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Whatever happened to Robbie Whalen?

By: Ruth Z. Deming

It happened a long time ago. Robbie Whalen, one of the popular kids at Shaker Heights High School was driving his new vehicle, a Dodge truck, rust-colored, and accidentally ran over a child.

            How do I know all this? I read it in the newspaper.

            I tore out the page and saved it.

            I did all right in life. Became a science teacher in the nearby Beechwood School District. Nothing pleased me more than when my kids entered the “Science Fair” held at Ursinus College, in Collegeville, PA, with its huge built-in pool. I remember sneaking over while our students set up their booths at the fair.

            How I wished I could dive in! Not in those horrid skin-clinging body suits we wore at Shaker. You felt the gym teachers’ eyes all over you.         

            Happily divorced, with five grandchildren, I decided to search for Robbie Whalen, a name I will never forget.

            Had he taken his own life? Become a drunkard? Ended up dying in a jail cell far away?

            I emailed my grand-daughter Grace Elizabeth O’Grady.

            “Darling,” I wrote. “Gramma Bella is taking a trip. I’ll just ramble on till I find Robbie Whalen, a young man I remember from fifty-six years ago, if you can believe that?” 

            I did have a lead, so off I went in the sweltering heat, a Diet Coke in the handy pocket of my robin’s egg blue Toyota Corolla, license plate LUVNATURE2.

            With the Cruise Control set to the speed limit, I was free to remember the dreadful years of high school.

            Most everyone was in a clique. Nancy White was a woman no one liked. Rumors abounded that she would sleep with anyone who asked her. I was ashamed that I avoided her just as everyone else did. We never did learn the truth about her.

            In Home Economics – oh, what was that teacher’s name? – we made different colored puddings with drops of food coloring.

            Most of them were hideous looking.

            “It’s all psychological,” said the teacher, who must be long gone.

            Noreen, as poisonous as a viper, was the head of her own clique. If she said a single word, you were wiped off the surface of the earth. Can’t say I wished her a swift and painful death, as she may have changed and become a saint.

            On I went to find Robbie Whalen.

            Entering the Ohio Turnpike with its dark green signs, I followed the signs on my GPS.

            Yes, I finally learned to use the GPS. Never told a soul how much trouble I had using it. When you’re up in years, the last thing you want is people tittering behind your back.

            The Global Positioning System, I learned, aligns with phone towers along the road.

            How lucky we are to live in this technically advanced society! Of course with enemies like the Russians, North Koreans, and Chinese, we can stay awake in our beds and wonder when the bomb will go off, to say nothing about Cyber attacks.

            I don’t know about you, but when we were in the fourth and fifth grades, we would have Air Shelter Drills. We would duck under our desks for five or ten minutes, until the “all-clear” bell went off.

            Then, with our short memories, we would forget it ever happened.

            Robbie Whalen, of course, was probably clowning around, having no idea that he would eventually kill a child.

            Could anything – even a time machine, as in the film with Michael J. Fox – “Back to the Future?” – have prevented it? 

            You’ll have to talk to Stephen King about that.

            On the road, it seemed as if trees along the side were waving at me.

            Never one to be impolite, I waved back, saluting them with my cold Diet Coke.

            Oh, I admit it. I’m an old fool. The voice on my GPS is that of Brad Pitt! And, yes, if he’s tired of whomever he’s married to now, let him have a fling with me!

            Just keep your damn mouth shut!

            Some folks – and even the UPS Trucks – don’t like making left-hand turns. It is somewhat dangerous. Me, I never had trouble. Good driver that I am. And, no, I ain’t superstitious. Stevie Wonder, married and divorced three times, will validate that with his famous song. You know, I’ll bet that man could figure out how to drive if he had to, seventy years old on May 13, and married three times.

            Finally reached my destination.

            Ever heard of Doctors without Borders?

            You should have, their ads come in our junk mail.

            If you recycle your junk mail, as I do, it will help build new park benches.

            Swear to God.

            Parked my blue Toyota over in the parking lot.

            Birds were singing with joy and the sun was high in the sky, a golden crown, 63 million miles away.

            Good Lord! Wasn’t life beautiful?

            Adjusting my blue and white dress I bought at Flossie’s Thrift Shop, I slid out of my car and walked over to the entrance.

            Climbing up the polished and painted wooden stairs, I could not wait to see if Robbie Whalen would be there.

            Should I knock?

            In fact, a brass-colored knocker was on the door.

            I knocked and then walked right in.

            Folks were mingling as if this were a party.

            A young man in a black uniform came up to me.

            “Your pleasure, Madame?” he asked, offering me a drink.

            “A Margarita?” I asked.

            “Yes, ma’am,” said the man in black.

            “Let me introduce myself,” I said. “Bella, I knew you in the third grade.”

            He thought a moment. “Can’t rightly remember,” he said. “It’s been a terribly long time.”

            “And your name, sir?”

            “Father Whalen, at your service. Good to meet you.”    

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