“First Love” Chapter 20

The Paperback Edition…

After getting that hurtful, angry letter from Bobby, I immediately wrote him back.  I could hardly see the words on the paper as I wrote.  Tears were streaming down my face.

I could not bear the thought that he would no longer be a part of my life ever again.  I could not lose him…not again.

He had not said much in his letter to me…only that he should never have trusted me, that I was a stupid child and he hoped I would grow up some day…and of course…everything  said with so much anger.

In my letter, I begged Bobby to please read my letters again…how could he not know how much I loved him…how much I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life!

I told him that the only letter I had received from him was his first letter to me weeks ago…the one he had sent me after returning from his leave…and now this horrible one.

Why hadn’t he written to me? I asked… hadn’t he received my letters?

Please call me!  I begged him.  I didn’t even know if he could do this…but I begged anyway.

I told him I just couldn’t understand what was happening or why  he was saying the things he was saying.  It was like he was talking about another person…not me.

Please call me, I had said.  Please write me…and…and then…

I gave the letter to my mother to mail.

 

 

“First Love” Chapter 21

The Paperback Edition…

TWO YEARS PASS…

The world continued to spin and for a long time…I did’t care whether it did or not.

I changed jobs.  The memory of that magical meeting with Bobby in the shopping center food court was too painful.

I started working in a flower shop near where I lived called “A Rose is a Rose”.  I learned the intricate art of flower arranging and design from Sadie Morgan, the owner…and I stuck around.

After a while, she offered me the job of assistant manager.  I took it…flowers are beautiful and uncomplicated…I liked that.

Even though the parents were being friendly to each other, I thought about moving out…but didn’t.

I dated a little…nothing remotely serious and when I turned twenty-one, Mel and I went out to dinner at Frankie’s, our favorite pizza hangout in high school.

We could finally drink beer there…legally.

Mel and Stuart.  They had married so young but had stayed married and in love…and had two beautiful boys that I loved and spoiled whenever I got the chance.

When we walked in, we were greeted by Mike Nordstrom.  He had been in the same class as Bobby in high school and they had been pretty good friends.

Mel and I were both surprised to find that Mike was not just a ‘greeter’…but was the new owner.  He had bought the restaurant last year when it had gone up for sale.

Mike had been a regular at Frankie’s…even after graduation.  It was a good fit for someone who loved pizza and gossip.

And Mike had loved to gossip.  In high school he knew everything about everybody…he was… like a girl.  Turns out…he still loved to gossip

So…that night we got free pizza, free beer and I got free unexpected news about Bobby Flanagan…who was still a very good friend of Mike’s.

Mike sat down in our booth and went into great detail on how Bobby had gone a little crazy after our second break-up.

Finally, seeing the slight shaking of Mel’s head to signal him to stop talking and the shocked look on my face, he was quick to add…

“Oh, he’s fine now, Sam.  He’s actually going to start working with his dad at their hardware store when he gets out of the Navy.

“He was in here a lot, the last time he was home on leave,” Mike continued.

“I think he gets out of the Navy next year, am I right, Sam?  Sam?”

 

“First Love” Chapter 22

The Paperback Edition…

Mel shook my arm.  “Sam!  Are you okay?  You look pale as a ghost!”

Mel shot an angry look at Mike.

“Way to go dummy!  What were you thinking going on and on about Bobby?  Go get some water or coffee or something…just go.”

Mike got up quickly.  “Right.  Sorry, Sam.  I really shouldn’t have done that…Bobby told me not to say anything…I just got carried away…sorry…I’ll get some…” and he headed off to the bar.

Mel patted my hand.  She was such a dear.

“I’m fine…really.  It was just such a shock…I knew he would be coming home at some point, of course, but I just kept pushing that thought away.  Can we leave before Mike gets back?  I’m done here.”

THREE YEARS LATER... after that night Mel and I had visited Frankie’s…Russell Allison sauntered into ‘A Rose is a Rose’ to buy a dozen yellow roses…for his soon to be ex-girlfriend.

Russell and I got married six months later.  We had a beautiful daughter, Sarah, five years after that, and life went on…as it always does.

I had been married almost seven years and one bright Spring day, I was paying for my groceries at Target..when I looked up to see Bobby Flanagan one aisle over.  He was done checking out and was just standing there…looking right at me…and he was smiling…smiling at me.

It appeared he had seen me first and had waited to see what I would do…how I would react when I saw him.  Well…

I was completely stunned.  I gave him a shy, hesitant smile but I’m sure it came out not quite right…perhaps, perhaps lop-sided as before…oh those many years ago in a high school lunch line on a cold November day.

Of course, Sam did not know that crooked, shy smile was the very same smile that had made Bobby fall in love with her…the smile that had captured his heart that day when he was only sixteen.

Bobby returned my smile, took a couple of steps as if he was going to come over and talk to me…but then abruptly turned and walked out the door.

I would not see Bobby Flanagan again for almost 30 years.

 

“First Love” Chapter 23

Paperback Edition…

When I was sixty-one…I had a small stroke.

My apparently not-so-devoted husband and I parted ways.  It happens I guess…some people can’t handle the strain of a major health crisis in a marriage.

To be fair…the marriage had lost its snap years ago.   Russell just didn’t want to grow up…and so he didn’t.

I had recovered from the stroke almost completely…aside from a slight weakness in my left leg that forced me to use a cane most of the time.

I also had some crummy vision problems which I was sort of handling.

But, poor husband Russ…couldn’t handle the “cane”.  He could not deal with the small disability that was now part of me…so…he could not deal with me.

“You know, Samantha.  You look so old when you use that cane.” he had said one day..

We had been grocery shopping together.  It was shortly after the stroke and I needed help since I could not easily bend down…not to mention getting back up.  Awkward…

“When I’m with you, I feel so old.  And I don’t want to feel old.  I wish you were young again, Samantha.”

“Do you remember how beautiful you were…when you were young?”

“I wish you were that way again…do you really need that cane?”

Even though I was not overly surprised by his comment…I was nonetheless flattened.

There is no other way to describe it.  I imagine this is how you would feel if you stepped off a curb and were hit by a cement truck.

But then…I got up.

“Yes,” I answered him thoughtfully.  “Yes…I believe I do need this cane…and will probably always need this cane.”

“But you know, Russell…I actually believe it’s you I don’t need.”

And I didn’t.

I filed for divorce on Christmas Eve…three days after being hit by that cement truck.

 

 

“First Love” Chapter 26

The Paperback Edition…

“Is he…dead?” I cried out…almost unable to get the words out…and pulling my hands back.

“Oh!!  NO!  Not at all!  I just took your hands because…it seemed like a loving thing to do.  I’m sorry, Sam.  I used to do that all the time when the boys were little.

“I meant to make you feel better.”  And then Mel started to cry…really hard.

“Melanie!  What’s the matter?”  I was really worried now, Mel was always so calm and steady.

“It’s…it’s just such a…sad, sad love story.”

I had to smile a little.  Sweet Melanie.  She had such a gentle soul.

“And…and…Sam…Bobby might be coming to the reunion Saturday.”

I could not believe what I was hearing.  I sat there speechless.

“I was going to tell you sooner but then I know how hard life has been lately with your stroke and your divorce and your mom dying and all…

“So, I had planned to wait just a bit more, but then I forgot…you know that my mother-in-law Janet has been sick…” she paused and I nodded my head sympathetically.  Mel really loved her mother-in-law.

“We’re not sure what’s wrong and it’s kind of scary…”  Then she continued.

“Anyway, when I saw Mike Nordstrom at the first reunion planning meeting in June…you remember Mike, right?  He owns Frankie’s?  We went there a long time ago?”

“Yes.  I remember…go on…” I urged her.

“Well,” Mel said.  “At that meeting he mentioned to me that Bobby might be going to the reunion but…then he kind of clammed up and said he didn’t know for sure…and…Sam?  Bobby’s a widow…his first wife died more than 20 years ago.”

And then she got up and went into the kitchen to get some more tea.

A thousand visions of me and Bobby together again raced through my mind.  Can this really be happening?  Now?  After all these years?

Mel returned, handed me a fresh cup of tea and then sat back down.

“The reunion committee has a lot of information on the graduates…but remember, Bobby didn’t actually graduate…he went into the Navy and then got his GED…”

I interrupted, “Oh crap.” I said disappointed.

“No, now wait Sam…let me finish.  Maybe the committee doesn’t have any information on Bobby…but… ‘fellow reunion committee member, Mike’ has all the information we would  want to know.

“And…when Mike first told me about Bobby, I could tell that he wanted to tell me more…you know how he loved to gossip.  He still does.”

“But, I guess he and Bobby have become really close these past few years…and apparently even Mike has limits…so he stopped talking once he realized he had probably said too much.

“But I know that once he sees those diary pages, Sam, he’ll tell me everything.  And he’ll probably want to show them to Bobby…”

“Would you be okay with that, Sam?”

I was.  I really was.  That way…no matter what happened…whether I saw Bobby or not…at least he would know the truth…and that was the important thing after all.

And, maybe…just maybe…Bobby would come to the reunion…and maybe I  would see him.  Maybe…

I stood up and looked into the mirror hanging on the wall over Mel’s head.

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

“What? asked Melanie, looking up with a puzzled expression on her face.

“Who’s Toto?”

 

 

 

 

 

“First Love” Chapter 27

The Paperback Edition…

How would I look to Bobby after all these years, I wondered…looking into the full-length bathroom mirror…instinctively tucking my short hair behind my ears.

Would he, like Russell, be disappointed in how I now looked?

Would Bobby expect to see me looking young…as I had over 30 years ago when we had last seen each other that day in Target?

And…would he see the cane and wince?  As Russell had done…many times…

Those searing, cruel words from Russ…spoken almost a year ago…about looking old and not being beautiful anymore…still cut deep.

But…most of the time… I knew I looked pretty damn good…even with a cane.

Every summer for the past few years, I had volunteered at a park near our house.  I helped with the kids summer school program.

Up until this summer, I could almost always keep up with those little squirts as they ran all over…and…get nice tan in the bargain.  This summer I was in charge of “The Craft Table”…and supervising the sandbox.

My light brown hair was streaked from the sun but I didn’t think a few blonde highlights would hurt…grey…can be so grey.  I was lucky to get an appointment at Chico’s Salon on such short notice.  I guess it pays to tip well…

Was I being stupid?  Of course, I was.  But…even in high school no one could understand why Bobby Flanagan had picked me to be “his girl”.  He could have picked so many others…

I had been nothing special…Scandinavian cute…that about covered it.

Wait!  Except for my ears…I had very special ears…a little too big for my face and they stuck out…just a bit.   That was my “outstanding” feature…and that had been Bobby’s best little joke…

I wondered what Bobby would look like?

The reunion information sheet had declared in CAPS that the dress code would be ‘Summer Casual’…whatever that meant.

For me…it meant a slightly short, black skirt and a white, cap-sleeved linen top…because I still could.

I didn’t wear jewelry as a rule, but I had put on the pink necklace that Bobby had bought me on his first leave home from the Navy…many years ago.  Yes…I had saved it.

Black and white low-heeled shoes and my cane completed the outfit.  The cane was black hickory and was the old-fashioned kind with a hook at the top.  I had found it at an estate sale shortly after my stroke. It was quite old but it did the trick.

I liked to use it when I was out and about…since I could easily hook it over my arm when standing or hook it on a shopping cart handle.

Everything was hanging neatly on the outside of my bedroom closet door…just waiting.

I checked the mirror and wondered again if I was out of my mind for doing this…out of my mind for even hoping that my strange dream of a few nights ago had been a foreshadow and not just a..dream..

Melanie had been really busy these last couple of days.  Janet had taken a turn for the worse and Mel was spending a lot more time at her house.

She had not yet had time to get more information from Mike about Bobby…not even if he was coming to the reunion.

Last time I had talked to her…which was…yesterday morning, I think?  Yes.  She had not yet shown Mike the copies of the important pages of my mother’s diary.

I knew those pages were the key to whether or not Mike was willing to tell Mel more information about Bobby.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

8th Grade Halloween.  I meet Johnny.

There comes a time in every childhood when you are told…you’re “too old to go ‘trick or treating’ this year.”

No more free candy from strangers.  No more running wildly around the streets in the deepest of darkness…screaming and hollering to your friends…stuffing candy in your mouth as fast as you can…yes, yes you heard right…even while you are running…and hollering.  It was…after all…1960.

All gone.  Forever…just because you got one year older.

In 1960, our suburb of Bloomington, Minnesota was new but growing fast.  There were acres of new housing developments with miles of streets that we could dash up and down…filling old pillow cases with candy and money and whatever else strangers were willing to give us.  Home-made fudge was the best.  Remember…1960.

There were no parents standing in the streets with glow lights or flashlights to guide us…or umbrellas to shield us from the rain.  If it rained, we got wet and we lived.  If we fell down…we got up.  And…we came home.

But this year…5 days before October 31, my mother said…

“Riley.  You’re too old to go trick or treating this year.  All of us moms got together and we decided that now that you kids are in 8th grade…you’re just too old.  No arguments (and here she held up her hand for emphasis)…we have all decided.”

Oh…we knew it was coming.  We had heard the whispers and had actually paid attention when the moms had dropped little hints…so we knew.

And we were ready.

 

Chapter 2

When I say “we” were ready…I meant of course…Karla Johansen was ready.  She was my excellent friend and self-proclaimed leader of our little gang of seven.

She…even in 8th grade…was ready for everything and anything at all times…and all of us just basically said “how high” when she told us to jump.

Her mother was an oddity for this time in history.  She worked full time…and was consumed constantly with guilt…even though she was an elementary school teacher and home almost as much as the other moms of our little group…who did not work outside the home.

But this was 1960.   Most moms stayed home…whether they wanted to or not.

So…because of her mother’s on-going guilt…Karla had an edge…and she had learned early in her young life how to successfully use that power.

Two years ago, in fact, she had managed somehow to convince her parents to build an in-ground, Olympic-size swimming pool in their backyard, even though they went to their summer cabin every weekend from June thru September.  Yeah…they had some money.

Karla loved her gang but not one of them had a summer cabin by the lake like she did.  But now they spent every hot sunny day splashing in “Karla’s pool”.   No one could ever accuse Karla of not being a great friend.  She was a wonder.

Even as my mother was delivering the Halloween bad news to me, I knew Karla was also receiving it from her mom…and responding with anguish, sobs and fake tears.  She had practiced how she would react in front of me and she was pretty damn good.

“NO TRICK OR TREATING!!!!!”  I could almost hear her screaming and I lived blocks away.

What I couldn’t hear was her poor mom, Liz Johansen (we all loved her, she was such a sweetheart) telling Karla how sorry she was for this terrible disruption in her life.

“Is there anything I can do, Karla?  Is there anything you want?  Please stop crying dear…there must be something that would make you happy…”

“Well…mom…since you’re asking…maybe a little Halloween party?  With orange and black crepe streamers?  And maybe you could (here, she told me, she paused for a little sob) make those fantastic brownies that everyone likes?  And remember that scavenger hunt we had on my 10th birthday?  The kids really loved that…” said Karla.

All of that was…of course…bull shit.

What Karla really wanted was a boy/girl party with food and pop and loud music and dancing and red lights and games like Post Office, Spin the Bottle and Seven Minutes in Heaven…and maybe a little Truth or Dare (if everyone was feeling risky)…and strict orders: to “not come down the basement and embarrass me”.

THAT was the party Karla wanted…and of course…got.

But Karla was a smart 8th grader…so her initial request for a small party was charming and innocent and sure to be granted and…it was.

As she told me later, “Riley.  It was a piece of cake.  I could have won an Oscar!”

Chapter 3

The party was a HUGE success!  There must have been 25-30 kids there…some even Karla didn’t know…but the word got out and kids…out “trick or treating”… just knocked politely on the door and sweet mom, Liz let them in with a welcoming smile…and sent them down the basement.

(Karla’s party was probably the first prototype of the fantastic open house parties to come as we got older.  Those parties dotted the streets of our sprawling suburb every Friday and Saturday night in the late fifties and early sixties.

All you needed then was a car and maybe an address…or sometimes you could just drive up and down the streets looking for lots of cars parked in front of a house…with the lights blazing…a dead giveaway.

You just waked in, smiled nicely to the parent…who was usually sitting in the kitchen looking a little shell-shocked…and went wherever her hand pointed…usually to the basement.

Karla’s party had only walk-ins…no cars yet…and we all drank the pop, ate the sloppy Joes, did the little “scavenger hunt” Karla’s mom had organized and then about 9:00 Karla put red bulbs in the light sockets…and a ‘DO NOT DISTURB–THIS MEANS YOU MOM’ sign on the basement door.  It was time to have a real party!!!

The plan was to start slow…this was, after all…the first time most of us had been at a party like this…but Karla and I had done a lot of reading…

Spin the Bottle was first and everyone got into a large circle and got very quiet.  There was a lot of nervous laughter…from everyone…including me.

Truth or Dare would be last.  I had played ‘Truth’ once before…at a slumber party last summer with a group of girls…four of the girls went home crying.  It was pretty intense.

Karla, as hostess and most fearless of us all, went first and the bottle stopped in front of Ronald Simmons…the most quiet and shyest boy in our school…and Karla’s next door neighbor.

Everyone gasped out loud!  Why was he here?  Who invited him?  He never even talked to anyone…I wasn’t sure he could talk…I had never heard him.

“Ronny!!  I didn’t know you were coming tonight.” said Karla in a very friendly, non-threatening voice.

“I was #7 on your mom’s Scavenger Hunt list.” he said as he  pointed to Brian Carlson, one of our gang…who was looking slightly embarrassed…making eye contact with no one.

“Very funny, Brian.” said Karla with a disapproving tone to her voice.

To Ronny she said, “Well, good to…see you, Ronny…”  And then she gave him a big smile…and went to re-spin the bottle…but wait…

No one let Karla get away with that move…she and Ronny had to go into the storage area for a kiss…rules were rules.

They came out 30 seconds later…both of them with blazing red cheeks!

Later, Karla told me he refused to kiss her so she just grabbed him by his shoulders and kissed him anyway.

“I think he kind of screamed, Riley, honest.” she said.

(Side Note:  Ronny Simmons became a many times decorated homicide detective for the Minneapolis Police Department…after working Vice for ten years…he never married.)

The game continued and very quickly most everyone had their turns at Spin the Bottle and were laughing and having a good time.  Everyone was anxious to move up to something more daring.  I know I was…I hadn’t gotten ‘chosen by the bottle’.

It was time for Seven Minutes in Heaven…where two people spent seven minutes in a darkened room doing whatever they wanted.

John Taylor, a really good-looking new boy who had just last week moved to Bloomington from St. Paul, Mn., had been smiling at me a lot and I had been smiling back.  We hadn’t yet talked…only said “hi”.

He looked older and “exciting”.  Maybe it was his all black Zorro costume…but what did I know…I was only 13.

It turned out John had missed a year of school because of an auto accident and had to repeat second grade…so he was older.  He was…14.

When it was his time to spin …he reached out and stopped the bottle before it could go past me and looked right at me with a devilish grin.

I never went into the other room with anyone else all night…John’s turn always stopped at me …and he encouraged the spinning bottle to pass by me when the other boys had their turn…pretty heady stuff for an 8th grade girl like me.

John Taylor had an agenda that Halloween night and I was at the top of it…me and my Hawaiian Dancing Girl costume.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

I will definitely explain my authentic (read very skimpy) Hawaiian Dancing Girl costume…a tin of dark brown body powder included with the rental price…but first…

…my life in a nutshell before this party.

My mom and dad didn’t always read the set of instructions that came with living in this world…which…if you don’t have children is workable…but they had me…

I was the first girl to wear lipstick, albeit pale, pale pink lipstick in 6th grade.  My dad brought it home because he thought I would like it.  I did.

This was scandalous in 1958.  But mom and dad thought it was cool.  And so did I.

I later wore it to my Wednesday confirmation class at some really strict (no-name) evangelical church (let’s not say cult, here).

A friend of a friend of my dad’s had recommended this church to him…one dark and story night in a neighborhood bar.

Someone had to have been very drunk at the time for this to have ever been thought to be a good idea.  Again.  Let’s not use the word cult.

I got banned and sent home on my red Schwinn bike because I was wearing lipstick.

I was allowed back to class after a very curt call from my mother who had just shelled out a ton of money for my expensive white confirmation dress with matching shoes.  She had also just prepaid for a confirmation group photo in an oak frame.  My mom was fierce when she was upset…

So…I was allowed to return to the fold…whatever…

But then I brought a nice Catholic boy to a confirmation class hay ride three weeks later and was then permanently banned from class…we were, however, allowed to finish the hayride.

However, the group picture had already been taken and paid for so it looked like I had actually been confirmed even though I had not.

“Screw it,” my dad said.  “We got the picture!”  And it hung ever so proudly in their living room for years.

My mom said she thought she was Jewish anyway…and so that was the end of my formal religious education.

I started using black eye liner in 7th grade but no one cared…

Now…about that costume…a friend of my dad’s…