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2007-04-24 - 9:26 p.m.

Roxanne was the kid sister of Ray, a member of our “group” who hung out together at recess and lunch hour when I was 15. She was a couple of years younger than us: a large enough gap at that age that she didn’t spend a whole lot of time with us and had friends in her own grade, but a small enough gap that she was around from time to time. She and I weren’t “friends”, but she and I and my sister, Spider, did end up hanging out, just the three of us a couple of times, and we were one-on-one outside of school at least once that I can remember. It’s funny the things that stand out enough to remember about someone isn’t it?

The two of us walking down the road in the spring sunshine, just shooting the breeze. She suddenly starts walking funny; kind of exaggerated. I cock an eyebrow,

“Got an itch?” and she blurts

“Yes!” and the two of us giggle ‘cause really, what’re you gonna do?

Roxanne hasn’t loomed large in my mind; it’s not like I’ve been haunted by “where is she now” thoughts over the years, but she comes to mind whenever I think of “bush parties” or smell rye. She’d invited us to camp over on her family’s property and there were six of us: her, me, Spider and her boyfriend, Ray, and Ray’s friend Brian. There were three tents and she’d made me swear that I’d stick to the pre-arranged sleeping arrangements: her and I in one, Ray and Brian in another, and my Spider and her boyfriend in the third. As the night wore on and rye and JD were passed around though, we all got pleasantly buzzed.

“Shawna, you’re nice and everything, but I need a man to sleep with tonight. You see what I’m saying?”

“But you’re the one who asked me to make sure you slept in our tent.”

“I know, but,” [slurring slightly] “My man Brian here won’t do anything BAD to me, right Brian?”

Brian nods with enthusiastic, drunken exaggeration. By default Ray and I are left to canoodle in the third tent (by which I mean nothing happened between us but some cuddling and I remember him stroking my nose and praising it while we both giggled – I always appreciated his gentlemanliness that night).

Roxanne and I might have become friends. We were bonding and on the way there, and probably would have gotten closer but…

Roxanne and Ray both kind of disappeared for a while when their step-sister and step-brother were both shot, the latter fatally, out at the family farm in Manotick, in a drug-related incident. By the time they came back the opportunity to become closer friends really had passed, and my ties to that particular group were popping like the strands of a rope unraveling under the hero’s weight in a suspense movie. I’d started spending more time with a different group of people; my sister was no longer dating the same fellow. When I’ve wondered about her over the years, I confess it was without a lot of hope for her future. That particular group of people was comprised of “townies” and I only knew the fate of 3 of the girls: one had gotten pregnant to one of the boys of the group and married at 16, and he’d flipped their car drinking and driving and lost both his license and job after the baby was born; one had gone directly from finishing high school to a long-term job as a cashier at the local supermarket; and one had had a couple of kids but then ended up raising them on her own when their father went to prison. The signs did not bode well for the rest of the group.

Roxanne died this past weekend, trying in vain to save a 15-year-old kid from drowning in the river. I saw an older version of Roxanne smiling at me from the front page of the Ottawa Citizen yesterday and I read her story. She’d gotten out of the small town she’d grown up in. She’d joined the Navy and became a Master Seaman and was set to start a new job with the Navy soon in Kingston, but was home for a bit to visit. She was fit and a strong swimmer and had done Naval rescue exercises, but it wasn’t enough to keep her alive in the freezing water.

Roxanne had blond curly hair and blue eyes and a huge grin. She was a nice kid, but I wouldn’t have ever guessed that she’d die a hero’s death at 32. And although she must have accepted the risks that are inherent in her line of work, I’d bet she never expected to drown trying to save someone when she wasn’t on duty.

Roxanne had turned into exactly the kind of person you hope will stay alive. So sad. Rest in peace Roxanne.

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