Chapter 6

John and his parents had moved into a big, ranch rambler right across the street from Karla.  He had asked if he could walk me home…I lived about six blocks away.  Of course, I said yes.

“But first I want to show you my pet snake, Waldo.” said John.  “He’s super friendly.”

I was not FOND of snakes but I thought John was a pretty good kisser…so I pretended…

We left Karla’s party a little early and walked over to his house.

His parents were playing cards with some of their friends in the living room.

They were all dressed up and soft music was playing in the background.

It looked very elegant…with drinks and snacks scattered around on little side tables.  No one was in costume…

The front door opened right into the living room so when we walked in…everyone immediately looked over at us.

John introduced me.  “Mom.  Dad.  This is Riley.  She’s a friend I met at Karla’s party.  I wanted her to meet Waldo and then I’m going to walk her home.”

His parents rose slightly from the table, as if they were going to come over to us but  then sat back down.

I gave them all a friendly little wave and a smile

No one said a word.  Not. One. Word.  They just stared at us…mouths literally hanging open.

My hand slowly rose to my chest, just to make sure nothing was…you know…hanging out.  Nope.  I was good.

John’s father looked a bit upset…his face was quite red and John’s mom looked a little flustered as well.

Finally, one of the men…obviously more fortified with alcohol than the others…said a little too loudly…

“Well!!  It looks like Johnny and Riley have been having fun tonight…”

John smiled politely at his father’s semi-drunken friend and looked down at me…I also smiled and looked at John…and then I really looked at John.

Most of my body powder…if not all…was now all over the front of John’s black Zorro costume.

It was on his arms.  It was on his legs.  His whole fucking body was covered in dark brown powder.  Even his face was streaked with brown powder.

It was fairly obvious that Zorro had indeed been rolling around somewhere with the little Hawaiian girl…

John saw the look on my face and then looked down at the front of his costume.

He just grinned at me and chuckled…like it was no big deal…because…to John…it really wasn’t.

I, however, was so embarrassed.  I pulled at his hand and quickly edged back toward the front door.  There would be no “Waldo viewing” tonight.

I waved a polite good-bye to the adults…only one of whom waved back.

Through the years, as I got to know John, I was to learn that nothing ever really bothered him…which is why…I think…I came to like him so very, very much.

And…from that night on…we were each other’s best friend.

And…I was the only one who would call him…”Johnny”…

Chapter 7

Johnny and I didn’t date each other once in high school.  That full body “kissing/hugging” session on Halloween in 8th grade was it.

From ninth grade on, we were always dating other people.  Event though there was a strong connection between us…we never seemed to get together to actually go out on a real boy/girl date.

But during our four years in high school, we shared many classes, activities and lunch hours.

We became fearsome fast friends…talking on the phone almost every night…many times complaining about the girl or guy we were currently dating.

When we got older and had access to cars, we would meet at Ralph’s…the only drug store in Bloomington that still served Lime Phosphates…we were both huge fans.

Our friendship grew even if our love life didn’t.

Johnny was bat-shit smart but hated to study or take notes or pay attention in class.

I would often see him looking out the window at something he found way more fascinating than what the teacher was saying.

But I did study.  And I did take notes…and I easily and with no conscience slipped my very best friend copies of my notes for tests.

Many hours were spent studying together…that is…when I could get him to stop talking to my parents…who adored him…and come into my bedroom where we could study.

But even that was hard.  Johnny would always flop on my bed and gaze up at the twinkle lights I had hung from my ceiling.

“Turn off all the lights, Riley.  I want to see the stars.”

I never argued.  It was no use.  Our study sessions always began with us laying side by side on my bed…looking up at “the stars” in total darkness.

Then we would talk…about anything and everything…as long as it did not have anything to do with algorithms or cell structure.  Maybe later…we would study.

Sometimes I had to take his face in my hands and make him look at me, to get him to pay attention and listen to what I was trying to say to him.

He would smile and say, “Tinka.  You have the prettiest eyes.”

Tinka was his pet name for me…I had no idea why…but Johnny said, “One day, Tinka, I will tell you…”

And then he would  try to kiss me and of course I was always dating someone else so I would laugh and push him away.  But sometimes…sometimes I wouldn’t always want to…

“Johnny!!!  Pay Attention!!  Do you want to graduate with honors or not?  Your dad will kill you if you don’t…you now that, don’t you?”

And then, and only then, would he listen…at least for a little while.

He was very careful about what his father thought of him.  It was so important for Johnny to impress him.  I don’t think his father ever knew that…

Chapter 8

Johnny and I were both atypical National Honor Society members who…along with twenty-four other ‘more normal’ kids went to Chicago one month before graduation for our 3 day, 2 night senior trip.

We basically just hung out together…just the two of us…because the other kids avoided us…we were like “the bad boys of NHS.”

We tried to get the room assignments changed so we could share a room…but no one was on board with that.

We were just friends, after all, so we didn’t see a problem…our advisor, however, didn’t agree.

Both of us smoked like chimneys so there were many very ‘intimate’ moments in the train’s tiny bathroom…sharing cigarettes…

There was also very little sleep that weekend…and sometimes it was nice to put my weary head on Johnny’s chest.

And…even nicer when he would put his arm around me and say, “Little, tired Tinka,” and kiss the top of my head.

One day, we ditched the other kids and went to the Lincoln Park Zoo instead of the ‘scheduled’ trip to the Art Institute of Chicago.  It was a  beautiful day and we wanted to be outside.

We ate hot dogs and ice cream and smoked two packs of cigarettes.

We tried to get this young guy with really long hair to buy us some beer at a liquor store we had scoped out…but that didn’t fly.

We thought we were so daring…

We thought we were so much cooler than the other kids.  We really weren’t.

The other kids thought we were just plain nuts.  We probably were.

Then one month later we were throwing our mortar boards into the air at the graduation ceremony.

“Let’s keep in touch this summer, Riley.” Johnny said and kissed my forehead…I was dating some jock at the time…who was hovering nearby.

“Call me anytime, Johnny and we’ll do something.” I said and I reached up to kiss his cheek.  He was dating some blonde bombshell from Richfield…also hovering.

“Done.” He said.

But…summer flew by…and even though we talked many times on the phone we never got together.

 

 

Chapter 9

Johnny took his full ride scholarship to the private and very expensive Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

He had moved into an older one-bedroom apartment on Goodrich Avenue.  He said he liked it because of the big windows that over looked the tree-lined street.

Johnny’s parents were bankrolling his apartment rent.

Plus they were giving him a monthly allowance as a reward for “studying so hard” in high school the he had earned a scholarship.

“They should be paying me!” I had half-heartedly complained to Johnny when he had told me about his windfall one day while talking on the phone this summer.

Johnny had paused…

“Yes…that may be true…but, Riley, I am a GENIUS….you know.”

He always jokingly bragged about his I.Q.  It was like 152 or 160 or something nutso high like that.

“Yes…” I replied slowly. “But…I read somewhere…there’s a fine line between being a genius and being crazy…you know…JOHN!”  He hated it when I called him John and I laughed and hung up the phone.

I was going to go to the University of Minnesota and living at home with mom and dad to save money.

I was waiting to hear if I had secured the highly sought after “weekend popcorn girl” job at the Campus Theater.  I needed the extra money.  My student loan hadn’t kicked in yet.

The pay was really good and you could study during the movie…and eat as much popcorn as you wanted…and butter.

Johnny and I had tried to talk every day during the summer and then when school began…it was harder.

College life was different.  So much time…and yet…so little time.

We didn’t actually see each other for almost five months.

But then…one night at a ridiculously drunken party…in a ridiculously crowded tiny apartment in Dinky Town near the University of Minnesota campus…

“Johnny!  What are you doing here?  Are you slumming?”  I said…and put my arms out for a hug.

“Tinka…give me a kiss.”  And I did.

Both Johnny and I got blind drunk and were not dating anyone else…so…

It seemed appropriate…and about time.

It was a ratty little apartment but it had one bedroom with a door that locked…and we locked it.

 

 

Chapter 10

When I look back now…I think I truly fell in love with Johnny Taylor at that 8th grade Halloween Party…and never really fell out…

He agreed…but then…he always agreed with me.

Within a week, I had moved into Johnny’s apartment.

It was like we had been together forever.  Everything fell so easily into place.  There was a bus line that went right down Snelling Avenue to the East River Road and into the U of M campus…no one wanted to drive a car to the U. if there was some other way.

I got a job as a waitress at Pierre’s Pizza, just a short one-block walk from our apartment and my student loan had kicked in so I could quite my other job as…

Yes, I had gotten the weekend popcorn girl job!  Even after only a couple of weeks I knew I was going to miss that butter  I mean…popcorn.

Johnny, who had been close to failing ALL of his classes, cleared his mind, stopped partying and began to study…and not just to please me…but to please himself…to please us.

When we weren’t being in love, making love, working or studying, we spent every minute doing whatever we could to protest the Vietnam War.  We marched.  We made signs.  We went to meetings and protest rallies.  We wrote letters.

But still…more and more young men were coming home in body bags…shown in full color on CBS news.

Every night there was  footage…showing young men…somewhere in Nam…either bleeding from wounds or shooting at the enemy.   It was horrible to watch.  But I felt I owed it to every soldier to do so.

One night…as we were drifting off to sleep…Johnny, holding me close to him as he did every night, softly whispered.

“I don’t think I could ever kill anybody, Riley.”  And then…even softer…

“I don’t want to…”

 

Chapter 11

Around the middle of June, Johnny got his Order to Report for Induction.  He had been drafted.

“What about your student deferment, Johnny?   What about that?” I cried.

Johnny sat at our kitchen table, shaking his head.

“You know, before you moved in, I remember taking this test…it was some kind of draft test…I don’t know…I didn’t pay that much attention.”

“I had been out the night before…didn’t get much sleep before taking it…I was a little hung-over…”

He looked up at me sheepishly.

“I should have had you there, Tinka, slipping me notes…”

I frantically paced around the small kitchen as Johnny sat holding the letter in his hands…looking at it in total disbelief.

“I never really thought it would happen.” He said quietly.

“I think I have about two weeks before I have to report.”  He looked again at the letter and let it fall to the floor.

I picked it up and tore it in half.  Then I tore it in half again.

“NO!!!!  You’re not going!!!  I won’t let you go!” I shouted.

“There must be something we can do!  We’ve got to do something!  Wait!!!  Why can’t we get married, Johnny?  They don’t take married men, right?” I said.

That deferment ended last August Riley.  Apparently, Johnson needs the wisdom of the married man.” He said sarcastically.

“Canada….we’ll move to Canada.  Lots of boys are doing it, Johnny.  We can do…”

Before I could finish, Johnny was holding up his hand and shaking his head…

“My dad would disown me, Riley…and forbid my mom and Alec from visiting me. ”

I knew how close Johnny and his mom were and Johnny loved his little brother so much.  Alec was just two years younger than Johnny…and he idolized him.

“You know how my dad feels about “duty and service to country”.  He said glumly.  Both Johnny’s dad and grandfather had served in the Army…and both during war time.

“If I went to Canada, I wouldn’t see my mom or Alec ever again, Riley.”

“Well if you die in some fucking rice field in Nam…you won’t see them ever again either…will you!!!!” I screamed at him.

 

Chapter 12

At the airport…Johnny held me in his arms as tears poured down my face and my body shook with sobs.

“It took so long for us to find each other…” I cried.

“Please don’t leave me, Johnny!!  I will die without you!!  I will!  I will die!”  And my voice rose…causing others nearby to look away from the painfully sad couple…

Johnny pulled back…and took my face in his hands…as I had done to him so many times in high school…but this time he was forcing me to listen.

“I will never leave you again, Tinka…I promise!  When this year is over…I will come home to you and we will always be together.  I promise you.”

And then he kissed all the tears from my cheeks and held me so tight I could hardly breathe and then…before one more second passed…he quickly turned and walked away.

One year later…Johnny Taylor came home…as promised.

Fucking Amen.