“Remember Me?”

By

Tina Nelson

 

I THOUGHT IT WAS ALL OVER.

I THOUGHT THAT I COULD COME HOME…

I WAS WRONG.  DEAD WRONG.

Prologue.

Fall in Minnesota.  Summer was gone…finally.  I hate summer.  I always have.  Too much sun.  Too hot.  Too many bugs.  And now…unfortunately…too old to wear really  cute sun tops…sigh..

November on the other hand, is the perfect month.  The sun hardly ever shines and when it does, it’s weak and getting weaker…almost dying…I’m okay with that.

The wind is chilly but not piercing…not yet anyway.  November here is just like November in Winnipeg, Canada.  I love Canada.

I lived in Canada for many years…beginning in 1969…yes…that date is correct…and whatever you want to wonder about that…go right ahead.

It makes no difference to me.  I am way beyond that.  But here is something you don’t need to wonder about…because it is true.

The Vietnam war was a horrible and tragic  mistake.

And…more than 58,000 young boys and men lost their lives because of that mistake…and one of them was my very best forever friend,  Johnny Taylor.

I met Johnny at an outrageous Halloween party in 8th grade.

From that night on, he was my only true friend in so many ways and later became my forever friend and then…my ever so sweet and delightful lover.

Johnny didn’t die in Vietnam…oh, he was there all right.  He was definitely there…for 365 long, brutal, killing days and nights.  He was there for every single one of them.

And then…he came back home…to die of a heroin overdose…in my arms…in the back of a speeding ambulance with me screaming into his beautiful, unseeing brown eyes.

“YOU CAN’T DIE!!  YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME!!  YOU PROMISED YOU WOULD NEVER LEAVE ME AGAIN!  YOU PROMISED!!!”

It was 1967.  He was 19.  I was 18.

Fucking Amen…

 

 

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 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 5

“No trick or treating!!” shouted my dad when he was told of the “new Halloween rule”.

“Has everyone gone mad?” he exclaimed..

“It’s a terrible idea!!!  Riley’s just a kid…she’s only 9…10…how old are your, darlin’?” he said turning to me.

“I’m thirteen dad and Karla’s having a swell costume party instead and I’m really looking forward to that!”

I gave him a huge supportive smile…because he seemed to really need it.

The next day he came home from work with a telephone number and an address he got from a guy he knew…who knew of a professional costume shop in Minneapolis.

My dad always knew a guy…or at least a guy who knew a guy.

“We’ll get you something really spectacular, Riley.  So…you won’t be so sad,” Dad said.

“I’m not sad, dad.” I said.

Mom just smiled and put three Swanson chicken TV dinners in the oven…they were her specialty.

After dinner, my dad made a phone call to make sure the shop was open.  We all trekked down to this really tiny (read kind of dingy) shop on Washington Avenue.

The costume shop was for adults…it’s okay to let your mind wander here…

I think he sold some other stuff as well…anyway…he had told my dad over the phone that he would give him a good deal…my dad loved a good deal.

Because I was thirteen and…you know…kid-short, I only had 2 choices of costumes.

A clown costume with blue and white baggy pants and red shirt…and a re-usable red ball I could pop on my nose…OR…a Hawaiian Dancing Girl costume–tin of dark brown body powder included with rental price.  The clown costume was really never even considered.

The night of the party, it took my mom over an hour to cover my exposed skin with  the dark brown powder but when she was done…I looked…like an 8th grade girl in a Hawaiian Dancing Girl costume…that was a  little too skimpy…but…

“Oh, what the hell,” said my mom…putting some more powder on my ‘chest’.

My dad gave me two thumbs up.

“You look great, kiddo.  Very…Hawaiian.”  He sounded so proud.

I don’t know if he was proud of the way I looked, proud of the costume itself or proud of the fact that he had indeed gotten a good deal.

He then leaned in to give me a big hug.  He pulled away and the front of his white tee-shirt was streaked all over with brown powder!

“Holy Crap!!” I said…not quite horrified.

My parents just laughed…and told me…”don’t go hugging anyone tonight!”

I thought…well, okay.

Do you remember Chapter 3…and my “Seven Minutes in Heaven”…with John Taylor and his black Zorro costume…many, many times?

Good memory.

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.