They disappeared into the fog that night.
Months of preparation for the play culminated on a foggy night on December 20, 1980. I hadn’t really noticed how in love they were with each other-we were too busy with the mice, party guests, Chinese and Russian dancers running about backstage. Just turned 15, I felt the delicious taste of freedom that comes with a job and being out at night.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we’d traded places that night…if instead of climbing into our warm old Volvo with my mom in the parking lot, what if I had been Sabrina? No one in our tiny town would think twice about stopping to pick up ice cream with your boyfriend and heading off in the tule fog to a birthday party.
Our town is safe.
They named them the ‘Sweetheart Murders’ after they found their bodies a few days later, 30 miles away in a ravine. They died together, tragically, painfully, unnecessarily. I remember seeing his sister at school; she was a normal kid. Just like everyone else, except for this one thing. I wasn’t sure what happens to you when you die, but I knew what happened to everyone else.
Only 18 and full of life and love and promise, they left our little college town absolutely shattered. For years we lived in the shadow of their memory, wondering who among us could have the capacity to snuff out two lives so gentle and innocent. We settled back into our lives, and we picked up the bits and pieces of our memories and went on. We endured the theories, the false leads, the abrupt endings to arrests we thought would show us the answers to that night and bring us back to that time of innocence, the time of well-being, when all our parents felt safe letting us out on a foggy night. Their families never recovered.
Thirty years later, their killer has been tried and convicted. The children still gather on the same stage to celebrate the season, unaware of the love that was lost that night. Volvos still rumble through the parking lot, scooping up Clara, the Mouse King and flower dancers after rehearsal. We have our own children now, and watch them find their way through the world with a caution we never knew before that night. We think of John and Sabrina and hug each other a little closer, remembering how easy it is to disappear into the fog at night.
This post was inspired by The Last Winter of Dani Lancing, a novel by P.D. Viner. Twenty years ago, college student Dani was murdered but her killer was never found. Now a promising new lead may change everything. Join From Left to Write on November 7 as we discuss The Last Winter of Dani Lancing. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.