad is to me.
It took me a long time to get a grip on Jason’s death. I still struggle with a sense of “survivor’s guilt.” I have enjoyed so many blessings in my life – a happy marriage, two wonderful children, a rewarding career. Jason didn’t get to have any of that. Instead, he was dragged to death under a Mack truck at 24. We all have thoughts we have to fight to keep out of our heads. That’s one of mine.
In the last five years, I’ve been in touch with Jason’s mom. I think it’s made us both feel better to have that connection. We visited his grave together a few years ago.
Like most people, I’m such a different person than I was at 16. I’m consumed with being a mommy, a minister’s wife, a writer, and – because of my newspaper column – something of a celebrity in our little town. I can go for weeks without thinking of Jason at all. But sometimes, I’ll be driving alone when some song like “Angel” by Aerosmith comes on, and there I am. Sixteen again. Too much Polo on a muggy summer night. I can almost feel him sitting next to me.
Would you believe I still shed tears over that boy?