Chapter 16

A few days after Johnny’s funeral, I marched with about 5,000 other protesters down Summit Avenue from Macalester College to the St. Paul capitol.  There were a lot of speakers that day on the capitol steps and they were all very angry.

President Johnson had just announced a new troop deployment to Viet Nam.

He had earlier ‘leaked’ to the media of a withdrawal of troops, something he often did to appease the war protesters…but the ‘withdrawal’ was just another wretched lie that would send more heart broken families and friends to grave sites over the next days, weeks, months and even years.

As frustration with the war increased, protesters were becoming more militant.  But they were passionately against the war…and that was all that mattered to me.

I was hurting and I needed to do something.

I needed to do more to help end this horror…to stop more young men from coming home in black body bags.

Johnny was gone…he would never hold me in his arms again…never!  I could not get past my sadness…I missed him so much.

I wanted everyone to know the anguish and pain that this stupid war was bringing to thousands of people like me.

I wanted everyone to know and to care and to do something…

I wanted the pain to go away…

I wanted Johnny back.

Chapter 17

It would be only a little over three years and then Bobby would be out of the Navy.  It didn’t seem like a very long time at all.

I had become part of the adult world.  I understood time better now.

I had a full-time job.  I bought my own clothes.  I paid for my own car insurance.  Granted…I still lived at home…but it was so cheap.  I did give my parents a few dollars each month for rent.  I was such an adult.

And…I was wonderfully in love with Bobby Flanagan…and he was in love with me.

Of course, I would wait for Bobby…gladly wait for the one…the only one…who could chase away the shadows, banish that lonely feeling that had haunted me for years and make me laugh until I cried.

Of  course, I would wait for the only one who could bring me pure joy with just one look, one touch, one kiss.

Of course, I would wait.

But then I didn’t.

Chapter 18

Those two weeks with Bobby had been unbelievably wonderful.  I had taken time off from work so that we could be together…much to the displeasure of my mother.

“I see he’s already a bad influence on you, Samantha.” she said coldly.  She knew I had taken vacation time but that made no difference to her.

Bobby talked a lot about life aboard ship.  He really loved the Navy…and I wondered how much he had missed me before…how hurt he had been when we broke up…he never said.

Even when I had told him that I had never really stopped loving him…he didn’t say the same to me.  Had he stopped?

He never really talked about “us” and what would happen when he got out of the Navy.  He seemed to shy away from that.

I was a little scared  now…scared to say too much…scared I would be hurt again…better to wait and see.

What if…what if he didn’t love me when the three years were over?  What if I was just someone he had wanted to connect with when he was home on leave. 

No…no…  That couldn’t be true…not Bobby.  He did love me…I was sure…I was so sure.

But always in my ear was my mother’s voice…warning me over and over…telling me that Bobby wasn’t right for me.

Sam still did not know how much Bobby loved her because he too, was scared of being hurt again and so…and so he had not told her that life without her would be impossible.

Still so young and after having his heart seemingly ripped out after losing Sam before, Bobby was still unsure…still dared not to tell her she was his life…now more than ever before.

Dared not to tell her that he could not bear the thought of losing her…that it would destroy him.

Dared not to tell her that her smile not only brightened his day…it brightened his whole world.

Dared not to tell her that every night he made plans for their future and went to sleep with a grin on his face…thinking of them being together.

How could Samantha Jones have known all of that, if Bobby Flanagan had not dared to tell her?

She could have known, would have known… if she had been able to real all of the letters he had sent to her the first weeks back aboard ship…not just the quick, first note he had written to tell her that his ship would be sailing to Japan.

If she had been able to read all the letters where he finally dared to open up his heart and tell Sam she was his life and always had been from that first, cold, November day so long ago…and that he loved her beyond all else.

In those letters, Bobby tells Sam that he’s sure he can get special leave so that they can get married even before he gets out of the Navy…”soon, very soon, Sammy”.

He tells her he is now looking forward to working with his dad at the hardware store.  He says, if she wants, she can start looking for an apartment for them and…and…so much more.

He goes on and on about their future…their future together.  Bobby has plans and he hopes that she does too…and can’t wait to hear from her.

But…he never does.

 

Chapter 19

Oh…the unbridled power and force of a mother’s love…right or wrong…

She takes you to the doctor for vaccinations…knowing it will hurt for a bit…but it is the right thing to do.

She makes you eat good food even if you don’t want to…because it is the right thing to do.

If you run out into the street, she swats your behind and gets so very angry at you…because it is the right thing to do.

And then…she takes the letters from the one person you love with all your heart, reads them and burns them…so fearful that you will end up just like her…with a husband who has made her life miserable with his drinking and carelessness.

She volunteers to mail your letters to Bobby for you…but instead reads them and then burns them as well.

She plans for you to be away from the house when she knows that a desperate Bobby is going to call…because she has read that letter too.

She tells Bobby Flanagan when he calls…that “I’m so sorry, Bobby, but Samantha doesn’t want to see or hear from you ever again.  I am so sorry.”  And she makes sure he believes her…because that is the right thing to do.

But…she does let you read the last letter you will ever receive from Bobby…because she has already read that letter and knows how full of anger it is.

And…being the good mother she is…she consoles you when you cry and makes your favorite meal for dinner…because she knows it is the right thing to do.

 

Chapter 21

Two years passed and 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 meeting with Bobby in the 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 simple,  nice 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 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.

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

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

And Mike 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 free unexpected news about Bobby Flanagan…who had been a very, very good friend of Mike’s in high school…and still was.

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.

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

 

Chapter 22

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

She 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 said anything…Bobby told me not to…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 off.  Can we leave before Mike gets back?  I’m done here.”

And three years after 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.

Russ and I got married six months later.  We had a beautiful daughter, Sarah, five years after that, and life went on…as it 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 two aisles over.  He was done checking out and was just standing there…looking right at me…and he was smiling.

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.

 

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.