Donna – The 7 Memories of Seeing him on Sundays

Just about a week before we never saw her again, Donna did two very strange things.

First, she died her long, brown hair blonde.  It didn’t match with her freckles or flannel shirts, but she followed an urge to do something dramatic.

Then, she decided to paint the walls in her bedroom black.  In our hectic household, doing such things were allowed, because the “old man” hadn’t entered our bedrooms in over a decade, and mom believed in creative expression.

The room was walk-in-closet small, with one little window overlooking a large oak tree and the driveway.  The oak tree had a strong, fat branch which had served as a bridge for many a boyfriend, jumping from the adjoining rooftop into her window late at night.

Her bedroom door was ill-fitting, like a lid that doesn’t close tight.  There was just an open doorway when mom and dad bought the house.  Craving privacy, Donna enlisted a couple neighborhood guys to help her lift a door from an old abandoned house in the Rochelle Meadows woods.  They hung it in her doorway, slightly cock-eyed from the hinges, but it did the trick.  She had her sanctuary from little sisters and the enemy, which was anyone over 18.

Her single bed mattress was on the floor.  She never liked the idea of being like anyone else.  And if mom did even one thing right, it was that she let us be different.

Donna stole a can of glossy black from the back of the old man’s VW van, along with a paint roller and brushes.

She swept her new bleach-blonde hair up into a pony tail and started painting.  All four walls, from ceiling to floor, transformed black.  The only part left white was her ceiling, which had become a place for local graffiti, with sayings scrawled across it, such as:

We are the people our parents warned us about” and “Love is the answer, what was the question” and “Lonnie was here.”

One of the last things I remember seeing of Donna was a black streak of paint in her ponytail.  Her head swirling quickly, a glimpse of her nose.  After she died, it was hard for me to picture her face.

I still don’t think of her as a blonde, though she has appeared in many of my dreams that way.

Donna died at age 16 in 1976.  There’s a huge collection of poetry she wrote before she died.  This is one.


1 – Driving down the highway –

going to see you.

The wind blows on me –

it feels good.

Nothing feels better

than being lazy

in a  warm car –

with the window

a fraction of an inch open;

the wind blowing on


Feeling good.

Feeling happy.


Not free like a bird;

cause I’m not flying –


Not right now;


2 – Red, green, gold, and brown

colors pass through my eyes.

Clumps of bright red –

are the prettiest;

to me.

It’s the trees.

They’re turning;


Changing from their green summer clothes,

to fabulous different

color arrangements.

Keep on changing –

I love it.

I love you.

3 – Just woke up.

Feel good;

After an early morning nap.

My muscles feel dead,

like they’ve been electrocuted


My toes feel slightly cold;

but I like it.

I like it.

Yea –

I like it.

Don’t even mind

my ears popping

going through the mountains,

cause I’m getting there.

Closer and closer –

I’m getting there.



4 – The mist

hangs low over the valley –

causing your senses

to be out

of order;

for it looks like a sea –

with uprising waves of

cotton candy.

Looks so yummy –

think I’ll eat it.

But I couldn’t.

Just couldn’t.

No –


5 – Holding you close to me,

me loving you,

you loving me –

it –

it’s just so…


You’re beautiful,

I’m beautiful,

we’re beautiful,

everyone’s beautiful.

But most of all –

You’re beautiful.



6 – On the road again,

only minutes after

getting a good-bye kiss

from you,

the last one –


I come see you again;

next Sunday.

I thought that

if I held you

long enough

and tight enough,

we wouldn’t have to


It didn’t work.

It didn’t,


You’re gone,


7 – As the days go by

I’ll think of you;

remember you,

and love you.

Love you.

Love you.

I love you.

I love you.

Love –


Only you,


D. Lehr 10/5/75


Donna – You Know I Don’t Know

Donna stole our father’s button-down flannel shirts, wore them often, even though she weighed all but 95 pounds and was tiny, tiny, tiny.

My mother would say later that she did that because it was her way of being close to him.  He ignored her terribly.

I often wonder if he even cared that she died.

I don’t think so – how can you miss someone that you never got to know?

Donna died at age 16 in 1976.  There’s a huge collection of poetry she wrote before she died.  This is one.


You know –

me talking to you

lately has been

bringing me down.

Because I know

that what I’ve been doing,

isn’t right.

It’s the same stuff

that I say and pray

to you every night.

And lately it’s getting

so that

I don’t do anything new;

at all.

I feel bad;


And I want you to help me.

But you knew that.

You knew that.

You know –

me talking to you

lately has been

bringing me down –


You know?


I don’t Know…

I love you.

But then why

am I doing this?

I don’t know,

I don’t understand.

I can’t seem to.

Help me –

Dear God –

If you can hear me;

Help me!!

I know I’ve done wrong –

but I’m enjoying it.

Is this

some sort

of a


I don’t know.

If so –

Is it good –

or bad?

Help me.

Help me,


I just…

I don’t know…

D. Lehr 10/4-5/1975

Donna – The Mountain

Why did they have to tell me they found drugs in her purse?”  Mom was agitated.  I hadn’t seen her cry yet.  She was angry.  That was better.

She hung up the phone that she had held to her ear all day.  One call after another; first the police, then friends and family.  Then the funeral home.  Then the sheriff.

Making arrangements.  Notifying people.  Learning new things about her daughter.  She was on her own.  She was the pillar that held up this family of seven.  Now six.

The police officers didn’t consider a grieving mother;  they reported the facts without warmth.  It was their jurisdiction, and she was an out-of-towner, a wild teenager without local ties.

They were small, not even a dot on the map in West Virginia.  Not much happened there.  This event injected new life to the local journalist.

They kept Donna’s journal for “investigative purposes” and were cold and uncaring.  As if she didn’t matter.  As if she wasn’t important to us.

Donna died at age 16 in 1976.  There’s a huge collection of poetry she wrote before she died.  This is one.


Up on a mountain

is a new freedom –

sparkling bright orange,

and crystal clear.

A mountain that is made up of beautiful green and red colors.

A mountain with a semi-circle

of flourescent colors and designs

that fly up;

straight out –

like an arrow.

A mountain –

that holds a special dream;

A very special dream.

But no one knows the dream –

not the original dream.

It’s kept a secret;

a closely guarded secret –

within the uprising hills;

so that it cannot be seen,


or stolen.

D. Lehr 10/5/75

Donna – Nursery Rhymes

It’s overwhelming, the amount of errands you must run when someone dies.  It seemed as though we were in the car all day.

I got to be in the front seat, which was rare.  Mom never let anyone under 15 sit in what she calls “the death seat.”  But she was preoccupied.

My mind was racing.  The sun was hot coming through the window of the station wagon.  Trees flying by.  I couldn’t make sense of what was happening.  It didn’t feel real.

She was so young, mom.  Why did she have to die?”  My eyes were fixed on the glove-box in front of me, dirty Jack Purcell’s on my feet.

I was looking for solace, some comfort.  My mother’s grief was stern.  “Just be quiet.  Just be quiet.”

For the next hour we rode in silence.

Donna died at age 16 in 1976.  There’s a huge collection of poetry she wrote before she died.  This is one.


Old nursery rhymes

make me think

about how


I really am.

D. Lehr 9/26/75

Donna – A Cats Cry

The morning of the wake I sat in the cool shade of the front porch and wrote Donna a three page letter.  I found lavender stationary in the den, the type with lines across it for kids and old people who can’t write straight.

It was a sticky Maryland summer, the kind where the gnats drive you crazy buzzing in your ears, but the flowers blooming make up for it.

My letter began with this:  “Dear Donna, I’m sorry I didn’t let you use my cosmetic case when you went on your trip.  I feel bad that the last time I ever saw you we had a fight.”

Three pages later it ended with “I’m going to miss you so bad.  Mom will too.  I don’t know how we’ll live without you.  I love you, Maria

Then I lit a match and burned the letter and placed the ashes in a plastic bag.  I was planning to lay it in her casket for her to keep for eternity.

Proud of my ingenuity, I told my dad what I did.  It was rare for me to tell him anything, because he never spoke to us unless he was yelling.

But I felt that under the circumstances, Donna’s death was bringing us all closer.

He snorted “How is she going to read a letter that’s all ashes?”

I felt stupid.  But still, when we got to Lassahn Funeral Home, I slipped the bag of letter-ashes under her pillow.

Donna died at age 16 in 1976.  There’s a huge collection of poetry she wrote before she died.  This is one:


A cat’s cry

through  my window

makes me think –

about the many times

that I’ve either

cried for you,

or about you.

And now you’re far away –

just so far away.

The cat stops crying –

but I haven’t.

D. Lehr 9/26/75

Donna – Keep On


Donna died at age 16 in 1976.  There’s a huge collection of poetry she wrote before she died.  This is one.


A lonely girl

sits in her room –

late at night;

by herself,

silently smoking,

and thinking.


She listens to the night time sounds, as her legs curl together for warmth.

She is lonely.

Oh –

so lonely.

For she misses her loved one.

And she keeps on…


D. Lehr 9/26/75