Even after half a century, WC will change the names and dates just a little bit. Besides, this is a story. Not history. Readers should assume none of this ever happened. But for something that might not have ever happened, it’s pretty gruesome. Readers be warned: this is not a nice story at all.
It was a double date. Gary, who had graduated from high school the year before, was an ex-Mormon. Sometimes when a person leaves the LDS church they fall pretty hard, making up for all those years of being denied vices. That was Gary. He was working as a counterman in a hardware store. Gary’s girlfriend was Sue. She was a senior in high school. Adran was Sue’s best friend. Adran was a freshman at the University of Alaska, living in Wickersham Hall, the women’s dorm at the time. John and Adran were a couple, but John was still a senior in high school.
The double date was to a movie. It was one of those freezing cold, late-winter Fairbanks week nights, the temperature -20° F or so, still very dark. The movie was Anything for the Money, a soft porn film that was released as a mainstream movie. Strictly speaking, John and Sue weren’t old enough to get tickets, but at the Lacey Street Theater what mattered was if you could reach up and get you money on the ticket window counter. The movie was pretty lame. After the movie, Gary drove us all to Wickersham dorm to drop Adran off. John went with her up to her room. John and Adran talked for a while with Adran’s roommate. After a little more than ten minutes, fifteen at the outside, John headed back down for the ride home with Gary.
The car was running – you ran the car to keep warm – and John opened the back, driver side door to climb in. Along with the warm air, marijuana fumes and a very strong smell of human feces gusted out. John would tell you that even now, more than fifty years later, he can still smell it.
Classic carbon monoxide poisoning from auto exhaust. For once John did the right thing. He opened all the doors to the car. Holding his breath, he reached in and turned off the ignition key. John grabbed Gary by the shoulders of his parka and dragged him out of the car onto the ground. Gary was utterly limp. His lips were bright, nightmarishly blue. His eyes stared at nothing. John went to the passenger side and lifted out Sue, carrying her in to the dorm. Two or three students were there and shrieked at the sight of Sue’s blue lips. John told them to call an ambulance immediately, and someone ran to the hall phone and did. John dragged Gary inside; he was too heavy to carry. Neither Gary or Sue were breathing; neither had a pulse. As John was steeling himself to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to Sue, the medics arrived and took charge (the campus police station was less than a quarter mile from Wickersham Hall). In less than minute, the medics determined Gary and Sue were both dead.
John felt like he had been hit in the chest. Just a few minutes earlier he had been joking with them about a bad movie. And now they were gone. Forever. So much for teenage immortality.
John was questioned by campus police and state troopers. They were patient and remarkably gentle. But they refused to let John go up and see Adran. The troopers quickly determined that Gary’s muffler had a leak at the engine manifold. The heater fan had sucked carbon monoxide into the passenger compartment. A state trooper gave John a ride home. John never told his family; they never knew.
Adran didn’t find out until breakfast the following morning. She took it very hard. At the end of spring semester, she left the University of Alaska and enrolled at Southern Methodist University, where she had family. John and Adran completely fell out of touch, but John wonders sometimes.
Did the marijuana contribute to the deaths? The state troopers never said. The coroner copped out with a “death by misadventure.” Carbon monoxide is insidious stuff in the best of circumstances. Did smoking a little dope make them more susceptible or less cautious? WC thinks it is impossible to say.
John had nightmares for months. He attended Sue’s funeral; Gary’s family didn’t have a service. One teacher mentioned it in John’s presence, calling it a lesson in the dangers of demon weed. Sue’s friends grieved. In a remarkably short time, in an appallingly short time, the whole episode was forgotten.
Not by John. To this day, the smell of marijuana smoke reaches into John’s hindbrain, bypassing the thalamus and all the conscious functions and controls, and triggers a panic attack, memories of bright blue lips and dead bodies.