That’s right. It’s class reunion time again. These events come around so fast these days, it’s like speed dating. The years are passing rapidly now. It seems like I was looking forward to my 20th just a short time ago. Now, I’m dreading the approaching 50th. So, one more time, I’ll sign up, send in the $50 and try to find a blazer that looks like it fits me in some way. Maybe a tight belt will do the trick on the few extra inches at the waist.
I don’t dread seeing my old classmates. Forget the teachers, most of them are gone now. Sometimes I feel like I should be gone too. But once I get to the Elks Club hall, people will know where to find me. I’ll be sitting near the cash bar on my favorite chair…the one I have claimed for the last thirty years. Here’s what I won’t be doing: out there dancing to Chubby Checker and looking just as foolish as I did in 1965. What I will be doing is fingering the twenties in my pocket and drinking the top shelf scotch.
One more thing I won’t be doing is looking happy. My second wife died five years ago so I’ll be going stag. I’m not looking anymore. I’ll also be staring at the Memorial Table from a safe distance. It’s usually on the opposite side of the dance floor, on a table near the stage. I don’t want to see who else left us. Did the guy that sat behind me in homeroom have to get shot to death in Viet Nam? Did the girl (her name escapes me) have to die in her twenties of breast cancer? And what about the childhood buddy of mine that impacted with a large oak tree in his brand new Mustang while going about 85 mph? I don’t want to think about all that.
But if you buy me a double, I’ll gladly tell you the story of the death of my sweetheart while we were in high school (she was just sweet sixteen). I wasn’t showing much promise those days in being good at anything. My grade were slightly below average, but Laura loved me anyway. She really loved me. Her mother was not crazy about her being with me, but she stopped saying much when she realized that Laura and I would go ahead and elope if she kept on about how unfit I was.
We’d been to a dance. They called them “sock hops” in those days. Laura didn’t mind if I looked goofy doing the twist. I had about as much rhythm as a fence post. We were driving home that night with the top down on my ’57 Chevy. Elvis was finally on the local AM station. Too many of us kids complained that they didn’t play the really cool black music, so to buy time to rethink their song lists, they gave us Elvis. That was OK with Laura and I.
The trouble started out on River Road. We were just tooling along when the engine began to skip and make strange clanking sounds.
Shit, I thought, I was going to have to haul the block out again and check the gaskets. We were approaching a railroad crossing…we’ve been there hundreds of times but the engine started shaking. We made the wide curve that led to the crossing. It was too rural to have wooden poles drop while the train passed. No, there was clear roadway over the tracks.
Just as we approached the intersection, I heard it. The distinct howl and nasal blast of the whistle. You probably guessed it already. We stalled right there on the crossing. The train was approaching from the west which meant the engineer had limited views ahead…and not enough time to pull the stop cord.
Believe it or not, neither of us panicked. We had a full 45 seconds to casually open the doors and get the hell out. Which we did.
We stood, motionless and holding hands while the train bore down on my beautiful car. And then, to my horror and absolute shock, she broke free of my hand and ran back to the car, yelling “Wait, wait!” It didn’t take a genius to see that her getting to the car and the impact of the train were going to happen at the exact same second. I took a step forward and then closed my eyes when I heard the explosive crash of a locomotive against the side of a two door car. It was over in moments.
I told my story to the police and watched in dumb silence as the hearse pulled away. There was no need for an ambulance. The police drove me back home. As we pulled away, I looked out of the back window at the unmoving train, blinking red lights and a mangled mass of steel that was once a’57 Chevy
Yes, I’ll have another double. That’s the way it went, sort of. I still have my secrets, though. The police told me that she had my high school ring clutched in her hand, tight.
Private secrets. No, another double won’t get me to tell you my secret. The strange thing that happened that night that, somehow over the years, led me to this chair is going to to stay with me and me alone. I see you’ve heard enough. Good night, my friend.
Because I’m sick and my days are numbered, I’ll reveal that dark puzzle to you and to you alone. You must promise you won’t tell anyone until well after I’m gone, and when I say gone, I don’t mean tonight. I mean to the plot next to Laura’s.
You see, it’s never been explained WHY she wasn’t wearing the ring that night. Why did she have to go back for it? I must confess, I don’t remember whether she was giving it back to me or I asked her to return it. I don’t even know what happened to it. I had always supposed that she was buried with it…but I really don’t know. So, I guess it’s not really a secret then, since I don’t know the answer. I just don’t know what it was she was looking for that night.
It was gold and had a green stone with an image of an Indian on a horse with his arms outstretched. 1965 is engraved around the green stone.
If you find it, let me know.