Jonathan. Jonathan. Why had he had to die? Jonathan. Killed simply because he had had the nerve to get involved with me. Image. You wanted image? Cute little Southern boy from one of the best quiet little garden-growing families there was...innocent in every way you could imagine (well, okay....), sweet, perfect, intelligent as all get-out, and had already made plans to become a scientist some day and "heal the problems with the world." He saw the dangers in technology. He really did. He was one of the few. He wouldn't even have a television in his room, even though the family could well afford it. He went and used the television in the family room, even though it meant negotiating with his sister (who had been on the plane as well...) over soap operas vs. science fiction movies...and he loved me like there was no tomorrow.
He died in a 300-person airplane crash instigated by the government just to kill him and 17 of his buddies who were getting too close to me.
Nobody remembered it. Nobody for miles around, five days after the accident, recalled seeing the fireball over the Asheville Regional Airport on July 9, 1980. Piedmont never lost a plane. There were no official records whatsoever of the hundreds of rescue workers who took one look at the scene and gave up....
Nobody. They'd already gone through and swept memories. Killed people so they wouldn't remember who had killed people.
Nobody had known about Jonathan before. I kept that quiet. (Nice to have extra personalities....) Nobody knew about Jonathan afterward. Nicer that way. Let him live and die in peace.....
Personalities worked that way. One would fall in love with one person. One would fall in love with another. It was a measure of Anson's innocence that he had not ever, ever followed up on the comments I had made that gave him a chance to find out the truth. It was a measure of Jonathan's that he didn't even ask.
One was alive. One was dead.
My job at this point was to keep the death toll as low as I could.
I'd had nightmares for days afterwards. Something had said Jonathan would be coming in early along with a bunch of his buddies who liked hanging around with him. They'd scheduled a special five-day hangout session in the mountains at a primitive cabin his family owned. I'd negotiated time away from Anson and the others to be up there. We knew he was going overseas for a while and didn't know when we might be able to see him again.
The plane never made it to the ground. I saw the fireball as I was driving up to the airport. I heard the screams. Ain't no way nobody lived through that thing...God Almighty, what if Jonathan's on that plane? He said he was coming in early, but this is only 3:45....
I ran out there. Rescue workers were already out there (at a small regional airport? How'd they know that fast? I'd literally pulled into the airport seconds after I saw the fireball). I put on my best "official look" and dodged police officers. I ran to the scene. If there was any way to rescue Jonathan...
I pulled up short. Nope. There wasn't.
Jonathan Roberson Gardner. Gone. Another one bites the dust.
His family never even knew. Brainwashed three days later. "What, you mean we have a son?" His sister had been on that plane too. (Okay, so she'd been a brat...) Down to one kid and never even knew it.
A whole upper level of a small-town senior class nuked to hell and all they did was figure the enrollment in the lower sections had grown that fall and changed their curricula accordingly.
Some of those teachers had made especial plans to handle that bunch of kids. Were planning to ship half of them up North to the best schools they could.
Lab plans gathered dust. Awards stacked on the shelves (who could you give them to?) Specially-raised scholarship money just sat.
Eighteen of them. Gone. Just gone.
Plus the other 282 people who had had the very, very bad fortune to be on the plane...walked right past people who were dying to verify the names of the dead....they'd all been sitting together...did they even find one body in one piece?
"Help me, I'm dying..."
"We've got to make sure that Gardner kid's gone..."
Government? What government?
Dammit, will you quit nuking my husbands?
I'd put him back together and said a silent goodbye before the "trash team" came along with the disintegrators and wiped out "another anonymous dead person we don't have to worry about" (just because somebody's reassembled the body doesn't mean you don't have to look closely to see the original condition, guys...). Somehow, I never figured out quite how, the "silent remains" of all 300 got transported up to the old cat cemetery at Brookhaven, where all the old "transport cats" were buried, along with a few other interesting people, and just sat there on the concrete surrounding patio. I was up there a couple of years later to say goodbye to an especial pet friend who had bitten the dust out near Mars somewhere and saw the ball. Typical "government sweepup material." About a half-inch diameter sphere. All the molecules that were left that weren't floating around somewhere. I'd know the feel of Jonathan anywhere, and besides, some of those people hadn't stopped grieving.... from the smell of the Carolina mountains, I knew it had to be them.
A sudden gust of wind came up. Even there in that protected territory, weather patterns get strange. The little ball rolled off the edge of the patio and straight into a little indentation in the ground. A little dust fell over it and a couple of leaves.
Jonathan had always liked leaves....
What could you say?
Back to real life.
The party was continuing. Not even "Momma" knew (my real mother, not the bitch who had signed my birth certificate).
"What's going on?"
I straightened my face up. "Oh, nothing."
She loved some of those cats. She didn't need to be concerned about the rest of it.
Oh, Momma, you started so much of this...why do you have to be so innocent?
I knew the answer. Because someone has to be. She'd be too upset grieving over Jonathan and his friends to do what she had to do. She'd always had to be protected that way. And don't tell her when a cat dies..she throws a memorial party for three days.
Not all of them were that cute, Mom.
Oh my God...what did you do but go on and handle it yourself?
Time played circles at this party. It really did. I even caught myself remembering who was going to win in Salt Lake City when I talked to people who'd skated in Innsbruck. It got weird. It was a "time discontinuity," as someone who would know put it once.
You just got used to it, waved at friends you hadn't met yet, and were reminded of people you had.
It was the permanent hangout of all time.
It was a damn good party, as Momma kept saying.
And the only birthday party I ever wanted to be thrown. Just take me out to eat or something...once you've had John, Paul, George and Ringo sing "Happy Birthday" (the right way), anything else sort of pales in comparison.
Just take me out for chicken or something....
Jonathan, Jonathan...why did half the folks at this party have to look like Jonathan?
I couldn't make up my mind whether to be the worldly-wise character who had gotten used to it all or the young girl grieving. I finally excused myself with some extra munchies and some ice cream to throw at Basil and Anson and Andromeda in case they got out of control again, and headed off to a separate room. People knew not to bother me. Sometimes I just had to take a break.
I sat there and cried for six hours. One of the best people in the world, and there weren't even any records in the attached labs on him. Because he wasn't a government baby.
Straight-bred. Random-style. Just damn good genetics, but that wasn't even all of it.
Normal. Normal. There was actually someone in this world who was normal.
Up until a certain point...the ground was still radiating at Asheville Regional Airport. It was a wonder they let planes land there still...
Oh well. Who cared? It was just kids. Never mind some of the passengers on that plane had been upwards of 80 (oh, forgot, they don't matter either).
Some Social Security accounts had literally been transferred to the labs. "In memoriam," they put it.
Oh well. What could you do but go on?
And have another crying session?
Anson and Miriam knocked on the door. Once. Everybody else just backed off. True to form, I didn't say anything about why I was crying.
They didn't want to know. You spill the beans about one thing, you spill the beans about it all, and wasn't a single person at that party who needed to know. They were all busy with their own lives.
Just as Jonathan would have been. We'd planned to go to college together -- already had the rooms picked out and everything. They had never heard of him -- he liked to sneak applications in silently. I'd been collecting material. But we both knew we were going to get in.
We thought we could get through four years there without admitting we were married...Lord have mercy, sometimes you just had to trust when you married two of them....but it had sorted out. Messily, but it had sorted out.
Instead of two husbands to worry about, I had one to protect.
Jonathan would have wanted it that way.
So I sniffled a little, munched on some more food, and headed back out.
Time to enjoy myself.
The Beatles were back onstage again. "Back In The USSR." I lost myself in the dance beat. Watched Geri and Mel B flirt with John and Paul and throw in vocals. Sounded better than the original. With Victoria on keyboards with Andromeda flipping her tail and strutting back and forth on top. Ringo was adamantly not handing Emma the drumsticks and Mel C had been banished to sidestage for buttflipping John's guitar and about putting it out of tune. She was sulking. Understandably. Andromeda was taunting her. If only Jonathan were here....so upstanding, so noble...I looked over at Anson. He paled in comparison.
This voice inside me said, "That's why I took him away from you. Anson deserves better than that. It's not his fault. It's his background."
Another torrent of tears and another run for the doughnuts. I sat there for another two hours and munched Harold's chicken and downed Sprite like mad and talked to Mom about transdimensional topology. It seemed to make her feel better.
Finally Mick Jagger pried the mike out of Paul's hands and the Stones took the stage. (There is a very good reason why no one but the Stones should attempt "Start Me Up.") Everybody was happy. Life was good. Anson was no longer looking at me worriedly over the heads of the crowd. (He was so cute when he danced....) Emma had found a home bumping with Mick. Cliff was letting Victoria actually stay on stage, and the others were all harassing Basil. (Much to not a hell of a lot of distress on his part.) Andie had even settled down on his lap and wasn't biting him. (She hated Emma.)
Apparently now was the time for a good Jonathan reminisce. We'd met at some damned summer camp when I was eleven and he was just barely twelve. Supposed to be for bright kids, but he and I could outthink them all. After we'd gotten into an argument over Southern politics with a couple of the most popular kids in the camp, we spent a good number of hours by ourselves complaining, eating lime sherbet from the snack shop, and swapping philosophical references. (Finally. An educated man...) He didn't come back thereafter the next few years because he "couldn't stand their ways," but we wrote back and forth and finally admitted we were in love when we were 13. He was from a "half-horse Southern town so small you practically had to put the TV outside the city limits." And thought I was cosmopolitan because of where I came from, even though he was, as he put it, "half a day's walk" from Charleston. He would literally walk in every couple of weeks or so. Pick up a few books, walk around, get something to eat, and walk back home. I was the only one he ever allowed to go with him. Once or twice I suspected he was actually smarter than I was.
And then that one day he'd stopped on the way back, dropped his bags, kissed me, and said, "Let's get married someday," my world changed entirely. I had someone to believe in. His parents were going to let him have the house, I could stay down there and teach, and he could alternate his time between his writing and teaching an occasional university course. Good auto mechanic down the road apiece -- family always had been and probably always would be. Son was learning the trade already. Grocery store was on a main artery and was just a walk away. There was even a pool for the kids down the street.
And then Flight 49 went boom. So did the rest of me. I couldn't even tell the rest of me about it. Anson and the rest would have dragged it out of me. All I could do was suffer in silence.
It seemed nobody cared. Not even an arm around me or anything. I could have cried. And people who tried to care ended up not caring for the right reasons. I wanted to run away. Somehow I didn't trust anybody. Not with this. Not with anything, sometimes.
How could I talk to anybody when I couldn't even talk to myself about it? Every fourth dream I had, even now, was about him. All I could do was talk to myself and let it heal. And maybe now that the crisis was over, I could let it out a little.
The Stones lit into "Painted Black" and I threw myself onto the dance floor. I needed it.
You gotta go on.
A bunch of us had made plans for the next day: We needed to get back home at some point, but there were a few things to do. After we hit the College Bookstore Continuum for some decent books and sweats, some people felt like heading up to the old moon base.
The government literally did not know we'd taken it over when they left in '67. It was originally built in '55 for both research and party purposes, and for a while was one of the hottest government postings there was. Amazing what you could get away with up there...but around '63 it started to get boring. Nobody wanted to be up there, and the facility was gradually shut down. Once the boring bureaucrats who had caused all the trouble were gone, things were cool -- why not keep it running? So a bunch of us took shifts for a while, but gradually a few of the dragons and some cats moved in as permanent staff and a few of us just went up on weekends. Anson was generally pretty bored with the place, but then he was generally pretty bored with everything. Thought his parents' Trump Tower apartments were cooler...aagh. No explaining the child. Just none whatsodamnever. It was so much more fun upstairs...