Sunday, January 17, 2010

Summer Ends

[The Summer of '69 stories start here.]

Summer ends.

College was coming. I was going to commute to Columbia College for first year. Terri was off to Northwestern. That's in Evanston, just north of Chicago. I had to ask where it was. (What was it northwest of?)

Clearly Terri would not be working at Schoolmaster. Neither would I. I could not say for sure how much work college would be, but people kept telling me it was more than high school. I thought it might not be wise to work weekends like Terri used to do when we were in high school. I told Sue and she was not surprised.

We saw Sue talking to a few students who came by. How she located them I no longer know. They were not familiar customers like I had been.

Last week of August, Nancy showed up. She must have been 16, going into junior year of high school. Two years' difference was a lot then. Blond hair, bangs, cute like a kid is cute.

We were going to be open Labor Day, the only Monday we opened, because it was the end of summer. I agreed to work it.

The day before, Terri sat with me on the porch to eat lunch, while Sue and Nancy were inside.

"I'm not here tomorrow," Terri said. I knew that. In the moment's silence following the sentence I knew what else she meant. She continued.

"This was a really nice summer. It was fun working with you."

"Yeah, I'm glad I took this job." But let's get to vital matter at hand. "Are you working next week?"

"No. I have to get ready to leave. This is it. Today."

"You didn't tell me!"

"I don't like goodbyes. Don't say it. I'm thinking about us having a good summer. Things we did here. It was good, right?"

"Yeah, it really was." I meant it. Pause.

"I wish we had gone into the city again. That was good. I'm glad we did that."

"Me too." My brain was going numb. "There's still Tuesday."

"No, I have to get packed and all. No time."

"I'll miss you, you know." I had to say it.

"Don't say it."

She was determined. We were going to go back in, work the afternoon like it was any other day, and walk out like it was any other day. That was what she wanted. I admit I had no better plan.

It seemed to me we should do something special, but I couldn't think of anything. I like to believe that if I'd known even the day before that this was her very last day, I would have done better. On the other hand I could see that Terri wanted to just make a break for it, walk out, and be done.

That's almost what she did. Sue saved the day. As soon as we closed, she made us stay for a couple of minutes. She said a few words about how good it had been working with Terri, and gave Terri an envelope with something in it. She gave Terri a big hug, and Nancy who'd been there for five days gave Terri a hug, and so, what else could I do? I gave Terri a hug. It was weird. She was a thin thing and I could feel her ribs on her back. Right, that's my big memory there.

"OK, I have to go." Terri did not say goodbye. She gave us a little wave and turned and walked out quickly. I glanced at Sue, who shook her head slightly, like, let her go. I could hear a car leave outside a minute later.

I walked home with my throat feeling a little tight. That was something new. It was the summer of change. I acted normal when I got home. I mean for me.

I worked three weeks more, with Nancy on the weekends. I showed her how to do things. I took her down to the Post Office. Everything reminded me of learning the same things myself only a few months earlier. Nancy seemed about as happy as I had been, too.

And then I was off to college.

I had a plan though. Even though Terri and I had never gone to each other's houses, I knew where she lived. Sue had our addresses and phone numbers on a paper pinned to the wall next to her desk in the office. I had written down where Terri lived and found it on a map.

On Thanksgiving, I went out for a walk. A two-mile walk, each way, which I figured I could manage. What I was going to do when I got there was not actually in this fine plan. I mean, I had no idea.

Anyway things did not reach that critical point. I found the house, but it was dark and there were no cars in the driveway. I had not considered the possibility that Terri and her family might be away visiting relatives somewhere else. Oh well. Best laid plans.

Nothing to do then. I walked back. I was out for about an hour. Did I have a good walk? Yes I told everyone I had a good walk. At least Christmas break was only a month away.

On Saturday I decided to go to Schoolmaster Books. I hadn't gone for a couple of months, not since I quit. I really was busy with school now, but I still could have gone. I just didn't.

Nancy was at the counter. "Hey, Joe, good to see you." She was pretty damned perky, that kid. There was a thing she did with her eyes that made them sparkle for a moment, and she gave me a shot of it. Yeah, college dude and high school junior, you're thinking of things. Didn't happen.

"At least you're still around," she continued.

"You mean Terri? I haven't seen her." I said it as if I'd been in touch with her regularly.

"Oh, I didn't expect her to come back just to see us," Nancy said. This was getting mysterious. Terri had worked with Sue for a couple of years.

"Why not?"

"Well, you know, it's a long way from Chicago." She grinned and said it as if I was teasing her and she was playing along.

"Yeah, but I thought when she came home to see her family, she might come by here."

"Mmmmmm...." Nancy crinkled her forehead and looked sideways and down. She and I realized that I didn't know something important. Out with it. "They moved to Chicago."

Holy Jesus! That's why the house was dark!

"She didn't tell you? That's odd." Even the kid thought it was odd. Terri told her and not me? Or maybe Sue knew and told Nancy. Oh forget it. It didn't matter how Nancy knew.

I said something to Nancy, I don't know what. I was stunned. I had just felt that kick in the gut that reality sometimes has waiting for you. You know the one. What the hell?

Terri really did not say goodbye. As in, I will probably never see you again, goodbye. No wonder she needed time to pack. She had to pack everything.

I walked home slowly. There were kids running around playing football on the Grammar School grounds. I looked at the graffiti under the highway bridge, and at the cracks in the sidewalk, and at the shapes of the trees along the street. I stopped at the top of the hill near my house and listened to the distant sound of the cars on the parkway. I watched little birds picking at the ground near the road. I went down the grade and around to my parents' house. I didn't say anything about Terri.


The illustrations are by an anonymous artist, possibly Marie Honore Myers, from two small books: Each in His Own Tongue by William Herbert Carruth, published by Wise-Parslow, New York, 1925, and Just You by Elizabeth Gordon, published by Algonquin Publishing, New York, 1925, both credited to the P F Volland Company.

Next time: Twenty Ten.

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