My Brown-Eyed Girl Clare
Today would have been her sixty-sixth birthday…
I met my Brown-Eyed Girl in May 1972 behind her house on Faculty Way at Cranbrook, one of the most exclusive private schools in the United States. We talked about... I have no idea what now, but I was smitten, hopelessly, by a warm, dimpled faculty brat who seemed to care about what I thought.
And I didn't know her name; I wouldn't know it for a while.
Somewhat later, I was in the dining hall, quietly sitting in an isolated corner, when Pete Dewitt, one of my housemasters, invited me down to his on-campus house. It was there he introduced his daughter, Clareann, who went by Clare.
She was that warm, dimpled faculty brat.
Even forty years later, she never remembered that first meeting behind her house on Faculty Way. But I kept coming back, even though she had a boyfriend, my classmate, Eric. I laughed with her older sister Karolyn and brother Peter, talked with her parents Peter and Elizabeth about my future, broke bread with cousins and grandmothers and felt as if I were family. They soon came to call me Friday's Child because I came down from the dorms almost every Friday.
The Dewitt family saved me from myself, because that was a horrible time in my life.
I joined the Army, and I went to her brother Pete's wedding in August '74... then to Clare's in December '78. That hurt so much I thought I'd bust, but I had to be happy for her, even if it was the darkest wedding I’d ever attended. I got a job in Wisconsin and moved, then sent her a plant when her daughter Shannon was born in May '79. She later said she kept that plant alive for years.
I saw her at Karolyn's wedding in October of ‘79, and she looked happy.
The next time I saw my Brown-Eyed Girl was December '80, just when she had separated from her abusive husband. The next year, I tried very hard to get us together, but she said that her family would object to any serious long-term relationship between us.
On Christmas Night 1980, I asked her to come back to Wisconsin with me. She shed a tear and said, “sorry.”
I needed… but you know what that’s like. On April Fool’s Day 1982, I asked for a date with my future wife, Evelyne, in Wisconsin. We've been together ever since. I know I hurt Clare when I told her I had found the Girl of My Dreams, but we both agreed that we were impossible and she wished me well.
But as Evelyne well knows, my Brown-Eyed Girl was never far from my thoughts.
Clare and I didn't speak again for seven years when she called me out of the blue. We talked off and on again for years; she called me when her father passed in 1999, and again when her mother Beth passed in 2004. Ev said, "let's go;" so we went to Beth’s memorial in Grand Haven. And it was then that Clare told me she'd completely misread her family's attitudes towards me, right after I apologized for hurting her so badly 22 years before. If she hadn’t misread them, many of you would never have met me.
From such moments are whole movie franchises born.
We communicated regularly after that, trading visits to Michigan and Wisconsin, phone calls, emails, and texts. She made friends with Evelyne—a blessing I still cherish—and came to my mother's wake in 2013; I came to her sister Karolyn's memorial and wake in 2015.
That was hard on her because Clare often talked about retiring with Karolyn when the time came.
I last saw my Brown-Eyed Girl in June 2018, when we were in Detroit for my 45th reunion in 2018. As it happened, Pete's wife of 44 years had just succumbed to cancer a few weeks before, and I saw then that something had broken in Clare. She was tired, working a job she had loved but no longer, and worn out from it. I had trouble connecting with her after that. Our communications were often irregular, but she didn't acknowledge my texts for her birthday that year, Christmas or New Year's in ‘19. I tried calling after that; she finally called me back in February, said she was fine, worried about her brother.
She didn't sound fine.
On Monday 18 March 2019, my Brown-Eyed Girl Clareann Mersbach Dewitt Thompson passed away suddenly in her home in Ferndale, Michigan, the day after the 35th anniversary of my marriage to Evelyne. Her brother Pete called me the day after. We held a memorial in the Green Lobby at Kingswood in late June, where her daughter Shannon, her brother and many of her friends said goodbye to my sweet Brown-Eyed Girl, who was the first girl I ever loved, and who loved me back.
So long, kid. See you on the other side.
This was based on an old WordPress blog entry from 2019.