Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Leanne Longcrier: Diamond in the Rough

The news engulfed us, like the fire that consumed her car.  In the early hours of Sunday May 3, 2015, Leanne's car had crossed the median divider and gone off the road.  My first thoughts were of her burning to death as she thought of the two young children she would leave parentless.  Later, when news reports indicated that she had struck two trees before wrapping the car around a third, causing the car to burst into flames, I reasoned that she must have died on impact.

Information came to me in bits over the course of Eden's first birthday party.  First, a message from Lynn:  "Call me if you can."  A few moments later, one from Chris:  "I heard about Leanne.  Wow. :-(" The ominous tone of the messages caused a shudder down my spine, but I convinced myself that they must be benign.  "She finally did it," I thought.  "That prude finally cut loose and she must have got drunk before her shift.  Lynn needs me to come in to work, but I can't."

Then, another message, this time from Shane: "Happy birthday to Eden.  I'm sorry it's such a sad day also." Something was wrong. I urgently Lynn, who must have been fielding a number of urgent phone calls that she wishes she'd never had to take or make.  When she didn't answer, I called Shane. As the phone rang, as Shane answered, as he began to preface the news, I looked at Timothy, sitting on the couch, the only adult in the room, and I knew that he knew that whatever Shane was about to tell me was terribly, horribly bad.

"The car went off the road, and I guess she didn't make it."  The words hung in the air. I looked at the knowing look in Timothy's eyes.

"I have to go."

"Are you okay?"

"I - Yes.  I have to go."  As a matter of formality, Timothy asked "What happened?"

"Leanne's dead."

Over the course of the next couple of hours, with our party guests chattering and munching on the last bits of food, I learned that Leanne's body had been mangled and burned beyond recognition.  Her medical records would need to be obtained the following day to confirm her identity.  Later reports revealed that the police could not even confirm that there were no other occupants in the car, it had been crushed so severely.  Friends told me they had driven by the accident site that morning, unaware that it was Leanne's car that had been split like a banana by the tree, causing them to lift up a prayer that the driver had at least gone quickly.

For three days now Leanne's friends and co-workers from The Wright Place have been wrestling with the news.  The glaring, unspoken lamentation of an outsider looking in might be the tragedy of a woman who was so beautiful having been so disfigured in her death.  The lack of information as to whether alcohol was involved in the accident which occurred at approximately 1:30 AM has caused ignorant speculation as to what kind of mother this dead woman must be.

I'll tell you what kind of mother Leanne Longcrier was.  She was the kind of mother who left at just after 5 AM, five mornings a week, to report to a company where she'd worked for over ten years, because the job provided health benefits to her children.  She is the kind of mother who, two years ago, took on a job working an additional two shifts a week to give her daughter and her son, whose father had passed away when they were both quite young, a good life. If you knew Leanne for ten minutes, you knew that she had two kids, a boy and a girl. If you spoke with her even a minute longer you knew that her son Michael wanted to go into the military, but a part of her hoped he would get over it because she didn't want to lose him, and her daughter Gabi wasn't sure but she maybe wanted to be a lawyer, but in any case, both kids were going to college, because that's why she was working so hard.

Rick and Lynn had to have been slightly out of their minds when they hired her, undoubtedly.  She is the kind of woman who never made sense as a bartender.  She didn't drink, she didn't swear, and the dirty jokes told by the dirty old patrons and the dirty hardened bartenders all went over her head.  She stuck out like a sore thumb around there, just as her absence does today.

"Leanne, you need to do some things for yourself," I would often tell her.  "Your kids are growing up.  They don't need you around as much anymore.  You need to get your own life."  She'd smile and look at me with doe-eyes and it was plain on her face that she disagreed.  How I regret those words now, even while I thank God that on this occasion, she had left her children at home.

For the two years that Leanne worked at The Wright Place, she never quite fit in.  She didn't change, as so many of the bartenders that I've seen come and go over the years, and even as I have.  She was the same woman the last time she walked out of that door as she had been the day she walked in.   I think that's got to be why we all came to love her so much.  I know that's why her death has rattled our community so.  We had all known a lot of somebodies, but we had never met anyone like Leanne, a sparkling jewel among the rough.

Just days before her death, unknowing that we wouldn't see her again, someone summed up her place in the bar: "She can't poor a drink for shit, but you just don't care."  You can find booze just about anywhere.  There was only one Leanne.

A Go Fund Me Account has been established to raise funds for Leanne's burial:

Her children are young, ages 12 and 13, and have requested a traditional casket and burial for their mother. Any funds that can be raised for this burial will enable the family to reserve the funds from Leanne's life insurance policy to be held in trust for the children as they grow up.