My parents had only just arrived in Virginia. We, along with my then-boyfriend Greg, were in my studio apartment in Falls Church, jubilant after sharing our engagement news. It was April 16, 1993.
The phone rang, the kind connected to the wall. It was Todd, Natasha’s once-boyfriend. He worked at the radio station as a DJ and saw the announcement as it ticked over the AP Wire. Natasha, along with sixteen others, had been killed in Afghanistan in a helicopter crash. She was a full-fledged journalist by then, abroad for a couple of years or so, pursuing a career she was passionate about, and actually using that bachelor's degree.
The air left my lungs at the news.
And then, grief engulfed me. Like a tsunami. Waves of intense sadness, helplessness and regret, obliterating everything in its path and drowning me in its undertow.
My head would rise above water and I’d experience the calm after the storm, where even occasional laughter at a memory or inside joke surfaced, briefly, before the crash of the waves dragged me below again.
It was at least a year before I strung together more than a couple of days without this avalanche of grief following me everywhere I went, maybe more.
She died at twenty-eight.
No one should die so young.
I realized, years later, after death claimed so many, many people I knew, that unexpected death causes a chasm of pain different from the kind you experience after you lose your dear grandmother, for instance, who lived a long, full life. It may be sad, but you take solace in all they had, did, experienced. Death is part of the natural order of things. But snatching the life of someone “before their time” feels cruel and undeserved. The younger they are, the worse.
Natasha was a light. She glowed with a brilliance that blinded. Heart-on-her-sleeve, authentic, and often, selfless.
She loved two men who shattered her heart and didn’t even come close to deserving her. She had one terrible habit: perpetual lateness. In our earlier years, she tried different techniques to force herself from bed in the morning. She placed her alarm clock across the bedroom with it set on high. In high school, I called and talked her from the warm cocoon of sleep to standing. Only then, would I hang up. She drank too much, so much that she would eventually give me a suffocating hug and slur how much she loved me. She had regrets and her own barrage of terrible experiences, but those aren’t mine to share. She once hoped to become a model and went through Barbizon’s modeling school—the one advertised in the backs of magazines—coming home with professionally posed pictures and understanding how to apply makeup. In college, she did mine and it’s the only time I’ve liked how it looked.
She loved photography. Back in those days, it was all manual, with fun filters and lenses and just you and your subjects. She shot so much film, she couldn’t afford to pay the developing charges. Thousands of images were lost. We were still in college then.
As kids, we used to love walking in the rain. If I find myself caught in the elements now, I can sometimes lighten the mood by remembering I once enjoyed such moments with her.
She rescued me from myself during one of my darkest hours. It helped me get on the road to recovery, a forever pivotal moment in my life. She would later rescue fellow reporters, part of her boots-on-the-ground, no-man-left-behind way of thinking.
I think and dream of her often. She is one of the biggest constants in my life despite being gone now for twenty-seven years, almost as long as she lived. What I also realize, in hindsight, is her impact on my life.
I have been raped, beaten, hurt, disappointed, drowned, afraid and suicidal. I have also known great joy, elation, success, victory and purpose. I have seen shattering world events, and terrible transgressions on, and in, our own country. But her death transcends it all. I can forget about these other moments, events and pain and joy, but I never forget her. She is never far from my thoughts.
I realize how lucky I am to have met her that summer day before fourth grade when my family moved to the Oakland hills. To go all the way through school as best friends, and experience college together as roommates. To get on an airplane and visit her after she left California to start her first job as a radio news anchor in a tiny place called Charles Town, West Virginia. To meet, through her, the man who would become my husband and cause me to uproot myself to the Mid-Atlantic, likely forever. To have whatever sacred time the universe gave us.
It’s a blessing.
One I no longer take for granted, wiser now about such things.
On the anniversary of her death or on her birthday in July, I like to celebrate her with some of the things we enjoyed: I take a drive and listen to the music we used to belt at the top of our lungs. I might watch Top Gun, one of our fav movies. I eat some Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip ice cream, which she introduced me to during our college years (I probably shouldn’t forgive her that) and sometimes a cheeseburger (she finally got me to eat these, too, because I never felt cheese and meat went together). And I cry as much as I want.
Want to read more about Natasha?
I like this obit by one of her reporter colleagues:
A report of the crash in the LA Times:
Our neighbor growing up, well-known sports reporter Dave Newhouse, wrote this piece:
A brief history written by her family: