Bile boiled up in the back of Jerry Epstein’s throat as he parked his rented black Mercedes in the bowels of a Los Angeles parking garage. A maelstrom of thoughts and emotions whirled like a tornado through his mind; ambivalence, anger, heartache, and the remembrance of his first love. A memory, buried by the debris of time… now rising like a wraith.
Part of him wished he’d never come, but his partner in the PI firm, Brad, had told him, “Jerry, you should go. You’ve always said you wanted to go, and you’ve never been.” As the clincher he’d added, “You know Fritz will be there. The two of you can get drunk and talk about old times in the hotel bar. Things are quiet here. Nothing will have changed when you come back. Now go, Jerry! Have a great time.”
He yearned, right then, to be back home in Salem, Oregon. The whole idea of coming to the reunion stunk. He hadn’t had a panic attack like this since high school. His hands clammy with sweat, the perspiration dripping down from his armpits, the shortness of breath, and the racing heartbeat. He was too damn old for this.
His life as a detective forced him to look at reality. Perhaps Brad was right. His best friend from high school, Fritz, would be here. The two had sent each other birthday cards nearly every year for the past fifty years. Fritz wrote a note in each card and ended with, “I hope to see you at the class reunion this year”. He told no one in particular, “Well, Fritz, here I am.” He hoped to find his old buddy checked into the hotel already so they could reminisce over that drink in the bar. I’ll get Fritz to help me avoid Sherilyn… providing she shows up. Damn! I hope I don’t have to deal with that! It’s the big fifty. She’ll be here!
The one person he wanted to avoid was his old girl friend. The two had been more than an item, going steady that memorable senior year, making plans for the future. He remembered the dates at the Santa Monica Pier, the senior prom, and the drive in movies in his Pop’s Studebaker. Part of his heart never let go of her. Part of him hated her. He was angry with her…. That was not quite right. To be brutally honest, he was wounded. Breaking up like she did, tore a hole in his heart. He and Sherilyn had planned to attend USC together. They were in love. They’d talked of a life together. His intellect had earned him a scholarship. Her folks had money for tuition. They’d made plans. At least he thought they’d made plans. Her dumping him the day before graduation put a pall, like a funeral shroud, on the entire summer, not to mention commencement. It gave him his first real experience with emotional death.
A week after graduation, he’d tried to call her— repeatedly. Her mother said, “She can’t come to the phone.” He sent her letters, but they went unanswered. Finally in desperation, one August afternoon, he’d borrowed Pop’s Studebaker and drove to her house. No one answered the door. He waited an hour, leaning against the shady side of the car, as the hot summer sun baked the air, but no one returned. He gave up. He thought he’d see her at USC in the fall for sure. When he started college classes in September Sherilyn wasn’t there. He never knew why.
What happened? If I meet her here what will she say? What will I do? He sighed and stubbed out his half-smoked Cohiba, placing it in the ashtray as he opened the door, and got out of the car.