On a bookshelf nearby is my Skyline High School yearbook, the ’71 Aquilian. I pulled it out a few days ago when I heard about the death of classmate Melanie Wagstaff.

High school was nearly 50 years ago, and my class had more than 1,000 graduates, but I remember Melanie. Not only were we in the same Mormon ward, but she also occasionally went out of her way to talk to me.

In particular was the time I was plotting evil retaliation against someone whose picture is also in the yearbook. Melanie noticed and walked with me until I calmed down.

I hadn’t seen Melanie since before the Army got me in ’72. Through the years, she remained in my mind — a willowy brunette with a nice smile and a kind voice.

I put a red checkmark by Melanie’s picture and returned the yearbook to the shelf. There are similar marks beside 85 other pictures of people whom today I still recall only as kids.

Keeping tabs on the deaths of people I barely knew if at all might be seen as macabre, but, for me, it’s an odometer for what’s left of my own life, sorrowful reminders that I shouldn’t waste any of it.

I got another harsh reminder of mortality last Friday, when I blew out my knee a few hours before an important event at Brigham Young University.

That evening I was to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Association for Mormon Letters. No, I’m not sure why. The only thing I can figure is because many of the columns I write in The Salt Lake Tribune contain the word “Mormon.”

Lavina Fielding Anderson, another Mormon writer but of actual literature, was also receiving a lifetime award that night.

As I said, a few hours before the event, something I did to myself a long time ago chose to remind me of it. My knee went out, and I ended up in the emergency room.

It took a couple of hours for them to mess around with the various scars on my leg before determining that the pain, which was excruciating, had nothing to do with having once been hit by a car, stabbed, crashing a motorcycle, or falling from a great height three different times.

Doctor • “It’s probably a pinched nerve. You need a heating pad and physical therapy.”

Me • “The hell I do. I need some hydrocodone.”

After considerable pleading, she grudgingly gave me … one. It was all I could do to calmly remind her that I had to be somewhere, and that I wouldn’t be able to see my regular doctor until Monday. Could I please have something to get me through until then?

After some thought, she gave me three tablets, each roughly equivalent to what I would take for a medium headache.

I made it to BYU in time to receive my award, speak on a panel and to sit next to Lavina when she received hers.

During the dinner part of the event, I mentioned to Lavina what had happened to me earlier. That’s when she realized that the pill I had just swallowed was some kind of opioid.

Her • “You are NOT driving home with that in you.”

Me • “I’ll be fine, Lavina.”

Debating Lavina is like arguing with the weather or the federal government. Long story short, she and her husband, Paul, followed my truck while their son Christian drove me home to Herriman. I told myself that it was nice that they cared.

I should have made the time to let them know how much I appreciated their concern for me. Paul died of natural causes shortly after they got home from making sure I got home.