We didn’t know her parents’ names.
Just knew that she was driving from Maine to Virginia to spend time with them.
It was a surprise to us all she was driving, since none of us could recall her having a car, but there she was driving away unseen from the party; I think someone asked, “How was she getting home?”
She never made it.
A call from the Connecticut State Police told us she had been killed in a traffic accident in Danbury.
They called us at the Waterville, Maine Morning Sentinel, her employer, because the rental car had no other information about her other than her driver’s license. They found a copy of the paper.
We asked about her cat, knowing it would be traveling with her.
It was a sad end.
Her name was Kathy Keim. She was a copy and layout editor, a good one.
She might have been near forty, lived alone. She was socially awkward in a way that today might have her identified in some sort of spectrum or another. She would approach your desk and hem and haw for a moment before speaking; sometimes she’d hem and haw and walk away until you called her back.
Newsrooms on deadline are places that quietly hum with the combined effort to produce the daily edition.
The call from the Connecticut State Police took the hum out of the room, replacing it with a mechanical numbness. We had all written stories on deadline of the deaths of people familiar to us, but rarely about one of our own.
Management was called, information gathered about her career, details of the accident, all collected for a brief announcement in the next day’s paper about her death, placed at the bottom right on page one.
An official obituary would follow after other details were gathered.
The paper held a memorial service.
A recent trip back from Maine bought her death to mind.
The exit where she was killed — where she apparently, perhaps in confusion and fatigue pulled the car into the path of a semi — is still there, larger, busier, lined with more truck stops, gas stations and restaurants to serve the millions of travelers who now fill Route 84.
I have taken that trip a couple dozen times since then.
I think of her death each time.
Her life mattered.
The Danbury exit is in the general vicinity of an exit to Newtown. Perhaps because I wasn’t driving, I noticed that the highway exit sign to Newtown had included “Sandy Hook.”
That village name resonated because of the horrific school shooting in 2012. It seemed a new entry on the road sign, but I might be wrong.
Maybe it was added to the sign as a reminder, a silent memorial to those students and teachers who died and became a national symbol of the madness that strikes this nation from time to time.
Either way, it stood out, just as the connection to the Danbury exit does to the memory of a friend and colleague.
There are things that we should not forget, things that test our humanity.
Remember the people who matter, remember the people who care and for whom you care.
Tell them. Crush the barriers.
It pushes back the darkness.