Firsts and Lasts
Kippy, a high school senior to my lowly freshman status, occasionally gave me rides to and from school. First he was Kippy, then Kip, and now as an adult, he goes by Chris. He was like an older brother who lived next door and rode bikes with his brothers, me, my four siblings, and our other cousins.
There were 17 kids on the Pennoyer side of our family, eight of them our immediate neighbors. We lived in our respective homes, nestled on a four-acre parcel that my grandparents shared with three of their five adult children on Heritage Hill and Parade Hill Roads. We kids were raised like free range chickens with the communal backyard, Grandpa's vegetable garden, and a vast, undulating lawn that would make a great par four on a respectable golf course.
I wasn’t as close with all of my first cousins given our wide range of ages, but Kippy and I got along well back then. During my freshman year, I met a few of his senior friends who were cordial to me. One of Kippy's closest buddies was Greg Williams, who became a friend to me in the way that only a senior boy can with his best friend's little female freshman cousin. We said hello to each other in the halls and made small talk.
On a ride home from school, Kippy and I talked about whether he could give me a ride to the party at the Carriage Barn that Friday, the night before Homecoming 1984, my first high school dance. Kippy, Greg, roughly 100 other teens, and I filled Waveny’s Carriage Barn whose stage featured a teen band that covered U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” among other tunes released in the early eighties. Girls’ bangs defied gravity, and boys wore skinny ties. I was in high school heaven.
The Cars had released their Heartbreak City album mere months before the party, and there I was, my finger on the pulse of pop culture that was New Canaan, or so I thought, when their number one single “Drive” began to filter through the speakers.
When Greg asked me to dance, my suave reply of “Um, okay,” was the best I could muster. After all, I was in ninth grade, he in twelfth, and out of shyness - now long gone - my eyes used to water whenever a boy talked to me. But it was Greg, Kippy’s quiet friend. A sweet guy whose path crossed with mine often enough. Not a player, not anyone out to hurt a soul.
It wasn’t that I had a longstanding crush on him, because I didn’t view him in that way until that moment, the most awkward slow dance ever because I had no idea what to do. This was no waltz that one learns at The Walter Schalk School of Dance. This was slow-dancing, the real deal.
My inner voice coached me. C’mon, Darcy, figure it out! Greg has his hand on your waist, is holding your other hand, and you don’t know where to put yours? On his shoulder, you rookie!
So we danced. Sweaty palms, no conversation because it was too loud, we swayed and shuffled back and forth like all of the other teen couples who were just figuring out this thing called life.
That was it. Nothing would ever come of it, we didn’t date, there was no kiss; it was just a wonderful, memorable dance with my eyes only slightly watering because I was comfortable with Greg. He continued to be a sweet, friendly, quiet guy, and if he ever had other intentions of actually going on a date, I never knew about them. We would say hi in the halls, and we'd see each other from time to time when with Kippy.
A few months later, in January, my dad sat me down one weekend morning and asked if I knew a boy by the last name of Williams. With his parents away for the weekend, Greg had invited a few friends over the night before. Kippy was sick so he had either stayed home or went home early. He wasn’t there when one of their other friends found Greg’s lifeless body upstairs and a rifle next to him, a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
My first slow dance in high school, my first wake.
On this, the anniversary of his death, my eyes water when I think of Greg Williams.
Senior Year Photo of Greg Williams as published in Perannos, New Canaan High School's yearbook, 1985.