My wife’s cellphone sounded an early-morning text message Tuesday on the night stand, not unexpected on the first day most teachers are to report back to school. It was not yet light out as she came from the bathroom to read it. But this was not routine. Sandy struggled to read it aloud as her left hand gripped her chest.
With any awful tragic news, the first syllables and the first fractions of time are hard to comprehend. That can’t be. Clint Diaz killed in a car accident? How can that be? How can that possibly be?
We woke our son, Chad, who is spending a final few days at home before returning to college, to tell him what little we knew. There was a time when those two were good arms-across-their-shoulder friends.
He too tried to understand what happened with the same blank mask on his face, the same stony silence and the same feeble questions that had no real answers. Then he began to do what all his age do — text other friends of what he knew.
Details began to emerge quickly that just added layers to the grief, that five cast members from “Texas” were killed Monday night and another critically injured in an accident north of Amarillo. It is a loss for all in the Texas Panhandle.
“Texas” is part of our heritage, a glittery performance of our history, set in Palo Duro Canyon’s amphitheater and performed each summer for the last 48 years to thousands around the world. With pride, we say it’s ours, whether we take visiting relatives to see it each summer or haven’t been in a decade. And those young college-age performers, many from the area, but many who are not, are adopted by many for the summer.
But there are many Tuesday who know of these five as more than a name and a bright young face. They are sons and a daughter, brothers and a sister and close friends who saw them for all the promise and potential they held and so eager to share with others. For them, the loss is unbearable.
Time is fleeting and moves so fast. It’s been a decade now, even longer, that Eric and Clint Diaz were sleeping overnight at our house. Blake and Chad would in turn stay over with their friends at the Diaz country home of Julie and Gabe.
Sleeping, there wasn’t much of that. They were boys, full of energy and ideas. The living room became a late-night wrestling ring and it just wasn’t a normal night if Eric and Clint weren’t getting into some kind of brotherly argument that bordered on a brotherly scrap.
As I left for work Tuesday morning, I could look across the park and see a small tree in a row of bigger ones. The original tree that was there had been struck by lightning one Friday night years ago. Clint was spending the night that evening, and we heard the late-night boom. Early the next morning, the three of us hustled over there and Clint and Chad, maybe 10 years old with bedheads of hair sticking up, were in awe of a split tree from nature’s fury.
Theirs was a smaller world then, defined by school at Paramount Terrace Elementary and the activities of young boys. But Eric and Blake were the same age as were Chad and Clint, and they were among a group and their parents who melded together through similar pursuits.
But kids grow up and their broader, new and growing interests take them on different paths. For Clint, he had a love for acting, a talented bent for dancing and singing and performing. It took him in a different direction at Tascosa while Chad’s athletics took him in another.
They fell out of touch in recent years as childhood friends often do, separated by different colleges, different demands and different pursuits. But the memories of years as snaggled-tooth friends never leaves.
I saw Clint not that long ago. I congratulated him on being in the cast of “Texas,” of being on the cover of our “Get Out,” of how proud we were of his career that was bright and full of promise. His handshake was firm, his voice was deep and strong, thanking me and asking what Chad was up to.
That snapshot of a time in their young lives, for me, is a comfort, but it also seems sadly out of focus on a day of hurt and sadness.
Jon Mark Beilue is an AGN Media columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com or 806-345-3318. His blog appears on amarillo.com. Twitter: @jonmarkbeilue.