by Steve Joos
An updated version of a longer piece about two reunited adolescent sweethearts.
|A sense of sadness and frustration dogged Richard Davidson as he woke up one summer morning.
The same combination of nostalgia and the coulda-woulda-shouldas haunted the twenty-eight year old man as he contemplated the ceiling of his sister’s guest room. He was thinking about her again.
Why now? Why after all these years did the memory of his first crush still run through the mind of Richard Davidson?
Where was she? Did she marry? Would he recognize her? And she him?
There were also the memories, of two middle school adolescents making eyes at each other (what else could they do?) for a fleeting moment almost 15 years before. The same affectionate grin crossed Richard’s face as he recalled those days, but they were usually followed by sadness over the missed opportunities and the way it all ended. Two high school nobodies pulled apart and sent on their separate ways in that teeming teeny-bopper warehouse known as Baylor Heights High School.
Oh, but they were number one in the state in football. They won this championship and that academic honor. Oh but this and that.
And they seemed to do everything they could to keep Richard Davidson and Melanie Beck separated, or so it seemed.
Baylor Heights killed Richard’s innocence and love life. His school spirit was collateral damage.
Why did her memory invade his vacation? How did it follow him on vacation?
Maybe it was the sad songs he’d heard on the oldies station piped into the antique auto museum he’d visited his first day at Stan and Leslie’s.
Or possibly it was his sister’s latest stab at match-making, which tended to have the same result. Leslie finds one of her single friends, invites Rick, invites her and she shows up right on time—with her new fiancée.
Just as well, the slightly heavy-set man with most of his dark hair intact thought as he clumped downstairs to the shower and then breakfast. He wasn’t in the mood for strangers.
“What are you going to do today?” Leslie asked as Richard munched on cereal and fruit.
“I thought I might go into Chicago,” was the reply. “I’d kind of like to go through the new broadcasting museum.”
Vacations had always been something of a saving grace for Richard, three months away (more or less) from a teaching job which had become as depressing as it was rewarding.
He loved sharing his knowledge of history and government with his middle school students, but the school culture was starting to affect him emotionally. Richard was known as Mr. Undertaker for the way he approached his eighth grade students’ transition to Groveland High, which while considerably smaller than Baylor Heights during Richard’s school days, was still a high school and one which shared a conference with the fortress of evil at the intersection of College and Northwoods Road in Baylor Heights.
Groveland also had a big school mentality, which was a source of flashbacks for the owlish young educator, who took well to teaching, but not the social aspects of the job, even if he was at the junior high.
You knew when high school orientation was scheduled because Mr. Davidson seemed to act like his charges were all the doomed, crossing the yard to their executions. When the last day of classes neared, Richard would stop the partying momentarily and have has class form two lines and then shake hands with each other and say goodbye, no matter how they got along during the year. He’d actually gotten in trouble for helping the class lovebirds exchange contact information so they could stay in touch over the summer one year.
He would work sporting events with little trouble, but dances? Not so much.
Why did he feel this way? Richard had never been happy in school, but between a need to support himself while trying to be a writer and a lack of opportunities for history buffs landed him in a classroom. He loved the kids he taught, but the baggage from Huff, Cimarron and Baylor Heights was sometimes too much to bear, especially when it was repeated by a different, more contemporary group at Groveland.
But most of all, it was because Richard could look out at his classes and still see himself in the back of Mr. Dewitt’s social studies room at Cimarron, winking at Melanie Beck. She’d blink back at him.
Melanie had been just another girl in Richard’s class until the day he slapped goofy nicknames on her and her best friend, Patty Williams. Midway through that fateful Wednesday, their eyes met and Richard dropped an eyelid in her direction. She smiled and a brief but beautiful story began. Richard had been reliving it ever since, wishing that somehow things would have been different and that Melanie Beck would today be Mrs. Richard Davidson.
Richard’s less-than-sunny attitude towards high school got to be too much two years earlier and he found himself looking for a different line of work. Enter Junction City Press, a small publisher of children’s books, where he had just been promoted to junior editor. No, Richard didn’t have any children of his own, but he had two nephews and a niece, along with two former classmates in the front office.
A few hours earlier in an apartment not far from the Norris residence, a woman about Richard’s
age with short dark hair twice slammed on the sleep switch of her clock radio.
“Shut up Wally!” Melanie Beck growled at the radio. “I don’t care how wonderful people are. I just want to roll back over and sleep!”
She methodically prepared for another day of sifting through insurance claims while working to help computerize the Great North Central Insurance Company after it relocated to Chicago from downstate.
For Melanie, life had been an adventure—sort of. She followed her older brother into the Navy and learned how to be a computer technician, which paid off when she returned to civilian life.
On the other hand, she had to scramble to make a commuter train each morning and ride into the big city, where she became lost in one of those windows on the upper floors of a Loop office building.
“I mistered out of the Navy for this? “ She thought to herself while hitting the drive through for a cup of coffee.
Melanie had even soured on ex-athletes and sailors after her last two relationships, one of them with an old BHHS grappler from her graduating class. Both guys left her for younger women.
So here she was, a single girl trying to make it in the big city, quickly maneuvering her blue Honda Civic into a parking spot at the downtown METRA station.
It was close to noon when Richard pulled his white Mercury into a spot right next to the Civic. Camera case in hand, with his wallet in his front shirt pocket on advice from his sister, he entered the station, bought his ticket and like an adolescent traveling alone for the first time, took the train into the City of the Big Shoulders.
As he rode the train into the Windy City, Richard reminisced a bit about how he went from teaching to editing manuscripts about a much idyllic like than his. Linda Heinie first recognized him, then showed him to an adjoining cubicle.
“Hey Laurie!” she exclaimed to a slight blonde-haired woman working there. “Do you remember Rick Davidson? Rick, this is Laurie Springer, one of our bookkeepers. Do you remember Rick from school? Now we’ve got an editorial assistant for historical books!”
Richard smiled meekly as he thought about how his current job started, then returned to his regrets, mixed with concerns over how he was going to get to the museum and how he was going to get back.
And he thought about Melanie.
Watching people board and depart the train, observing husbands and wives saying goodbye as they went about their daily tasks, he thought about her. He had chances to catch up before, but passed. Hearing about her fantastic husband and wonderful kids would be too much for Richard to bear.
Everybody has moved on, he thought. Why can’t I?
“So you’ve never been on a date?”
“Nobody around I wanted to ask out.”
“Can you dance?”
“Nobody around I wanted to dance with.”
“Kissed a girl or, you know, you know?”
Richard shook his head.
“Nobody around you wanted to uh, do that with?”
Melanie became even more curious.
“You know Richard, I find it rather hard to believe that a man as handsome and outgoing as you would have trouble attracting a woman," she said. “Surely there was at least one.”
“Well, there was this good-looking brunette I was around sophomore through senior years in high school.”
“She was a happily married teacher,” Richard simpered. “Story of my life. Too old, too young or too married, engaged or dating someone else.”
Each day, someone brought him out to the field. He was an old man who could no longer see, but while the years had taken their toll on him, robbing him of his vision, he still came out each day to mimic old sports announcers and give play-by-plays to imaginary games.
On this day, he was an old Cubs' announcer, calling something that announcer had never called.
"Gabby Hartnett, stepping to the plate. Two out, nobody on, bottom of the ninth and we're tied 5-5," he said, channeling an old Wrigley Field sportscaster. "C'mon Gabby, get something started. Stay tuned, we'll keep you up-to-date on what happens after today and any playoff information as it becomes available. Brown winds and fires. That ball's pretty well hit, deep to left, back, back…. HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY! Gabby Hartnett has just smacked a solo home run over the left field fence and the Chicago Cubs have won the 1938 National League pennant! WOW! What a wallop!"
Richard and Melanie chuckled at the old-timer before looking out on to the field. Melanie spotted a woman sitting next to the old man and sat down next to her.
"I'm Jack's granddaughter," the younger woman said. "Grandpa's eyes aren't that good anymore, but we bring him every weekend. A lot of people like is old calls."
"Whose bats are those over by the backstop?" Melanie asked, a mischievous grin crossing her face.
"They're here if somebody gets a game up."
She walked over to the backstop, picked up a bat, handed it to Richard and then motioned for him to go to the plate. As he embarassingly walked over to home, Melanie went back to the stands and whispered something to the granddaughter, who relayed it to her grandfather.
"Go on, take a few swings," she then called to Richard, who sheepishly complied.
"Joe DiMaggio stepping in, with a runner on and a man out in the eighth," said the old-timer, making like Mel Allen.
"Get a hit Joe," Melanie cooed.
"Wow, there's some brunette down the third base line cheering on Joe," the old man said.
Richard smiled, took a swing and started charging down to first base.
“Aw Marilyn,” he thought to himself. “Do you have to wear the dark-haired wig?”
The couple continued to laugh during dinner and then listening to music at a small cafe in Galena that evening. Richard seemed to feel at ease, smiling and reveling in a feeling which hadn’t been present in years.
“I wish I could take you home with me,” he told Melanie as the two crossed a foot bridge on their way back to the city parking lot. “Can I say that I met the woman of my dreams? If I didn’t know that you were going to be barreling your way back to Chicago tomorrow, I would say yes.”
“Why does that matter?” Melanie asked.
“The distance involved, I guess,” replied Richard, sitting down on a bench under a decorative street lamp. “The uncertainty. Not knowing if you’d be there. All my life, love has been elusive, something which may have been mine for a moment and all too soon, it disappears.”
Melanie sat down next to Richard and moved closer, until they were shoulder to shoulder. Richard noticed and became somewhat giggly, with a blushing laugh.
“Was there ever anyone?”
“When I was very young.”
“Middle school, but we’d known of each other long before that,” Richard sighed. “We were in the same room six out of eight years. Seventh grade, I start looking at her like ‘hey, I might want to,’ but then she says she’s moving. Eighth grade, I make my move and for almost five beautiful months, I was with the little red-haired girl. Well, actually, her hair color was, well, it was like yours.”
“Then what happened?”
“Baylor Heights,” Richard snarled. “In four years of high school, I was in one lousy class with a girl I liked. Freshman home room, with a battle axe of a German teacher in charge and I liked the girl, but not that much. Didn’t matter. We were in different home rooms the rest of the way. Worked with a lot of nice girls in college, high school and at work, but never met one like her.”
Melanie leaned over Richard’s shoulder.
“Didn’t people try and set you up?”
“Usually to someone who showed up already wearing a ring.”
A sense of shock hit Melanie as she looked at the information before her. Not really surprise, but a stunning realization of what she in some ways had expected since that late afternoon on State Street.
She grabbed for the phone and nervously dialed an old friend.
“Hi Joyce!” she said excitedly. “Mel Beck. Long time, isn’t it?”
After exchanging the usual pleasantries old friends share when reconnecting, Melanie then somewhat sheepishly stated the reason for her call.
“Do you remember a kid named Rick Davidson?” she asked. “Yeah. Dark-haired guy from grade school. You think he what? Why do I ask? I think I just spent the weekend with him!”
They now had married names, but Linda Foreman and Laurie Wilson were back in junior high school and engaged in a bit of a nostalgic discussion at the office the next day.
“Cathy Benton,” Laurie said with some certainty.
“Cathy Benton?” Linda replied. “She was my best friend throughout school. What would they have in common?”
“The St. Louis Cardinals,” Richard quipped as he entered the office. “Cathy Benton was a big fan, just like me. Why?”
“Richard, Richard, Richard,” Linda said, following the young editor into his cubicle.
“Linda, Linda, Linda,” was the reply. “What do you need? What do you need? What do you need?”
“The mystery lady from your vacation called.”
“The what from my vacation called?”
“Your mystery lady. She said she found your lost classmate.”
Richard’s eyes bulged a bit.
“The old classmate you had a crush on? We’re trying to figure it out since she called, and we’ve nailed it down to Cindy Elmore, Joyce Buckley,”
Cindy Elmore? Richard blanched to himself. Cue Henry Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk in 3..2..1.
“Melanie Beck and Patty Williams.”
“I thought it might have been Wendy Simmons,” Laurie explained. “But she’s married and living in Colorado now.”
Richard’s mental bemusement continued. What? No Meg Hanson? He thought to himself.
“So come on Richard, give,” Linda demanded playfully. “Who is she?”
An intercom tone came to Richard’s rescue.
“Linda! Line one!”
Richard’s co-workers retreated with a promise that they would find out, leaving him alone with his thoughts for a moment. Double-checking the phone message, he noticed that his mystery lady would call back sometime later. Then he went to the break room for a cup of coffee, one of Joyce Buckley’s schoolyard taunts drifting into his memory.
“Melanie Beck and Patty Williams,” he whispered to himself. “Va-va-va-voom!”