Chapter 23

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 hadn’t wanted to grow up.

I had recovered from the stroke almost completely…aside from a slight weakness in my left side 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 look so old, Samantha, using that cane,” he had said.

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 the cane?”

I was instantly 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 thoughtfully.  “Yes…I believe I do need the cane…and will probably always need the cane.”

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

And I didn’t.

I filed for divorce on Christmas Eve, 2004…three days after being hit by that truck.

 

 

Chapter 24

The divorce was final in February…so fast when no one cares.

Even daughter Sarah was quick to say, “You should have done it years ago, mom.  Dad was such a jerk.”

The papers came in the mail along with an announcement that Portland High School was going to have an Al Class-All-Year Reunion in August.  Oh…

My mother died two months after my divorce was final.

My dad had died a couple of years earlier…so now it was just me and remnants of their life.

I was told the house would sell quickly if I priced it cheap enough…so I did.  That house held no special memories for me…I just wanted it to be gone.

There was little I wanted so I threw mostly everything out…Stuart had carried a couple of boxes of photos and miscellaneous papers over to my apartment to look through.

I pushed the boxes under my bed.  I was in no hurry to re-visit the past.

It was two weeks before the class reunion and I finally needed to go through all that stuff in those boxes.

I was looking for a certain picture of Melanie and me that my mom had taken on our first day at Portland High School.  Two brand-new little freshman girls with scared stiff smiles on their faces.

It would be perfect for the “Then & Now” board that would be displayed at the reunion.  I was going with Mel since Stuart had bailed.  He hated large gatherings and Mel felt she should go since she was on the planning committee.

My mom had kept so much stuff.  I made a mental note to myself to not keep so much stuff…and then I found the diary…her diary.

She had left her personal daily diary…the one in which she had noted the weather for every day, minor and major illnesses and various appointments….and…

And…in great detail…her plan to do what she could to end the relationship between Bobby Flanagan and me…after we had re-united that hot summer so long ago.

She even had made a check-list of things to do and little boxes that she had checked off as they got done.  It was almost diabolical in its precision.

And tucked between the pages was one single letter from Bobby.

My hands shook so hard as I took that one piece of paper out of the envelope.

It was a heart-breaking letter, where Bobby…just like me…had not understood at all what was happening.

“Please write to me, Sammy!” he had begged…just as I had begged him.

In the letter, he told me he was going to call me…telling me the date and the time.

He promised “he would fix everything”.

“Don’t worry, Sammy,” he had written.  “I love you.”

Of course, I never got that call.

And that night, after reading his anguished letter to me over and over, until tears had all but swollen my eyes shut…I fell into a deep sleep and had that strange, lovely dream where Bobby and I were finally together.

Chapter 25

The next morning, after my call, Mel had rushed over to my apartment.

After a big, loving hug…she asked, “Why did your mom do this, Sam?  Why did she hate Bobby so much?”

I backed away and walked into the kitchen and sat down at the breakfast bar.  I just shook my head.  Mel followed and started water to boil on the stove.

“I don’t know, Mel.  I don’t know.  I think when she looked at Bobby…she saw Victor…”

“Your dad, right?”

“Yes.  My dad was such a charmer…just like Bobby.  I think she thought she was protecting me somehow…”

“Oh, Sam…” said Melanie with so much love in her voice I started to cry again.

“I’ll get us some tea. You’ll feel better.”

We took our tea…and some crackers that Mel had found in the pantry, walked into the living room and sat down on the floor…backs up against the sofa, looking out onto the sunny courtyard outside my apartment window…and watched the squirrels play.

“What are you going to do now? Mel asked after the crackers and tea were gone.

“Do?” I choked out.  “What do you mean…do?”

“Are you going to show that diary to Bobby?  I think he should know the truth.”

Of course, that had been the first thing I had thought too…but then…cold reality had set in and I brushed that thought from my mind.

I hadn’t heard anything about Bobby for years…even though we all lived within a few suburbs of each other.  I had always avoided the shopping center where he and his dad owned their hardware store.

I knew he had gotten married…six months after I married Russ.  But that was all I knew.  That was all I waned to know.  I picked up  the diary, aimlessly flipping the pages.

“I can’t Mel.  I don’t want to cause any trouble…I just…can’t.”  I wiped away more tears that had started to fall.

“But..but” I continued, “he should know, right?”  Know that it wasn’t my fault…to show him the diary…to…to…” I held the diary loosely and then let it fall softly to the carpet.

“I just don’t know…” I murmured…tears falling on my empty hands.

“I have something to tell you, Sam.” Mel said quietly and then she reached over and gently picked up both of my hands…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 26

“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’s been sick…” she paused…and then went on.

“Anyway, when I saw Mike Nordstrom at the first reunion planning meeting in June…you remember Mike, right?  He owns Frankie’s?”

“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 he didn’t know for sure…and…Sam?  Bobby’s a widow…his first wife died more than 15 years ago.”

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

A thousand visions of me and Bobby together again raced through my mind, but I forced  them to the side when Mel returned.

“What’s wrong with Janet?” I asked.

Mel sat down on the floor again.  “Well…we don’t know for sure.  Stuart took her to the clinic today for some tests.  She’s been having dizzy spells…I hope it’s nothing…”  Mel’s voice trailed off.

I reached over and gave her hand a squeeze.  Poor Mel.  I knew how much she loved Janet.

“I’m so sorry, dear.  I’m sure it will be fine.  She a tough old gal.  How old is she, anyway?”

Mel smiled…”She’s ninety-six!  Can you believe that?  And you’re right!  She is tough.”

“But let me finish telling you about Bobby.  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 knew it.” 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 in high school.  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 want to tell me everything.  And he’ll probably want to show them to Bobby…”

“Are you 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 on Saturday 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?”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 27

How would I look to Bobby after all these years, I wondered…looking into the full-length bathroom mirror…instinctively tucking my 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 good for an older woman…even with a cane.

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

Up until this summer, I could almost always keep up with those little squirts…and…get nicely tanned.

My light brown hair was streaked from the sun and I had managed to get in yesterday to get a few extra highlights added…grey was so…grey.

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 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 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 shirt 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, 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 liked to use it when I was out and about… since I could easily hook it over my arm when standing or if I felt like walking without it.

Everything was hanging nealy 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 days ago had been a foreshadow and not just a fantasy.

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 28

The day of the reunion had come and it was 5:00 and time for me to leave.  I had left calls for Mel but had not heard back from her all day.

As much as I wanted to know what she had found out…I didn’t want to push it.  I knew she was staying with Janet.

We were supposed to meet in the entry by the main door.  I had only driven by this place once before…and that had been several years ago…but I remembered that it was pretty swell.  It overlooked Lake Minnetonka.

I took one last look in my hall mirror.  I shook my head slightly…as if to tell myself that maybe…just maybe…this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

You’re playing with fire, Sam, I thought…and then headed out the door.

There was a grand, circular driveway in front of the Merriweather Golf and Country Club and I drove my little Toyota RAV4  right up to the main entrance.

A few people were walking up the sidewalk to the main door from the back parking lot but plenty were also taking advantage of the valet parking…as did I.

Last time we had talked, Mel and I had made plans to drive separately to the club in case she had to leave early.

A very cute young man opened my car door for me, gave me his hand to help me get out and then retrieved my purse and cane which had been laying on the front seat beside me.

Oh, how I wish I could have just said…ever so breezily…”Oh, you can just forget the cane!”…but I knew that would have been a foolish move.

I thanked him and slipped him $20.  He seemed genuinely pleased.  I was glad.

Now all I had to do was go inside, find a chair and wait for Mel to arrive.

I waited for him to drive off and then I looked up at the entrance to the country club.

This was a pretty swanky place to have our reunion, I thought…no wonder the ticket price was so high.

And…then I really looked at the entrance…at the six stairs with no railing that led up to it.  Well.

 

Chapter 29

I hesitated at the bottom of the stairs, and the very nice young man who had already parked my car was suddenly right next to me.

“There’s a ramp off to the side, ma’am.” He said helpfully and then dashed away to park another car.

“Oh…thanks, dear, I’m fine.  I was just…uh…admiring the building…but thanks.”  I said to his disappearing back.

I can do stairs, I thought, if I do them slowly.  I just don’t like to do stairs.

I casually waited until a group of much younger people zipped around me and up the steps.

Then I took a deep breath and slowly and hopefully without attracting too much attention…climbed the six stairs to the front doors…which were being opened for guests by pretty, young girls with welcoming smiles on their faces.

Youth.  You can’t beat it.

I hadn’t been to a class reunion since Mel and I had gone to our ten-year reunion.  It had been such a joke.

How is it possible for so many people to not change after ten years?

The boring, little cliques still existed and had made every possible attempt to be ‘noticed’.  The more liquor they had consumed…the louder they became.

Melanie and I had left early that night many years ago and  vowed never to attend another reunion…ever.  But things change.  Life changes.

I walked over to the official registration table…and offered a friendly hello to…leaning in to read her name tag…squinting a little…ahhh…Pat Duncan (Stokes) it said…

Who was Pat Duncan (Stokes)?  Yes!  Now I remembered…she was a Homecoming queen candidate when we both were seniors and she had married Jerry Stokes…her steady boyfriend all thru high school.

“Hi, Pat!” I said confidently.

“Hi, Samantha Jones.  Glad you could make this one!” she said cheerfully.

I was so surprised.  For a short minute, I thought…had I not changed?  Did I really look like I had in high school?  And then seeing the surprised look on my face, Pat pointed to the “THEN & NOW’ board.

There I saw a current picture of me…and that ninth-grade photo of me and Mel.

“Everyone has been talking about that picture of you and Melanie,” Pat said.  “So cute!”

She handed me a name-tag.  It said…Sam Jones (Alison)

“Thanks, Pat.” I said politely, taking the tag from her.  I saw no reason to mention the wrong name on the tag.

I walked over to the side of the main entry, casually threw my name tag in the trash, pulled out a chair from a small table and sat down to wait for Melanie.

So far I would give this class reunion a C+.

I hooked my cane and purse over the side arm of the chair and leaned back to wait.   At least I had a good view of who was coming.

Everyone looked so festive…I had my own private ‘red carpet’.

Then my cell phone rang and three people near me almost jumped out of their skin…frowning at me big time.

Oh, crap!  This morning I had turned my cell up as loud as it could go…with the loudest ring tone I could find.  I hadn’t wanted to miss any of Melanie’s calls today.

I quickly turned the volume off and then I looked at the screen.  It was Melanie.  Oh, this can’t be good…not at this time, I thought.

“Please don’t kill me Sam…I can’t be there tonight!  Janet just had a heart attack and we’re on our way to the hospital!

“We’re right behind the ambulance!  I was with her when it happened, Sam.  It was so horrible!  I can’t talk…I am so sorry, Sam!  I’ll call you later.”

“Mel!  Wait!!  Did you find out if Bob…”  I was talking to a dead line.

Mel had hung up.