Something old, something knew
Wednesday, March 7, 1990
“So … how long have you known this Miguel guy?” I asked Cody.
“18 and Life” from Skid Row’s self- titled debut album was playing on the factory cassette player as I slowly drove my white ’86 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z through the university campus.
“Long enough to know that he’s serious about his stuff. Listen, the guy is from Bogota, he’s been here a while and he’s got some tight connections. Last week at a party he let me try some kick ass weed, bro. Best stuff I have ever had in my life, ever had, I shit you not. I thought the top of my head was floating off. You should try it, bro. One puff and you would be a believer.”
“No thanks. I’ll take your word for it.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing.” Cody chided. “Hey! Get ready to turn. It’s right up here, the apartments there on the left.”
I pulled the Dodge Daytona Turbo Z into the parking lot of the apartments, threw the 5 speed shifter into neutral and stomped the parking brake. I nodded towards Cody and the apartments.
“Go on. I’ll wait for you out here but don’t make it too long.” I said.
"You're not coming in?" Cody asked, surprised.
I shook my head.
"Not my thing."
“Bro! You’ve got to meet Miguel! He’s cool!”
“I’ll meet him some other time when you’re not about to buy from him.” I said. “Business is one thing, hanging out is another. I don’t like to mix the two. Get and go. You know my rules.”
“Business is one thing, hanging out is another. I don’t like to mix the two. Get and go. You know my rules.” Cody mimicked in a haughty little child’s voice.
“You know I hate camping out when you’re buying. It’s a bad habit that’s going to get you in the hurt locker one day.”
“Yeah, yeah. It makes you nervous. Look, we won’t be long. We’ll just go in, hang out, talk a little bit, do the deal and leave, okay? I understand that you don’t like camping out on a buy but I don’t like treating people like Miguel like his apartment had a drive thru window. I want to buy from him again so I’d like to get to know who I’m buying from, interact a little, you know. It puts me at ease, it puts him at ease, it makes everybody happy.”
“Except me.” I said flatly.
“Yeah, well, that’s your problem. Come on.”
“Promise me we won’t stay long.” I said.
“Promise.” Cody said, holding up the “hang ten” sign when he meant to hold up the Boy Scout sign.
“And no bullshit!” I added.
“No bullshit. Promise.” Cody said, crossing his heart with his hand.
I ... relented. What the hell … it was only temporary hard feelings and a whole lot of running like hell if it fell through which it had done sometimes before.
“Let’s go.” I said, unbuckling my seat belt, turning the Daytona Turbo Z off and stepping out.
“You're going to like this guy. Trust me.” Cody said, happy that he was getting his way.
I hated baby-sitting mainly because I had to do so much of it lately and I had a funny feeling about tonight … just one of those funny feelings way down low in my soul and I didn’t like funny feelings way down low in my soul mainly because I really didn’t like being reminded that I still had a soul mainly because it was bad for business.
Introductions were made, Miguel had a soft hand shake but other than that he seemed like a nice guy and a really happy host. He also had one of the new 16 bit Sega Genesis game consoles which he and Cody soon were sitting on the couch, side by side, playing Altered Beast on. I watched them play for a while and then grew bored. Even in the arcade Altered Beast had never really been a quarter thief to me. I flipped through the old issue of Time, put it back on the coffee table, leafed through the various video game magazines and got bored again.
It was then that I realized that I was once again babysitting and it looked like I was going to be camping here for a while despite Cody’s claim to the contrary. Thinking back to what he said it might be nice if these kinds of people did have a drive-thru window on their apartments. Pull up, order a bag of premium weed, pay cash, and just drive off … maybe sometimes drive off real fast.I got up and started walking around the apartment, looking at the books in the book shelves, the pictures on the wall, etc. Most of it was of little interest to me other than a purely aesthetical point of view. A lot of the books were in Spanish, some in French, the rest in English. As my luck would have it, the interesting looking ones seemed to all be in languages that I didn’t speak.
I had to admit that Miguel was a pretty cool guy, all things considered. Miguel had long jet black hair pulled back into a ponytail, dark olive skin and striking eyes, really striking eyes and I kept trying to catch him blinking but I don’t think that I could … either he did it so fast I didn’t see it or he just didn’t blink which was kind of eerie, weird and creepy at the same time. His clothes were simple; he wore dark sandals, denim shorts and a hot yellow T-shirt with some New Orleans art event on it. His arms and legs were extremely hairy though it looked like he hadn’t had a bit of facial hair in his life; his looks were child-like, pre-pubescent ... almost like someone took a twelve year old's head.
Miguel seemed really happy, too happy, like he was constipated with smiles. His English was good in dialect and use but he slipped up every now and then to sometimes humorous effect. He drank Coke from a glass filled with ice and smoked menthol cigarettes with a habit of putting the cigarette between his index finger and ring finger rather than between index and forefinger like most people did. He’d also turn his head to the side slightly, tilt his hand to draw smoke and blow it out the opposite side of his mouth from where he held his cigarette, never his nose.
Miguel’s apartment smelled of incense, tobacco, liquor, the tint of weed and old books of which there were a lot of all scattered around along with papers, magazines and old novels. He lived alone in a two bedroom apartment that was cluttered as much as and maybe even more so than any other college student’s apartment that I’d been in. His coffee table held old soft drink cans, overflowing ash trays, a tattered and well leafed through four month old copy of Time, a TV Guide and various video game magazines. If there had been price tags on everything his apartment would have been less an apartment and more a strange little flea market.
I moved on to the pictures on the wall. There were pictures of different people, all mostly foreign, doing various things … events, parties. I looked over the pictures to see if there was anyone that I knew … and that’s when I saw him.
I felt a chill go up my back as I picked up the picture for a closer look to be sure. I was holding a framed group picture of what looked like foreign students and there was this middle aged man, American, going bald, gone fat, gray hair, beard and jovial. The more I looked at him, the more I knew that I’d seen him before and that’s when it hit me. I held the picture up and looked at all of the books on the shelves in front of me. A feeling of deja-vu swept over me as I realized that I’d done this before.
I’d done something like this before.
I’d looked at a picture of a man like this in front of a bookcase like this.
I’d looked at this man in another picture and that had been …
March, 1986 … over four years ago.
Chateau Grand apartments, near the University Mall.
“Marie.” I whispered as my soul did a complete backflip and landed badly on its own.
This man … this same man … had been in some of the pictures in Elizabeth’s apartment and now all these years later here he was again in a picture in Miguel’s apartment. That was either coincidence or not and I had to know who he was. Thoughts of Marie started to fill my mind.
Maybe I could find out what had happened to her.
Maybe I could finally find out what happened to her.
Was she still around?
Could I find her?
Why had she stopped seeing me?
Should I try to contact her?
Would she want to see me, again?
Could we pick things up where we'd left off ?
It had been almost three years since I had seen her last.
I had to know.
“Yes?” Miguel said, not taking his eyes off of the video game action on the screen but leaning his head slightly towards my direction to let me know that he was listening.
“Who is this man?” I asked.
“What man?” Miguel said, still playing Altered Beast with Cody.
I walked over to the couch where they sat and Miguel paused the game. I held out the picture frame and he took it, looked at where my finger was pointed and nodded.
“That’s Sammy Thompson. He was a missionary from a little independent church up in Laurel. I met him through the foreign student program here at the university. Do you know Sammy, too?”
Sammy Thompson … the mysterious man in the picture, the man that I had wondered about for years now … that man finally had a name.
“In a roundabout way.” I said. “Did Sammy have a wife?”
“Ana Camila? Yes.”
That didn't sound right.
“What do you know about her?” I asked.
Miguel looked up from the picture, confused.
“Just a little. She was from Bogota. They met back in 1978 while he was down there and they were married in a church that Sammy helped to start. Ana Camila and Sammy helped me to come to the University here back in 1985. I have a picture of her around here, somewhere …” Miguel said going over to the book case, pulling out a few envelopes and pulling out a stack of old photos.
I took a deep breath as Miguel flipped through the photos, one after the other and then pulled one out. It was the same picture that I’d seen before, in Elizabeth’s apartment. In fact, the next few pictures in the stack were identical to the pictures that I had seen in Elizabeth’s apartment all those years ago. My pulse was pounding in my ears and my head was swimming. I felt like I was falling down Lewis Carroll’s rabbit hole.
“That is his wife, Ana Camila.” Miguel said, pointing to the South American woman who was half the height and half the age of Sammy Thompson.
It wasn’t Marie ...
“Miguel? Did Sammy ever live around here or did he live in Laurel?” I asked.
“He lived around here for many years. He and Ana Camila used to live at the apartments up by the old mall … the place where the ice cream place is ... the University Mall, I believe.” Miguel said, trying to think of the name of the apartments and tapping his finger in the air to help him remember.
“Chateau Grand.” I said aloud.
Miguel snapped his fingers.
“Chateau Grand. Those are the apartments that Sammy used to live at. We played cards there sometimes though only for fun, never for money. At least that is what Sammy said to say to Ana Camila if she ever asked.” Miguel said. “I think he didn’t want her to know the truth. Sammy was a pretty good card player.”
I flipped through the rest of the photos slowly …
“Do they still live there? At Chateau Grand?” I asked him.
“No. No. Sammy is in Bogota now with Ana Camila. When the church he was working with disbanded he decided to go back to Ana Camila’s family to live and they do their called work from there now. Sammy hasn’t been in America in about three years now or if he has then I have not seen him.”
Three years … that would be 1987 … right around the time that Marie disappeared out of my life.
“Did he ever work with a woman, long hair, really pretty? Spoke French and English. About this tall?” I asked, using my hand to indicate Elizabeth’s height.
Miguel’s eyes lit up.
“Elizabeth! She had long legs. Long hair. Pretty eyes but sad eyes?” Miguel said.
Elizabeth? That didn't sound right and I had to be sure.
“Do you have a picture of Elizabeth?” I asked. “Maybe she’s the one I’m thinking of.”
“Hold on. I have a picture of her as well. Somewhere. Let me see.”
Cody looked a little confused, maybe even frustrated, that I had taken our host’s attention away from entertaining him.
“Hey! Are you two going to take turns doing show and tell or are we going to get back to playing the game?” he asked.
“Patience.” Miguel said in the voice a parent uses to caution an unruly child.
Miguel looked up around the shelf, moved some books, pulled a picture frame out from where it had been lying flat on some books and held it out to me. It was dusty but there was a picture of Miguel, several other students, Sammy Thompson, Ana Camila … and Marie.
It was her!
She was wearing that same red strapless sun dress, her Wayfarers were pushed up on top of her hair and her skin was tanned but still lighter than I remembered. Her long legs ended in brown sandals and she had a smile on her face.
I tapped the picture of Marie.
“Is that Elizabeth?” I asked.
Miguel smiled and nodded.
She had told me that her name was Marie Rogers. Even now she was a still a mystery.
“She went to the same church that Sammy went to and she taught us French and English every Tuesday night. She helped us with our language studies. She was nice but I do not think she was happy.”
I looked at him.
“Her husband, Robert; he was a lucky man to have her but she was not a lucky woman to have him because he wasn't a very nice man to her. He didn't respect her.”
“In what way?” I asked.
“Robert. He always took lots of trips to different places for his company and he would be gone for days or weeks. Sometimes he would go out of country to Rio and Colombia. He used to take her with him and then he found someone else in the company and started taking her instead.”
“So her husband was having an affair with someone he worked with?” I asked.
“I believe that is what Elizabeth said. Elizabeth was very sad for a while about this. Apparently the woman he was taking with him, instead of Elizabeth, was very young, like twenty. She was half Robert’s age, half Elizabeth’s age, something that made Robert proud I think.”
“When was this?” I asked.
Miguel thought back.
“That was my first year of college here so I’d say it was the fall of 1985 when I met her but I think it had been going on for a while even then. She and I talked a lot, after class at the church. We became good friends. She was a beautiful woman with a sad heart and a lot of tears and I don't think she deserved that.”
I looked at the picture of Marie Rogers / Elizabeth Anderson … one and the same. Chills went up my spine and goose bumps broke out across my arms. After all of these years of not knowing anything about her and here, right now, I was talking to someone who had known her … someone besides me. I had learned more about Marie Rogers / Elizabeth Anderson in five minutes than I’d ever learned about her in the thirteen months that we'd spent together.
I handed the picture back to Miguel and shook my head. Miguel took the picture, looked at it and then at me. A curious look came over his face as he put the picture back up. I went back to the couch, sat down next to Cody, leaned back and just stared off into space.
“Bro! You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Cody said giving me a quick glance before going back to playing his game.
“No, but I think I may have had an affair with one …” I whispered.
“Yeah? When was that?” Cody asked not really caring and not looking up from his game.
“A long time ago.” I said flatly. “Before you and I ever met.”
“So … Is that what you and Miguel were talking about? Ghosts from your past?” he asked, again not bothering to look up from the television screen or the video game.
“Yeah. Someone we apparently both knew years ago.”
“Imagine that. You, running into someone that knows someone you knew. When does that ever not happen with you? Hell, I’m surprised that your theme song isn’t “It’s a small world.””
I smirked, a little.
“And there you wanted to stay in the Daytona and wait.” Cody chided.
I shrugged my shoulders as Cody went back to beating on the controller harder than a thirteen year old boy who had just discovered the art of masturbation. He was making sounds kind of like it too.
“If I had stayed in the Daytona it’s pretty obvious that I would have been spending the rest of the night out there waiting on you.” I said, eyeing Cody with some amount of ire.
“Bro! It’s a Genesis! Sixteen bit processor! Graphics smoother than the inside of a nun’s pussy! This is super fucking sweet!”
“So?” I asked.
“So? It so totally gang rapes your stupid Nintendo!”
“We didn’t come here to play games.” I told him. “We came here to get your stuff.”
“Well, you and Miguel have been talking about someone you used to know. A girl?”
“Not a girl.” I said. “A woman.”
She was my second.
“Girl. Woman. Same thing.” Cody mocked, going back to his game intently.
No, I thought, it isn’t … no, it wasn’t … no, it hadn’t been.
Suddenly I felt antsy, trapped, pressured and I didn’t like that feeling, not in the situation that we were in and not about to do what we were about to do. I wasn’t thinking straight and I was in an environment where I not only needed to be thinking straight but I needed to be quick on my feet as well and right then I felt neither.
I felt trapped.
I felt like something was closing in, something was boxing me in and if I didn't get out I wasn't going to get out.
"We need to go, Cody." I said, standing up.
“Hey! I’m just keeping myself occupied while you two jerk off with your lips or whatever it is that you two are doing with all those pictures.”
“We need to go, Cody. Now.” I said, again, more firmly this time.
It must have been some way that I said it because Cody didn’t argue with me. Like it or not he did what we came to do, we said our goodbyes and I got us out of there. I thought that getting us out of there would somehow make me feel better but it didn’t; it only made me feel worse.
Ten minutes later we were heading over to Cody’s rental house in Oak Grove. His wallet was lighter some green but he had some choice smoke in his pocket. I dropped him off at his place, declined an offer to stay and watch him get stoned out of his mind and started to head on my own way.
“You sure you aren’t going to stay? This stuff is ethereal, bro. Real smooth and soft-like celestial once it hits.”
“I need to be alone. Let me go, Cody. I’ve got some thinking to do, got some stuff to figure out is all.” I told him as I shut the door to the Daytona and manually rolled the driver’s side window down with the crank.
Cody squatted beside the Daytona and held up the plastic bag with the weed in it, swinging it slowly back and forth like it was a pendulum.
“This will help you think.” He said, swinging the bag slowly in front of him.
“If that stuff will make you smarter then you probably need to smoke the whole bag tonight and the sooner you start the better.” I said flatly.
“I said it’ll make you think … I didn’t say it would make you smarter.”
“Well, you’re certainly living proof of that.”
Cody flipped me off, laughed, stood up and stepped back to watch me leave. He had his date for tonight and I guess I had mine …
I drove around Hattiesburg in the Daytona for what seemed like a long while, stoplight to stoplight. I turned the radio on, I turned it off. I put a cassette tape in, I took it out. I found a favorite song on one of my cassettes and listened to a minute of it then cut it off. I ran the air conditioning until I felt that I needed some fresh air and rolled the window down until I felt like I wanted the air conditioner back on again.
I felt … strange.
I felt fatigued, beside myself, like everything was in a fugue. Something had hit me out of the blue, tackled me blindside.
How many damn names did she have?
More importantly ... who was she?
Who was she really?
Hell, I didn’t know who she was. What I did know was that I had to have some answers. It had been nearly three years since Marie had just dropped out of my life, I’d kept that secret for three years without a word from her and now I wanted answers, I felt that I deserved answers, I felt that there was one person who might have those answers and I intended on getting them tonight, one way or another.
I turned the Dodge Daytona Turbo-Z back towards Miguel’s apartment because that was where the answers were to the questions that I had.
Two hours after we had left I returned, alone, to Miguel’s apartment complex there on 4th Street near USM. I knocked on Miguel’s apartment door. He answered on the third knock, saw it was me and then undid the chain on the door and opened it wider.
“I thought that you might be back.” He said, looking around to make sure that I was alone.
“I need to talk to you.” I told him.
“Getting right to the point. I like that. You had questions about Elizabeth Anderson and now you have more questions about her? Right?”
“Pretty much. Yeah.” I said, nodding.
Miguel motioned for me to enter his apartment and I did. Miguel shut the door behind me and locked it then walked past me, sat down on the couch and invited me to join him which I did. He crossed his legs in a way that men generally don't cross their legs.
“You said her last name was Anderson, that she was married to this ... Robert ... Anderson. Tell me what you know about them, Elizabeth and Robert.”
“Why do you want to know about them?” Miguel asked.
“Curiosity.” I said.
He raised an eyebrow.
“Please?” I asked flatly, no emotion. “I want to know.”
Miguel nodded his head to himself.
“Do you want to know … or do you need to know?”
“Huh?” I asked, surprised at what he had just said.
“You say you want to know but your expression tells me that you need to know. So, do you want to know or do you need to know.”
Right then that wasn’t a hard question to answer.
Miguel nodded to himself again.
“Questions must have answers and answers sometimes don't come cheap.”
"So ... this is a business deal?" I asked him.
"Everything in life is a business deal."
“How much?” I asked, no hesitation.
“How much?” Miguel mused. “How much do you have?”
“I’m willing to pay.” I said.
Miguel smiled a sly smile.
“Ah, but do you have the currency that I am going to ask for? What if I don’t want money or what if I don’t want your money? What then? How will you pay?”
My head was swimming and when I tried to answer my mind failed to connect my mouth to my intellectual drive train and all I got was a missed shift and a skipped gear in my skull. I guess that was enough for Miguel who simply took my silence for what it was and nodded, more to himself than to me.
“I believe that you're willing to pay and that you'd pay but I don’t want your money. I want something else you have to offer.”
I took a deep breath and thought about that. Everything was for sale but not everything could be bought with money. There were currencies within currencies and I’d realized that a long time ago. I wasn’t sure what Miguel was asking me for but if he knew about Marie and if it was in my power to give him what he wanted then I’d make sure that it was worth his time to tell me what I wanted to know. If not, then there were always other ways of getting what I wanted out of someone … the thought of making him tell me about Marie entered my mind and I wondered if I would be willing to do that, just to know more about her ... about Marie.
“What do you want then?” I asked, not sure what I might have that Miguel would be willing to take in trade for what I was asking for.
“I think I'll work this out in trade. I'll let you ask me some questions and then I will ask you some questions in turn. That's my price for what you want to know. Some questions and some answers for some questions and some answers. Do you think that's fair?”
It was a better deal than I had imagined … or been expecting.
“Sounds fair enough.” I said and right then it did because I had been willing to pay Miguel hard cash for his answers … and I realized that I might have even been willing to beat those answers out of him if he hadn’t been willing to sell them or tell them.
It was Marie.
It was Elizabeth Anderson … but who the hell was Elizabeth Anderson?
Miguel knew her by a different name and he knew a lot more about her than I ever had; stuff that I had to know but I was going to have to give up some answers in order to get some of my own. Right then I had no idea what kind of questions he'd have for me ... or the answers he was looking for. Whatever Miguel wanted to know I had nothing to keep from him. Miguel looked at me, studied me for a moment then nodded in his own agreement to our arrangement. He went over, took his glass of Coke with ice and drank. He held his glass by the rim using three fingers and walked back over to me.
“You asked about Elizabeth and Robert.” Miguel said as he spread his hands for emphasis. “I can only tell you what Elizabeth told me because I never met Robert and from what she told me about him, I’m glad that I didn't. She and Robert met … somewhere else, somewhere in Louisiana, I can’t remember, but they went to college together and that’s how they met.”
“LSU?” I asked.
Miguel snapped his fingers silently and nodded.
“That is it. Robert came from a wealthy family of merchant and shipping line owners and Elizabeth had only her father way out in Washington. The state, not the D.C. Her father worked in logging and owned a small timber company I remember her telling me that but he was not a rich man. Sometimes you can work very hard and still not be rich. That was what her father did. He worked very hard and never got rich. Her mother left when she was a little girl, left her and her father for another man. Elizabeth hadn’t seen her mother in a long time and I don’t think that she cared to, either. She didn’t talk much about her mother and when she did it was not with many words or with kind words.”
“Where was Robert’s family from?” I asked.
“Rio.” Miguel said, holding the word out like it was a festival. “Robert came from old money, his grandparents were English business owners who had transplanted there. His grandparents had made a fortune in Rio and come to America to live in the 30’s and they were naturalized citizens here. Robert was second generation natural born American but that is also something that he did not deserve to have.”
Her perfume had come from a small open air market in Rio, I remember her telling me. She said that she hadn’t been back there in a while.
“They got married in 1966 while they were still in college. Elizabeth dropped out of college to work full time to help support Robert when times got tough for his family’s business. After Robert graduated, he took a job with his father’s company which, I believe, had import offices in New Orleans and Gulfport. They lived in New Orleans for a while then moved to Gulfport, then up to Hattiesburg and finally to Laurel in the late 1970’s because Robert ran a lot of the business out of his office in Laurel and flew out of the airport north of here.”
“Did they do much traveling?” I asked.
“All the time, she told me, at first. I believe it was very hectic.”
“What do you mean, at first?” I asked him.
“Robert had to always be going here and there, making new deals, fixing problems with supply contracts and he took her with him when he went.”
“When did she stop traveling with him?”
Miguel raised his finger and wagged it like he was jarring a memory loose.
“Elizabeth wanted to go back to college and get her degree. Her father had worked hard to save up so she could go to college and she had dropped out to put Robert through college when his family’s business hit hard times and she had used her college money instead to put Robert through college. Now, with the company doing well again she wanted to go back to college and she wanted to go here to USM so Robert paid for her to go back to college.”
“When was that?” I asked.
Miguel thought back, pondering.
“I came here in 1985 and she had graduated many years earlier so maybe I want to say that she finished college in 1979? 1980? I may be wrong.”
“Let me see that picture again, please.” I said.
Miguel brought the picture of Elizabeth / Marie back out and handed it to me. I looked at the picture of Elizabeth / Marie. She was beautiful. Thoughts of her came rushing back, her body next to mine, her scent, her breath fast and hot in my ear, her fingernails digging into my back and scratching deep … That’s all I had of her, memories, but this man, Robert, he had what I had and the rest of her as well right down to a ring on her finger.
“You seem to know a lot about her.” I said.
Miguel shrugged his shoulders.
“She told me a lot about her life. I know her story. We talked a lot, after church.”
“What happened between them?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” Miguel asked.
“You said she was an unhappy woman with a lot of tears and that Robert didn’t deserve her. That covers a lot. What happened?”
“You are asking a lot of questions about someone you didn’t know.”
Before I could stop myself I had cut my eyes at him, hard and I guess in doing so I gave him an answer to a question he hadn’t decided to ask yet.
“Or maybe … it’s that you ask a lot of questions about someone that you did know?”
I didn’t say anything, just stared at the picture of Elizabeth / Marie.
“I knew her.” I said softly, tapping my finger against her picture. “Yeah. I knew her all right.”
“I think you did. I truly think you did.” Miguel said in an equally soft voice.
“Tell me about them.”
Miguel took another drink of his Coke and crossed his legs.
“I'll tell you what I know and that is what I know from what she told me. Robert was a very good businessman and he was good to Elizabeth, very good, for a while. Then the company had some more trouble in the early and mid ‘70’s, I think it was the oil embargo problem, and Robert had to spend a lot of time flying around fixing problems or making deals to keep the company alive since by that time his parents were old and pretty much out of the company and they had left the company to him to manage. It was kind of a sinking ship when he took over.
“So the company was in trouble?”
“For a while then Robert fixed that. Robert was out of the office, a lot, and Elizabeth had to stay behind to run the office for him while he was gone but she wanted to go back and finish up her college.”
I casually waved Miguel on.
“You told me that.” I said, still looking at the picture and Miguel nodded.
“Yeah. Well, when things got better, she told Robert that she wanted to go back to college and Robert paid for her to go to the university, here. Since he needed help with the office and Elizabeth was back in school now all the time, he hired two people, an older man to be his office manager and a young woman to be his assistant … his secretary.”
“So Elizabeth went back to school and Robert hired two people to run the office for him while he was out?”
“The woman he hired had just graduated from the local small college …”
“Junior college?” I asked.
“Yes. Junior college. Sorry. Robert hired her to be his assistant. She was twenty and very pretty, very, very pretty. I think she was better at being pretty than she was at being a good secretary if you know what I mean.”
“I get the idea.” I said.
“Anyway, that's what Elizabeth told me and I don’t think she was being nice when she told me that but it wasn't Elizabeth’s way not to be nice, not in a way that you knew she wasn't being nice I think. Does that make sense … or no?”
I nodded, trying to take it all in.
“What happened to her?”
“Which her?” Miguel asked.
“Elizabeth.” I said.
“Like I said … for a while she was very sad. We could all tell that. Her husband kept taking trips to different cities, different states and even sometimes out of the country and he said it was business and his company paid to fly him and his assistant with him when he went. Elizabeth was always very alone. Robert would be gone for days, sometimes a week, maybe two. This happened often, like many times a month.”
“So, Robert is always flying around all over with a twenty year old assistant and Elizabeth goes back to college and Robert hires two people to run the business? In Laurel?”
“And sometime after that, Elizabeth found out that Robert was having an affair with his assistant because some of the trips weren’t for business even though Robert said that they were for business. She found that Robert was spending company money on presents and gifts for his assistant and helping her live in an apartment and paying for her a car. She didn’t want to believe what was happening at first but then I guess she couldn't fool herself any longer. I don't think that it was nice what Elizabeth told him but she didn’t want to divorce him so she just kind of … accepted Robert and the young girl.”
“That was kind of odd.”
“Elizabeth was between a rock and a hard place. She wanted to finish up college before she left Robert and she wanted him to pay for it. She wanted to be able to get a good job and she wanted to be able to use her experience with Robert’s company to get a job like that. She had given up everything for Robert and she had nothing without him. She knew this and I think he knew this which is why he could get away with what he was doing. Elizabeth told me that she and Robert hadn’t slept in the same bed, or in the same bedroom, and that it had been years since he had reached for her or touched her. He always went to work early and stayed out late. She ate alone most of the time. She had few friends and no one she could really talk to about what was going on in her life. Her father was her only family that she knew and he was way out west. She was very alone. She couldn't share her sadness with anyone because she had no one to share it with so she just kept it all bottled up inside.”
Miguel drank from his glass.
“Elizabeth thought she might find some comfort in a non-denominational church that she had heard about at USM. Laurel is a very old place full of old people who talk a lot, especially about bad things that happen to you. It's better to talk and make fun of other people than it is to try to understand them or help them out and that is how Laurel is or so Elizabeth told me. Elizabeth knew this and Elizabeth wanted to go to some place where no one knew her, where people didn’t know Robert or know people who knew Robert or his family. She wanted to try to find answers to why she was hurting or why her life was the way it was and that’s when she met Sammy and his wife. Sammy got Elizabeth involved with helping students with their language studies at the university since Elizabeth could speak English and French. She tutored the American students in French and the foreign students in English. She was very patient and a very good tutor. I should know. She helped me with my English when I first got here.” Miguel said.
“When was all of this?” I asked.
Miguel thought back.
“All through 1985 and the first part of 1986.” He said. “She was very lonely and very sad and she needed someone to talk to which I guess is where Sammy and I came in. I saw her crying a lot in her car one night and I thought something had happened to her or someone had done something to her so I went and got Sammy and brought him out to her car. He talked to her for a long, long time that night and she did a lot more crying. After that, Sammy and I would stay after Elizabeth tutored the rest of the students and we would all talk for a long time or she would talk and we would listen and try to help her work through what she was going through. After a while, Sammy stopped staying because he couldn’t and it was just Elizabeth and me who stayed after everyone else was gone and we did lots of talking. I didn't like what she told me. I didn't like Robert from what she told me and I don't think that he deserved a woman like Elizabeth.”
I shook my head, silently agreeing with Miguel. It really sounded like Robert had put Elizabeth through some serious emotional crap and for years on end.
“Then in 1986, in the spring, the church we were going to and studying at had some money problems and shut down after that.”
“Money problems?” I asked.
“Money problems is perhaps not the right word. The church lost the lease on the building that they were renting. I think the building owner just didn’t like there being a church in his building, he kept calling it the “weird” church so he kicked the congregation out by not renewing their lease. He told us that he was going to tear the building down and sell the property and that was back in 1986 but I went by there a few weeks ago, the building is still there so I think he lied just because he did not like us.”
“What happened after that?”
“About that time, the old man who had been hired as the office manager passed away, it was very sudden, and Elizabeth had to take over that job. Sammy and Ana Camila started going back to Bogota on mission work around that time, trying to set up some small churches in the areas around Bogota. Sammy would get Elizabeth to look after his apartment, handle his mail and local business for him and keep him up to date on anything going on here that he needed to know about or that required him to make some kind of financial decision. For a while there, Elizabeth was the manager of both the businesses of Sammy and Robert and she was on the road a lot from Laurel and Hattiesburg, both ways. Elizabeth kept her two groups of students going … we met in a room at the Student Union two nights a week.”
Miguel smiled, took a drink of his Coke and pointed a finger at me.
“And that’s the time when Elizabeth started to be happy again.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“She started to be happy again. One Tuesday night she came in to teach us and it was like there was a change in her. She was almost walking on the tips of her toes. None of us knew what had happened but we were glad that it had happened. After that, she liked it when Robert left on his trips. It was almost like she couldn’t wait for him to fly away and stay away. Elizabeth also stopped staying around after she tutored us, she was happy to leave and go … somewhere.”
“Did you ever find out what had made her so happy?” I asked.
“Elizabeth had found someone to be nice to her and I was happy for her because she was very happy and I’d never seen her happy like that before. It was like a new Elizabeth and I liked it. I noticed this and when I asked her what had changed in her life she just told me that she had met someone and that he made her happy. She was happy, very happy, and that was a nice thing to see, being very much different from the sad Elizabeth, I think.”
“How long did you know her?” I asked.
“I knew Elizabeth for two years and then she left and I haven’t seen her since.”
“Where did she go?”
Miguel took another drink of his Coke.
“Her father was not a young man but he kept working hard and I think there was an accident or a problem or something. Elizabeth was very sad again. She told us that her father was hurt very bad and that she was leaving to take care of him. She left the next week and we never heard from her again. I graduated college in 1989 and started to work on my Master’s Degree and that is all that I can tell you that I know.”
“So, Elizabeth went back to be with her father out in Washington state? To work at her father’s company?” I asked.
“Yes. Somewhere in Washington state. And she left Robert. I don’t think much was said about them being apart. I think their marriage had been a lie for many years by the time that she left so it was easy for her to leave … just papers to sign, a few things to pack and she was on the road a free woman.”
I handed the photo back to Miguel who blew it off, wiped it on his shirt and put it back on the shelf.
“Do you have any other photos of her?” I asked.
“Maybe.” Miguel said drinking from his Coke again. “Why do you want to see them?”
“I knew her.” I said flatly.
“That is what you said. Now I think I can ask you some questions.”
“I guess it’s my turn to tell you what I know.”
Miguel smiled and drank his Coke.
“When is it that you knew Elizabeth?”
I sighed and leaned up against the book case and folded my arms across my chest.
“I knew her from March 1986 up until she left in May of 1987.”
Miguel looked at me very seriously then, raising his glass and pointing his glass holding finger at me.
“That is interesting since I didn't tell you when she left.” He said.
“You didn’t have to, Miguel. I know when she left because that’s when we suddenly stopped seeing each other. I just never knew what happened to her and now, talking to you, I guess I do. I finally do.”
Miguel’s expression became one of dumbstruck amazement.
“San Cristobal?” He whispered muttering in broken Spanish and then he reached up to touch his chest right above his breast and below his Adam’s apple.
“What?” I asked.
“Do you still wear it? There? Around your neck?” he asked, pulling his finger back and taking another long drink.
“Wear what?” I asked.
“Your chain and medal. The San Cristobal. Sorry. Saint Christopher.”
It was my turn to borrow his look of dumbstruck amazement. I reached up and touched my Saint Christopher medal through the cloth of my shirt.
“How the hell did you know …?” I whispered.
Miguel laughed and took a long drink of his Coke, finishing it off and letting the ice cubes clink in the bottom of the glass as he nodded and pointed his finger at me.
“And now it's time that I freak you out a little ... maybe even freak you out a whole lot!” Miguel said.
I sat in the middle of the couch and Miguel sat in the recliner opposite from me. From what he had told me in the last ten minutes, yeah, he certainly had freaked me out a lot more than a little but less than a whole lot. Still …
“Elizabeth had a secret, Christopher.”
Miguel pointed his empty glass at me.
"You were that secret and she shared that secret with me and only me."
I was finding it really hard to take all of what he was telling me.“When you share a secret with someone you share something very grand I think. It makes you very close, two people, in ways that you were not close before. There is a bond of promises. She talked about you, to me, a lot, but only to me. Sammy would not have approved of her seeing someone while she was still with Robert but I understood what she was going through, what she had been through. In her marriage she was alone because Robert had already left her for someone else. I saw nothing wrong with what she did but Sammy, being the man of God, I’m not very sure he would have approved which is why she never talked to him about you.”
I nodded, reaching up and touching my Saint Christopher medal through my shirt.
“And you still wear it. Show me, please.” Miguel said.
I did, unbuttoning the top three buttons of my tan expedition shirt and pulling it open to show Miguel the Saint Christopher medal hanging from the gold chain around my neck.
“You are Elizabeth’s San Cristobal? You are the one that made her happy again?”
“For a while, I guess.” I said as I buttoned my shirt back up. “And I guess she made me happy for a while as well.”
Miguel shook his finger in the air as he shook his head as well.
“No. You made her happy and you did more than that. You made her feel good again about herself. You picked her up from where she had fallen, from where she had been knocked down and she had been knocked down a long way for several years. You lifted her up and you gave her back her self-respect that Robert had taken from her. You did more than make her happy ... You made her unbroken again. You made her strong again … strong enough to walk out on Robert when she got the chance, when she had to and that is what she did.”
I shrugged my shoulders. Miguel said I was a saint for what I had done with Marie / Elizabeth. Funny, I didn’t feel much like a saint right then.
“Let me fix you a drink.” Miguel said. “You've learned a lot, I've freaked you out and you need a drink.”
“I won't fight you on that. Whiskey.” I said. “Neat. In a glass and not a short one. Jack Daniels if you have it but beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers but choosers don’t have to be beggars.” Miguel said, getting up and walking towards the kitchen.
I looked up, remembering that was what Marie had said to me.
“She used to say that.” I told him.
“Yes, she did.” Miguel said, bowing slightly at yet another point of memory shared between us.
He walked back towards the kitchen and I went over and sat down where Cody had sat, closing my eyes because it really was a lot to think about. My mind was racing as all the information that Miguel had told me slowly merged into a story … a story that I had been a part of but not privy to. It was a lot to take in … I’d come to Miguel for answers, answers that I felt that I had to know, that I finally had to know but I wasn’t prepared for this … not for all of what he had told me …
I rubbed my eyes and dropped my face into my hands, numbed by the depth of what I hadn’t known.
“Here you are.” Miguel said handing me a tumbler with whiskey in it and snapping me back to the here and now.
I didn’t even bother with the motions, just took a swig right off the top, held it, then let it burn all the way down. Whatever I was feeling seemed to like the whiskey and I felt better after my third take. I held the tumbler in my hand, slowly spinning it back and forth between my palms, remembering that first night with Marie.
Whiskey brown eyes.
Dipping my finger in my whiskey and rubbing it on her lips before I kissed her.
“Did you have any more pictures of her?” I asked.
“You asked me that and I forgot. Sorry. Yes, I have more pictures of Elizabeth. Let me find them.”
Miguel went over to the book shelf and started looking through the books there, along the tops of the books, the top of the shelves and finally pulled out a small set of photos. He brought them back over and handed them to me as I sat there lost in a churning sea of thoughts.
“Oui, et voila!” he said loudly, holding the stack of photos out for me.
A chill blew across my soul.
“What did you say?!” I asked him not sure if I had heard him correctly or not.
“Oui, et voila!” he said slowly. “It was something that Elizabeth always said when we got something right or if something good happened to her. If she had us translate something into English when we got it right Elizabeth would smile, wave her hand like she was doing a magic trick, point her finger at whoever had gotten the answer correct and say loudly …”
“Oui, et voila!” I said.
“Yes. It was just a funny little thing she did. I remember this from her and sometimes do it myself. She said this to you?”
“Once. One time that I remember. One time that I really remember.”
“Then you must have done something very right.” Miguel suggested.
“Yeah. I think I did.” I said smiling and looking at the photos that Miguel had just handed to me.
“She was a very beautiful woman with a sad heart. Everything about her was strong but her heart, it was her weak part.” Miguel said, sitting down beside me and looking at each picture of Elizabeth after I had looked at it.
“And her heart was very special. She had a heart that would listen and not judge. I think because she had been hurt so much and so many times that she could see the hurt in others. That is what made her special to me and that is why she and I talked a lot. She saw my hurt and she knew what it was like to hurt inside and not to have anyone to talk to.”
I looked at Miguel.
“Was I your competition for her affection, Miguel?” I asked.
“Competition? What do you mean, Christopher?”
“Was there ever … anything between you and Elizabeth … like there was between Elizabeth and me?”
Miguel took on a look of seriousness and shook his head.
“No. No. You misunderstand, Christopher. You and I were never competition for Elizabeth. Her secret was you. My secret was that I wasn’t like you. We had different interests. We have different interests. Elizabeth was my friend … but she could be nothing more.”
I thought about that and started to realize what Miguel was saying.
“Where I come from, it is very hard to be like me. Here, in America, it is a little easier. Not much, but a little bit.”
“You’re gay.” I said flatly.
"Again, straight to the point and with very few words." Miguel said.
"That’s your secret that you shared with Elizabeth.”
“Yes, that is blunt but now that you know my secret, I also know your secret as well. Elizabeth was your secret and you were hers and now I have met her San Cristobal and we've shared a secret. Is life not strange and great?”
“That’s been my experience so far …” I agreed.
“You were with her and you made her very happy.”
“For a while, yeah, I guess I did. She made me very happy also, helped me get through some dark times of my own.”
I spread the pictures of Elizabeth out on the coffee table in front of me as Miguel got up, stretched, going to the kitchen and bringing back both a bottle of Jack Daniels and a two liter of Coke, topping off our drinks.
“So, how did you meet?”
“She didn’t tell you that?” I asked him.
“She did, but I want to hear it from you. One more test, if you will, to know that you're who I think you are and that you're who you tell me that you are.”
I told Miguel about the water park, the traffic ticket, and then hoping that she would show up at work. I told him how I felt when she showed up that next Friday.
“And that was the first time that you were with her?” Miguel asked. “That was when you began to make her happy?”
“It was spontaneous, Miguel. Magic. There was just something between us. I can't explain it but it was there and when I was with her there was ... just ... us.”
“She was happy but she was scared as well. Living a secret like that. It is exciting and scary. I know this.” Miguel said. “We had been talking of my secret for many weeks then and she told me that she had gone out and made a secret of her own. She was nervous. Happy. Scared but a good kind of scared like when you are scared on a roller coaster I think. Same thing.”
“I was her secret …” I smiled. “Her very own secret.”
“She needed a secret, something to keep and hold and draw strength from and you kept that secret. You both kept each other as your secret for a very long time and I think that you each drew on that secret as a strength. It made you both stronger as secrets sometimes do.”
“I had to. It was the only way to keep seeing her and I wanted to see her, as often as I could, more than anything. I cared for her …” I mused.
I flipped through the pictures again … seeing her again … knowing all of this … it was almost too much to take in. My heart was in my throat.
“I always wondered what happened to her. She just … vanished, disappeared from my life. She stopped calling me and I never heard from her again. I never saw her again.”
I stood, picked up my whiskey and took a drink, turned and looked back at the pictures on the table.
“Why did she leave? Do you know?” I asked Miguel.
Miguel shrugged his shoulders and clasped his hands together in front of him. When he spoke, his words were obviously carefully chosen.
“Her father was sick, very sick. He had a stroke, a very bad one, and there was no one to take care of him or run his business. She was in a marriage with no love. Robert gave her an education with a diploma. Robert’s business gave her the experience to run a company. Her father’s condition gave her a company to run and a reason to run it. You gave her the strength and confidence to leave Robert and so she did and that is why she left.”
“I never knew ... I just wish she had told me.”
“I don't think there was time.” Miguel said. “The last week that she was here, it was, as I said, not pretty or nice. It was quick and ugly and over with and then she was gone. I barely saw her at all and when I did what I was told by her was only little pieces of something very big that was happening. She was in a big hurry when I last saw her.”
“I had a phone, Miguel. She used to call me when she wanted to be with me. She could have called me and explained things.”
Miguel shrugged his shoulders.
“Some phone calls take years or decades to make. It is not as easy as you make it out to be. A phone call is not just picking up the phone and touching numbers you remember in your head. I have a phone call I should make to my father. I’ve been trying to make that phone call for five years now. The phone is right there. Five years and I never can make that phone call to tell him my secret of who and how I am. I haven't talked to him in five years. I have something to say to him but I have no way to say it to him. I think Elizabeth was in the same condition with you.”
I nodded, taking another drink from my whiskey, the last of it.
“There at the end, when Elizabeth left Robert, it was not nice or friendly but it happened very quickly. I’m sure that she thought of you but perhaps things were in such a condition that calling you would have made things bad for her or even you. Some calls are better left not dialed I think until much later … if the call is even made at all and sometimes it is better just not to call. Sometimes some things just have to end with a question rather than an answer because the question is more beautiful than the answer. Sometimes an answer is not an answer. Not every answer you get makes you happy. Do you agree?”
I closed my eyes and thought. So it had been Sammy’s apartment that we had used each time when Sammy was away out of country and when Robert was off on one of his trips with his assistant. That would explain a lot of things. The pictures. The décor. All the trinkets from other countries …I wondered if you could go to hell for having sex in a missionary’s apartment while he was on a mission trip? Having sex with a married woman in the borrowed bed of a man of God … well, if you’re going to sin you might as well do it right and apparently I had done it right … time and time again.
One more black stripe on my soul to deal with one day.
“You keep calling her Elizabeth but when I knew her she told me her name was Marie. Marie Rogers.” I said.
Miguel nodded and smiled.
“Elizabeth Marie Rogers Anderson.” Miguel said, taking his hands and moving them outwards like he was laying bricks on a wall.
“That was her all name."
"Her all name?"
"All her name. Her all name. She told you her name was Marie?”
“That’s what I called her when we were together. That’s what she said her name was. I never knew her last name, her real last name or that her real first name was Elizabeth.” I said.
“It’s all part of the secret you shared.” Miguel said. “Little parts of her, one part of her all name that she didn’t use for anyone but you.”
“And Rogers was her maiden name?”
“Elizabeth Marie Rogers Anderson.” Miguel said, extending his hands wide.
“What about the big gold Lincoln that she drove?” I asked.
“What? Big gold ... Lincoln?”
“She drove a big gold Lincoln. Big gold car. I remember that …”
“Ah! She drove that car when you knew her? That is funny because that was Sammy’s old car. She called it a land yacht. He told her to drive it a little bit each month while he was gone, you know, to keep it running and fresh and to keep the gas in it from going bad.”
“When she came around, she was always driving it. I guess that was part of the secret as well.”
Miguel nodded, crossed his heart, put his hands together as if in prayer and looked up towards heaven, smiling back at me.
“Perhaps it was easier to see you if she did not drive her car. Her car was I think rather unique and very nice. There were not many like it around here and I think that it would have been hard to be with you while driving her car around if other people saw it and knew it was her car.”
If she was driving Sammy’s car then she must have driven her car down from Laurel and parked it somewhere. I may have seen it at the apartments and not even known it was hers.
“What kind of car did she drive?” I asked.
“Oh! You don’t know? No ... you don't know. She drove a very old Mustang, one of the early ones.” Miguel said.
Damn! Right then a memory flashed through my mind like lightning ... that first night we were together ... back at her place!
She had me make another left on Essex Street where I turned left again onto North 35th Avenue. I turned into the complex’s parking lot, pulling up at the rear of the apartments and she pointed to a parking space between a sky blue 1965 Ford Mustang convertible and a faded dark blue on blue full size 1979 Chevy station wagon.
After that I'd never seen that Mustang again and I had kind of wondered about it because someone else I knew, a friend from Boy Scouts, had a fully restored red and white Mustang like that, hard top with a 289 cid V8 in it. I was going to tell him about the drop-top Mustang to see if he knew who the owner was (since old Mustang guys all knew one another and seemed to keep in touch) but I'd never seen the sky blue drop-top Mustang ever again so I forgot about it. If that was her car, maybe she parked it on the other side of the apartment when she came looking for me or had time to share with me. Maybe she was hiding it ... but hiding it from me or hiding it from someone else?
That sky blue convertible Mustang ... the color of the old Marx Toys "Jane West" action figure doll.
“Kind of a pale, sky blue?”
“Dark colored top.” I said.
“Yes. Blue with a dark top and interior. That car was very fine! I wanted to own that car very much. I remember that night that I saw her crying
in it there in the parking lot of the church where we all met and I thought
what a fine car that so sad of a woman has and why is she sad if she has
something like that? I believe that she
took it with her when she left because it had been her car when she met Robert."
Another piece of the puzzle that was Elizabeth Marie Rogers Anderson, another glimpse of her life.
"That car meant a lot to her. She would not have let Robert have something that meant so much to her, I think.”
I’d seen that car.
At the apartment.
That first night together.
Jones county license plate.
“If it helps or maybe it will only hurt you more … but she talked about you to me a lot when she was not with you. Elizabeth cared for you, it may not have been love or it may have been love but she loved what you and she had and she craved it, cherished it and … needed it.”
“What about Sammy?” I asked.
“What about Sammy?” Miguel returned the question.
“I went looking for her … probably three months after we were last together and I went over to her apartment … sorry, Sammy’s apartment.”
“I think that she lived there more than he did. Staying there got her out of her house ... away from her memories ... especially the bad ones.” Miguel said and smiled.
“I knocked on the door, looking for her. I just wanted to know that she was … all right. A guy next door told me that the apartment had been vacant for a few months by then.”
Miguel nodded, took a drink of his Coke and pointed his finger at me.
“Sammy moved out of his apartment and went back to Bogota. I think he has been down there ever since because I have never seen him again since then. With Elizabeth and Sammy gone, our group kind of fell apart. Sammy was busy with some churches he and his wife had started and with Elizabeth gone he didn’t have anyone to look over his business and apartment locally so he took what he wanted back to Bogota, sold the rest. I have some of his books … over there. They are what you would call deep reads.”
I looked back at the book shelf where I had found Sammy’s picture earlier tonight. Some of the old books had looked familiar. If I touched one, now, it would be like reaching back into the past and touching that same book all those years ago, that first night that she had taken me back to the apartment.
“When did Sammy leave?” I asked.
“Not long after Elizabeth left. It all happened quickly, around the same time, almost at the same time. Everything was such a hurried rush.”
That would explain that, I thought.
“So … Elizabeth told you that Sammy’s apartment was her apartment?” Miguel asked.
“Yeah.” I said.
“Ah.” Miguel said, smiling. "Well, I guess for a while it probably was."
Just like for a while I probably was Elizabeth's ...
I looked at the pictures on the coffee table.
“Miguel. I didn’t have anything before I came here tonight. In fact, I would have just preferred to wait in the Daytona while Cody paid you and got his stuff but …”
Miguel looked up as he screwed the cap back on the two liter of Coke.
“But now here we are, sharing our memories of our friend Elizabeth. Life is not predictable as it is strange? Tonight I have met the Cowboy that made her happy and you have learned her story that you never knew. Life.” Miguel said, spreading his hands for emphasis.
I nodded my head.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is … thank you. Thank you for telling me about Elizabeth and ... about her. I’ve wanted to know what happened to her for nearly three years now and I didn’t know anyone who could tell me. I never thought that I’d ever know what happened to her … she just disappeared and it was something that I needed to know, if I could. I just never thought that …”
“We all have our secrets, Christopher. You, Elizabeth, me. Sometimes those secrets cross paths. Sometimes we share them with others that we come to know. I think that we don’t pick our secrets so much as they pick us and we are all the more special for the secrets that we take as our own.”
Hell, that made about as much sense as anything else I’d ever heard.
“Miguel. Could I have one of those pictures there … just to remind me of her? I never had a picture of her. Until you showed me the pictures, I hadn’t seen her face in years other than in my thoughts and sometimes my dreams.”
“Good dreams?” Miguel asked.
“Sad and lonely dreams but yeah, sometimes they're good.”
“Take these pictures, all of them.” Miguel said, waving his hand across the spread of photos. “They are just copies, I have the negatives and can make more. I think that she would want you to have them, to remember her by, to remember when two people shared a secret that made them both happy.”
“Made them happy at least for a little while.” I said.
“A little while is better than no while at all, I think.” Miguel said.
I couldn’t argue with him on that either. I gathered up the pictures slowly. Miguel drank his Coke and set it down to light up a menthol cigarette.
“Ah, I have something else to ask you … something ... personal.” Miguel said.
“Yeah? Sure.” I said.
“Your friend, Cody. He likes girls, does he not?” Miguel asked, leaning forward and blowing smoke out from the side of his mouth.
“Yeah. I’m afraid that he’s straight as a yard stick. Girls only though he does like older women on occasion.”
“And you are sure of this?”
I nodded my head.
“Kind of sure. I mean, he’s never been with anything but girls and women while I’ve known him and I’ve known him since the fall of 1987.”
“He is very attractive to someone like me which is why I talked to him at the party and offered him some of what I had to smoke. I thought that maybe we might get to know each other.”
I smiled because super macho combat heterosexual Cody would have a stroke and die on the spot mid-heretical blasphemy if I told him that his new best weed buddy wanted to be his boyfriend as well. Still, it might be worth it, just to see Cody’s expression when I told him that the main reason why he was getting some prime weed at a really good price was because Miguel really liked the way that Cody's ass swished in his tight blue jeans when he walked through the crowd at the party he had gone to.
Then again, sometimes it was just best to keep some things secret.
“I guess that’s just another secret that you and I will share, won’t we?” I said.
“There will always be secrets to keep and secrets to share, with the right person. Sometimes one secret is simply traded for another. If you'll keep this secret then it seems for the best if we do just that.”
Wednesday, April 25,1990
The night air was humid as I sat there in my black and gold ’79 Pontiac Trans Am, T-tops off, windows down, 403 idling, AC blowing … I was parked there in that familiar cul-de-sac of that unfinished lake subdivision off Richburg Road, the one where Marie / Elizabeth and I had spent quite a few hot summer nights finding out what two naked bodies could do in and on an old car like this.
Today was special to me. It was the anniversary of the last time that I’d seen Marie. Three years ago was the last time that I spent with Marie. Three years ago today it had been a Saturday.
Almost three years ago I had graduated from high school. I should be going into my senior year in college next year and graduating next May but I wasn’t. I’d be going into my junior year of college instead … blame that on youthful indiscretion and two changes to my major which caused me to be at least a year behind where I should be. If I didn’t get sidetracked again I could probably graduate in another two years … possibly the summer of 1992.
It seemed all so far away … two years … an eternity from now.
Two years until I graduated …
Marie and I didn’t even have that long. All we had together there at the end was thirteen months, a lot of memories, a sudden goodbye that had never been said and a lingering mystery that had finally been solved. I thought about her pale sky blue 1965 convertible Mustang. Oh, the late night fun we could have had in that car, parked here, with the top down, the radio playing and our clothes off …
Bob Segar was finishing up “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” on the cassette in the Kenwood as I pulled out my favorite picture of Elizabeth Marie Rogers Anderson no longer Anderson, the one where she was standing there all by herself, red strapless sundress on, brown sandals, red painted toe nails, red painted nails, tanned skin, long hair flowing over her shoulders and her Wayfarers pushed back on top of her head. She was smiling, her brown purse slung over her shoulder, her straw sun hat at her side in her hand and she was looking right at the camera. She was looking right at me with those beautiful whiskey brown eyes. I touched her picture, her lips, and remembered what her lips had felt like under my fingertips, what her lips had felt like when they had been pressed against my lips, her tongue to my tongue.
Bob Segar began the slow guitar work for “Night Moves” and I stuck the picture of her in between the horn button and the thick padded rim of the Formula steering wheel. I leaned back in the driver’s seat and stared at it and I could almost see her … Elizabeth Marie Rogers Anderson no longer Anderson driving west into the sunset, headed northwest towards Washington state in a 1965 pale sky blue convertible Mustang. The top was down, the sun was guiding her way, the wind blowing her long hair, those whiskey brown eyes behind her Wayfarer sunglasses, the radio was playing classic rock songs … and she was smiling.
Marie was smiling because she was happy and she was happy because she was finally free.
Maybe one day I'd follow the same road she took ... I'd be heading out west looking for a place to finally be free. Some place with big open areas and a whole lot less people.
I closed my eyes as I thought of her that way and smiled because that’s how I wanted to remember her in the years and decades to come: happy again and free at last, going as fast as she could to get away from what wasn’t important so she could take care of what really was. She had been gone for nearly three years now …
I figured that with three years already behind her she was off to a hell of a good head start on the rest of her life.
Looking all the way back to that long ago warm spring Sunday afternoon in March of 1986 I didn’t have a clue what was about to hit me broadside. I hadn’t set out to have a thirteen month long affair with an unhappily married woman who was over twice as old as I was. I hadn’t set out to lift her up enough to give her the strength that she needed to end a loveless marriage and create the life that she so wanted and deserved all on her own. Hell, I was just getting my first long overdue speeding ticket, wondering what kind of crap I was going to get from my parents about it and enjoying the flirting and preening that an older woman was putting on for me in the big gold Lincoln next to my Camaro. Who knew that one little clerical mistake on a speeding ticket could lead to so damn much?
Secrets given and secrets shared. Marie had been driving a car that wasn’t hers, looking for something that she didn’t have, taking me back to a place where she didn’t live and sharing her body with a teenager she didn’t know in a bed that she had never slept in and she would be the first and only woman that had ever come in French for me.
“… I used her, she used me, but neither one cared, we were gettin' our share …” Bob Segar crooned out his classic 1976 hit “Night Moves” from the Kenwood.
I looked at the picture of Marie / Elizabeth stuck there in the horn button of my thick padded Formula steering wheel. If I had known way back then what I knew here and now … Paths crossing all the time, looping back on each other, knots being tied, others being unraveled, secrets being made, mysteries being explored and questions being answered sometimes later rather than sooner that is if the questions were lucky enough to be answered at all.
Life was funny strange like that.
I smiled, looking at her picture smiling back at me.
“Not bad for an eighteen year old.” She had whispered to me that first night that we were together.
Yeah, not bad … not bad at all, especially considering that I had only been sixteen at the time she had whispered those words to me.