As we stood out on the sunny meadow last July at our god-daughter's wedding reception, my husband and I sipped champagne and gazed at all the beautiful young adults, including our sons, gathered to celebrate.
In my memory, this entire wedding day was filtered through a golden glow.
The bride was radiant and lovely; we watched as her shy husband's gaze followed her throughout the afternoon, as if he could hardly believe his luck at marrying such an angel. We watched as their friends laughed, offered congratulations, danced without care into the evening.
Beautiful Bride's girlfriends were visions that day, each arrayed in flowing gossamer gowns and topped with golden halos of hair, no matter what the actual hair color, shining brightly as only grown children raised in good health do in this particular way.
As we are wont to do, Husband and I spent most of that reception observing. We are this type of partier. Possibly because I am a mother of unwed sons, so this gathering of girls was an alien experience-- in memory it was because their beauty was hard not to notice-- I spent most of that time rejoicing in these young women: their beauty and grace, their lives still to unfold ahead of them, their easy laughter and intimacy with each other.
They shined. I cannot emphasize that enough.
Most of these young adults had grown up together here in this far northern corner of California, as my sons would have with them if we hadn't moved away a decade ago, beckoned by elderly family and better income back in Georgia. While we live several hours away now that we're out west again, this area is still home to us. These families are our friends and family, our children and theirs were young together here-- they played together, were on sports teams together, attended school together.
Of the entire year of 2010, my favorite memories are of this golden day, enhanced six months later-- two weeks ago-- when I saw our god-daughter again and was thrilled to see marriage suits her. She radiated contentment.
Then came this week, as I watched the morning news and heard the news of a missing snowboarder. I didn't give it much thought, other than the vague, "Oh, that's too bad, hope they find her..."
Then yesterday afternoon, my dearest friend of all, mother of our god-daughter, called. The first words she said were, "Our immediate family is alright.."
"What happened?" I asked with inner dread.
And I heard the news again that there was a snowboarder who had been missing for two days at Tahoe, that her body had just been found...and then I heard it was Shawnte. One of the beautiful girls from the wedding last summer. She was twenty-five years old.
She and her friends, many of the golden group at the wedding, were snowboarding on an advanced slope, when Shawnte got separated. The others got to the lodge, but Shawnte wasn't with them. The weather conditions steadily grew worse. Her body was found in a tree well two days later.
Beautiful Bride and her new husband are on their honeymoon in Hawaii right now, they've been told the news. They just want to come home.
Sometimes, suddenly, the world changes.
Like an alchemist's triumph reversed, gold has become lead.
The tears fall.
Shawnte Marie Willis 1985-2010