Melissa Duden - RIP


This page, which I began putting together, in early 2005, is dedicated to the memory of Melissa Duden, a girlfriend of mine from many years ago. As I have added details, it has also become, in part, an account of a very difficult, but ultimately formative, time in my life, a time in which Melissa played a key role. The photo above is of the two of us. It was taken when we were both 17 and is the only photo I have of her. If you knew her at any time during her short life, I would very much appreciate anything you would be willing to share with me about her.

Melissa was born in northern California. During her teens, her family moved to Tucker, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, where she attended school at Henderson High. I met her in January of 1970, during her senior year of high school and my freshman year at Georgia Tech. At the time, I played bass in a three piece rock band, and the guitar player's girlfriend brought Melissa to a rehearsal. We were introduced and talked briefly prior to the start of rehearsal, and she and the guitar player's girfriend stayed and listened to us for awhile. As it was a school night, they had to leave before we were done, so I didn't get another opportunity to speak with Melissa that night. I asked her out a few weeks thereafter, but she declined. She told me that her parents would not allow her to date longhairs, which later on turned out to be something of an exaggeration. A second invitation on my part met with success. Our first date was to see the movie "The Magic Christian," a double-date with my guitar-playing friend and his girlfriend. We hit it off and began seeing each other on a regular basis. Within a few weeks we were in love and seeing each other exclusively.

Because I was from the Deep South, and Melissa from the West Coast, in many ways our childhood experiences were worlds apart. At the time, I was self-consciously trying to distance myself from my Southern roots. I am sure that a large part of my attraction to her was due to the fact that she was not from the South. This difference in our cultural backgrounds was likely a factor in the eventual breakup of our relationship, but this likelihood would not become apparent to me until some years later.

Melissa was a strikingly beautiful girl. Her black-brown hair, olive skin, steel-blue eyes, and wry smile remain indelibly etched in my memory. When we met, we were both going through very difficult personal times. My father had committed suicide less than two months prior, in November of 1969. Melissa told me - and I had no reason to doubt her at the time - that she had attempted suicide a short time before we met. Her relationship with her parents, particularly her mother, appeared at the time to be formal and distant. Nonetheless, both of her parents were always respectful and friendly toward me, and they apparently approved of our dating. They invited me to Sunday evening youth activities at their church, as well as to a weekend retreat in the mountains of North Carolina. We attended the senior prom at Melissa's high school, and we saw concerts and spent Sunday afternoons together.

I was living in a dorm room at Georgia Tech in downtown Atlanta, and Melissa lived in Tucker, Georgia, about 20 miles north. When we first began dating, I did not have my own transportation, and I would hitchhike to Tucker to meet her. This was 1970 in Atlanta, Georgia, and my long hair made for some interesting encounters on these journeys. Some of the encounters were pleasant, but most of them were not. It did give me a glimpse into certain cultural biases that were prevalent at the time. Melissa's mother and father both worked, so she would often go home after school to an empty house. Many times when I went to see her, it was without her parents' knowledge. I would meet her after school, and we would walk the short distance to her house. I had to be sure to leave well in advance of her parents' arrival, as they would most definitely not have been pleased to find the two of us at home alone. We spent several memorable afternoons at her house that winter and spring. However, our love life lacked a certain spontaneous fire that I had experienced with my prior girlfriend. This would also become a factor in the eventual breakup of our relationship.

Melissa's father worked for Ampex Corporation at the time, and the family had ended up in Georgia as the result of the company transferring him there. Perhaps the transfer was always meant to be temporary; I was not privy to the details. In the spring of 1970, Bob informed the family that he was being transferred back to Northern California. When Melissa broke the news to me, I was stunned. I had looked forward to spending the upcoming summer with her, and the thought of her being across the country from me was a very lonely one. They made the move shortly after her high school graduation. Shortly thereafer, I went to Santa Cruz, where I thought they would be living, and rented a room near UCSC, so I could be near her. Unfortunately, they ended up buying a house in Sunnyvale, about an hour's drive away. As a result, Melissa and I were not able to spend as much time together as I had hoped, but it was a memorable summer for me nonetheless. We spent time together on the beach and at her parents' house in Sunnyvale. I was essentially broke, so our entertainment activities were limited, but just being near her was enough for me at the time.

Melissa had told me about an older sister who was severely retarded from birth. During her very early childhood, her sister had lived with the family at home. She was eventually institutionalized, however, and when the family moved to Georgia, the sister remained in California. This would have to have been very difficult for the entire family, and the move back to California appears to have been, at least in part, due to a desire on the part of Melissa's parents to be closer to their older daughter. Neither Melissa nor her parents ever told me the sister's name, and Melissa only spoke of her on two or three occasions.

Prior to her parents' relocation, Melissa had been accepted by the University of Georgia in Athens. She came back to the South in August of 1970, and we spent a week together at my mother's house in Sylacauga, Alabama. One night during that week, we had a major fight, the cause of which I cannot recall. Near the end of the arguing, Melissa, in tears at the time, told me that she could sense agony in me, specifically at the point of my apologizing to her for being so angry and cruel. This really struck home with me, as my father had apologized to me in similar fashion just two weeks prior to his suicide. I was overcome with emotion over the loss of my father, and Melissa comforted me as I poured out my regrets and memories of the man who had been gone from my life less than a year at that time. In retrospect, I can see that it was the first time since my fathers' death that I had been able to freely express my feelings of grief and guilt over his loss. I am forever in Melissa's debt for her understanding and compassion towards me in that moment, and I deeply regret that I never expressed my gratitude to her for her empathy and patience.

When Melissa began college, we were separated by about 70 miles. She lived in a dorm room in Athens, while I continued to attend Georgia Tech in Atlanta. We saw each other on weekends, sometimes in Athens, other times in Atlanta. Our relationship continued until the spring of 1971, although we had begun drifting apart several months prior to that. Melissa had candidly expressed doubts about her feelings towards me, and I began to feel similar doubts myself. I broke it off with her during spring quarter, in early April. Melissa was more upset than I had expected she would be, and we both shed some tears over the ending of our relationship. During our conversation, she told me that she would wait for me. Not knowing how to respond to that, I just let it go by. Looking back, that may not have been the best choice, but I was only 18 years old at the time. She spent the night at my house. The next morning, we got up early, I took her to the Greyhound station in downtown Atlanta, bought her a bus ticket to Athens, and said goodbye. As it turned out, that was the last time I would ever see her.

Shortly thereafter, I dropped out of college and moved back to my home town. She moved back to Sunnyvale to live with her parents at the end of the quarter. I spoke with her and her parents on the telephone several times over the course of the next 15 years. During that time, she developed serious substance abuse problems (apparently prescription medications, although I don't know the specific drugs), was married and divorced twice, and did a very brief stint in the military.

I last spoke with her in the spring of 1986. Although I attempted to contact her a few times after our last conversation, it appeared that she had decided that she wanted to have no further contact with me. Although it saddened me somewhat, it was understandable. During one of our last conversations, she confided that there had been a time in her life when she blamed me for many of her problems.

Although I understood that she might not be happy to hear from me, I began trying to locate Melissa again in 1998. By that time, there were several Internet search engines that could locate people, but her name never appeared in a search. I even tried a for-pay service and got back a collection of possible past addresses for her, along with one for her parents. There was nothing current in the information. I stopped looking for several years after that. In November 2004, I came across an entry for Melissa in the California Death Records. She had died April 22, 1992, in Santa Cruz County. I ordered a copy of her death certificate from the county. She had committed suicide by taking an overdose of Carisoprodol, a prescription muscle relaxer. She was 39 years old at the time of her death. Her body was cremated and her ashes buried at sea, off the coast of Marin County. Needless to say, I was devastated by my discovery, especially so since I had discovered the information more than 12 years after the fact.

After discovering that Melissa had died, I did some additional searching on the web. I discovered that she had had an older brother, Peter Frederic, who died at the age of five days. From his death certificate, I learned that he was premature (28 weeks gestation) and had died of respiratory failure. Later, during a conversation I had in March 2005 with the mother of Diane Timmerman, one of Melissa's high school friends, I learned that Melissa's retarded sister was Peter's twin. With this information, I was able to search California birth records and learn the sister's name: Kathleen Isabel Duden. They were severely premature, and at that time - 1951 - chances of survival for premature babies were very poor. Peter did not survive, and Kathleen was deaf, blind, and severely retarded from birth.

As I gathered the above information, I was at times overcome by a picture of a family beset by tragedy. I cannot imagine the agony Melissa's parents must have endured from the loss of Peter and the handicaps Kathleen suffered, nor the fears they must have had for Melissa, who was born only 16 months after her older siblings. And, as if the loss of one child and the severe disability of another were not enough suffering, they eventually lost their one healthy offspring to suicide. I had an address for her parents, and I wrote them a letter of condolence, not knowing how it would be received. As it later turned out, this was an old address, and the letter never made it to them.

From information I found on the web, I learned that Melissa's mother, Donna, had passed away in December 1999, leaving only her father and her sister as surviving members of her immediate family. In 2006, I found a good address for him, and I sent him a letter, including a copy of the one I had written earlier. I received a very friendly and cordial reply. In it, he told me that Melissa had not committed suicide. According to him, her death was the result of an accidental overdose of prescription medication, but that the coroner had had no choice but to rule it a suicide, since it was her own doing. While I can appreciate how he came to believe that, based on what I have learned of the drug that took her life, I believe the odds of an accidental overdose are relatively low. Bob passed away in September of 2007. I am very glad I made contact when I did, because he was gone within a year of my writing him.

It has dawned on me that an entire family I once knew - Melissa, Bob, and Donna - are now gone. Bob's obituary said that he is survived by his daughter, Kathy. This is the daughter whom I never met, the one who is institutionalized. I hope that there are extended family members remaining to see that she is well cared for.

High school friends of hers whose names I remember are Debbie Dusthimer (the guitar player's girlfriend), Diane Timmerman, and Pat Fiorino, who was her roommate during the year she attended UGA. I never met or learned the names of either of her husbands, or of any friends she made after leaving Georgia.

Update: in August 2008 I was able to determine the names of both of her husbands. Her first husband was Marc L. Rubin, and the second was Dennis S. Osteen.

If you knew Melissa and are willing to share your memories of her, please contact me at jay{at} Melissa's adult life was filled with far too much sadness and disappointment, and I regret in retrospect not having been a better friend to her. I maintain this page in an effort to see that she is remembered with compassion and respect.

Jay Mitchell