When I was 19 years old, I took a picture of her. Just a simple push of a button and in one-500th of a second I knew I had captured everything that was beautiful and fun and sweet and special about her.
Lisa Marie Carleton — an angel in black and white — looking my way.
She was in her family pool, pulling herself up by the side, her wet hair slicked back tightly against her head. She had the slightest little smile, but her eyes were the story.
She looked my way.
She won my heart just as quickly, this girl.
I’ve written about her before. Back on May 11, 2016, I posted an item I titled, “Lisa Marie Carleton: Forever an Angel.”
I wrote, “Twenty years ago, Lisa Marie Carleton — one of the best friends I ever had in this world — flew too close to the arms of God, and He took her from all of us as the plane she was a passenger on fell out of the sky over the Florida Everglades.
It was May 11, 1996. I try not to think of that singular moment — Did she know what was happening? Was she scared? — but over the past two decades, I think of Lisa often and always smile.
It might be a song. A scent. A time and place. She is a ghost I still dance with often because a love and friendship that touches you so deep is hard to let go.”
On Friday night, I danced with Lisa again, thinking about her and so many of the memories we shared.
I knew her life came to an end not far from where I write this, but what I didn’t realize was how close.
Just 105 miles.
I knew there was a memorial built to honor the victims of ValuJet 592 and it didn’t take long to find out where it was.
So after waking up on Saturday morning, my first and only goal was to hop in my rent-a-car and head south, into the Everglades to once again remember a dear, dear friend.
Florida, I’ve found, is Florida … pretty much no matter where you drive a lot of it looks the same.
Palm trees. Strip malls. Golf Courses.
Then, driving West on U.S. Route 41, you hit Krome Ave., and the Miccosukee Resort and Gaming.
Beyond that, you enter the Everglades. And it looks like no other part of Florida that I’ve ever seen.
The Flight 592 Memorial is only 12 miles beyond Krome Ave., tucked away on the right side of the road across a small tributary of water.
The memorial contains 110 concrete pillars of varying heights, climbing upward toward the heavens — one for each person who passed away in the crash. At the far end of all the pillars is a plaque with the names of all 110 victims, as well.
And, the entire monument is built on a giant triangle surface which points in the direction of the crash site — an estimated 11 miles into the Everglades wilderness.
I made my way through the pillars, snapping a few photos as I did so.
Once I got to the plaque, I looked immediately to Lisa’s name. I knelt down and ran my fingers over it, wondering simply, “Why?” Why did she have to die? Why did any of them?
I’ve been to Lisa’s grave, back home in Maine. I’ve visited her family, who I still love so very much to this day.
There are no satisfactory answers. I’m old enough to know that. There is no way to fill that empty hole in your heart when you lose somebody you care about. You hope the memories can just stop the tears in time, and they do.
They even make you smile.
As I made the drive to the memorial thoughts of Lisa and her family filled my head, and I found myself smiling a lot. And as I climbed back into my rent-a-car for the drive back to my hotel, I picked up right where I left off.
And I thought of that picture I took when we were both teenagers.
That smile. Those eyes.
I’ll never forget you, Lisa.