Do we all know someone whose life we wished could live---someone with a family whose life together we envied, or who had a talent we’d like to have, or who even just had THINGS which we longed for and never obtained?
Mine was Karla Kay---she of the always-tanned perfect complexion, eyelashes out to THERE, and even longer slimslim legs which made white short-shorts into what they were meant to be. She lived in a house with hardwood floors and beautiful scatter-rugs in front of couches and a long strip of one down the hall to “the girls’ rooms” and an immense thick one beneath the real dining-room table. Our dining room was the end of the kitchen without cabinets, with a round maroon formica table and six matching vinyl chairs.
Karla Kay had long dark curly hair, washed with CONTI shampoo---the drift of scent from her curls was the fragrance of flowers; ours was Halo and a vinegar rinse and whatever was on the shelf at Fred’s. She always smelled of fresh-ironed cotton and the vaguest whiff of her Daddy’s cigars---he drove her and her sisters to school, and since he had a job with the CITY and could leave his office whenever he wanted, he picked them up and took them home for lunch, then was waiting after school to take them home or to the library, dentist appointments, or the drugstore for a Fountain Coke.
She had records and a big record player in the den, and a smaller one in her room; the big one was for when she “had boys over” and we danced in our socks---the closest I ever came to that was on several Saturday mornings when I’d put Johnson’s wax on all our own hardwoods, and was encouraged to call my friends to come over to polish. We’d all put on a pair of Daddy’s old socks and dance the floors shiny to Elvis and Jerr’ Lee and smooth the boards in long skating strokes to Connie Francis.
Karla Kay’s mother SEWED. She made all of KK’s and Marjorie and Deanna's clothes, even their formals, with peau de soie and peau d’ange and slipper satin and voile. Karla Kay’s two lines and four entrances in the Senior Play warranted four changes of wardrobe, I remember, all sewn by her Mother, who was soundly refused permission to open the curtain before the play, in order to parade KK out onto the stage to make pictures in each dress. Poor KK stood waiting backstage, in the third act’s yellow number with the immense hoopskirt, as her mother and Miss Neal hissed at each other out front and the audience gathered and those dusty maroon velvet curtains stayed firmly closed. (I also LOVED that teacher, as well---she had REAL CLASS).
They went on vacations to Rock City and Destin and Mexico; they had subscriptions to Highlights For Children and National Geographic and later, Seventeen; they had girls over to spend the night, and they slept until ten or noon (once I went to a slumber party, and my Mother woke everybody up when she came to get me at eight to come home and babysit my sister). Her parents belonged to the BOMC and her mother smoked Old Golds with a little short white holder, the smoke drifting lazily up into her premature salt-and-pepper hair. They had a wonderful life.
I ran into Karla Kay and her husband in the ER one night when I had to take my MIL in; she barely spoke, sitting leaning against him, as he whispered, “one of her headaches.” A couple of years later, same circumstance, same ER---his whispered, “We’ve come for her SHOT,” explaining all. I knew then that the coincidence was too far-fetched, and that she must have been there like clockwork; I learned from Marjorie later that they made the rounds of several counties---one hospital here one night, another on another.
She wasted her life, her beautiful family, her own lovely existence, on a haze of nightly oblivion. And they adored her, lost her much too young, mourned her with fierce tears, and still speak of her as a saint who bore her travail with grace and honor. I remember her as a beautiful young friend whose life seemed to outshine mine. But not forever.
Anyone care to remember THEIR Karla Kay?