A Final Message
By: Don Tassone
I have a story I’ve never told anyone. I thought I’d take it to my grave, but dying changes the way you think.
In the time I have left, I’m going to write it down. Maybe it will do somebody some good.
It was June 1967. I’d just graduated from high school and started working at the root beer stand in town. I was making $1.40 an hour, enough to buy my books for college that fall with some beer money left over.
I worked mainly in the kitchen, but sometimes I worked out front, where we got to talk to the carhops.
Most of them were high school girls. One was older, though. Her name was Linda. She was 19. She’d gone to a different high school, and I didn’t know her. But from the moment I first saw her, I was captivated.
Linda had long blond hair and big blue eyes. She laughed a lot. Her teeth were perfect. She was lean but filled out her white uniform in all the right places. She sashayed between the counter and cars like a runway model.
I like to think I was attractive. I played football and ran track in high school. I was in good shape. Regardless, Linda was out of my league. When she introduced herself and seemed interested in me, I was shocked.
“So I heard you’re going to college,” she said.
“Yeah. This fall. How about you?”
“No,” she said with a small laugh. “I’ll never go to college.”
“I’m not book smart.”
“I’m smart in other ways, though,” she said with a grin.
Then she lifted her tray and sashayed away. She didn’t say anything else to me that night, but every time we made eye contact, she grinned. It made me wonder what she meant about being smart in other ways.
Over the next few days, Linda and I chatted at work. She asked where I lived, what I was going to study in college … and how I got to work.
“I ride my bike,” I said sheepishly.
“You don’t drive?”
“I do, but I don’t have a car.”
“Really? I’d be happy to give you a ride sometime.”
“Thanks, but I wouldn’t want to put you out.”
“You wouldn’t be putting me out. If we’re working the same shift, I’d be happy to give you a ride.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Do you work tomorrow?”
“Yeah. Noon to six.”
“Me too. How about I pick you up about quarter til?”
I could hardly believe this was happening.
“Okay,” I said.
I wrote my address on the back of an order slip and handed it to her. She folded it and slid it into her breast pocket. Then she patted her pocket and smiled.
“See you tomorrow,” she said.
The next day, Linda picked me up at the end of my driveway in a red Volkswagen Beetle. It smelled of cigarette smoke. The engine rumbled behind me. My seat vibrated. There was so little room that Linda and were touching. Her toned thighs and the way she handled the stick shift turned me on.
“So, do your parents expect you home right after work?” she said.
“I guess so.”
“That’s too bad.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I thought you might want to grab a bite to eat.”
“I’d like that. Maybe some other time.”
“Deal,” she said with a grin.
A few days later, Linda and I worked the same shift again, and Linda picked me up again. I told my mom I’d be going out with some friends after work.
After work, Linda took me back to her place, a second-floor apartment across town. She wanted to change before we went out.
“Make yourself at home,” she said, locking her door behind me. “I’ll be right back.”
She sashayed across the main room and closed a door behind her. I assumed it was her bedroom.
I sat down in an armchair and looked around. Her apartment was small. The white walls were bare, and there wasn’t much furniture. I wondered if Linda had just moved in.
A few minutes later, the bedroom door opened, and out stepped Linda, wearing hip huggers and a pink halter top.
I got up. She walked over and held out her hands. I took them.
“Hungry?” she said.
“What are you in the mood for?”
Before I could answer, she slid her hands behind my neck, pulled me close and kissed me hard.
We didn’t make it to dinner that evening.
Before that summer, I’d never had sex. By the end of the summer, I “worked late” a lot.
And by the end of the summer, I’d fallen in love with Linda. I looked forward to being with her, and not just for the sex. It was fun to be with her. We shared openly and easily. Our time together always seemed too short.
But as the summer drew to a close, Linda suddenly stopped offering to pick me up for work. I wanted to know why, but we really couldn’t talk at work, so I called Linda at home.
“What’s going on?” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you’ve stopped picking me up. I don’t see you anymore.”
“You need to get ready for college.”
“Well, I’ve been thinking I might not go just yet.”
“I might take a year off before I start.”
“Why would you do that?”
“To be with you.”
There was a pause. Then Linda said, “Look, Jim, it’s been fun, but you need to get on with your life.”
“Is that what you want?”
“Yeah, it is. I need to get on with my life too, you know. I mean I can’t work at the root beer stand forever.”
I couldn’t believe it. How could this woman I was in love with, and who I thought was in love with me, be saying this?
But I knew from her tone something had changed. Her voice was no longer playful. She sounded anxious, like she wanted to get off the phone.
“Okay. I guess I’ll leave for college. But can I see you again before I go?”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea. It would only make it harder.”
But I did see Linda at work again. She smiled at me, but it wasn’t the same. All summer, her smile had been like some special code between us. There was something in her smile just for me. Now she smiled at me like she smiled at everyone. It was then that I knew it was over.
About a week later, I left for college. My classes were okay, but I had a hard time concentrating. Linda was always on my mind.
I wrote her every few days. I didn’t hear back. But then one afternoon, I found an envelope under my dorm room door, with “Linda Harrison” printed in the upper left corner.
I picked up the envelope, sat down on my bed and opened it.
Thanks for your letters. I’m sorry I haven’t written, but this has been kind of a tough time for me.
I think I might be pregnant. But please don’t worry. I don’t blame you. It’s my fault. I’ll take care of everything.
I’ve decided to make some changes in my life. I’ll be moving away soon, so there’s no need to write me again. I hope you don’t take that the wrong way. You’re a great guy, and I enjoyed our time together this summer. I just need to make a fresh start.
Thanks for everything.
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Linda’s pregnant? And I’m the father? And this is how she’s telling me? What does she mean by “I’ll take care of everything”? Is she going to have the baby or not? Don’t I have a say in this?
I grabbed some change, ran down to the hall to a pay phone and dialed Linda’s number.
“That’ll be 50 cents for the first three minutes,” the operator said.
I slipped in two quarters. I heard the operator dialing, then a ring. It rang and rang, but no one picked up. Maybe Linda’s working, I thought. Or maybe she’s already moved away.
Over the next couple of days, I tried to call Linda half a dozen more times, but there was still no answer. I wanted to see her, talk to her. I would have taken off for her apartment, three hours away, but I didn’t have a car or know anybody who did.
I read Linda’s letter over and over. I stared at one sentence in particular. I think I might be pregnant. What if she’s not really pregnant, I thought. What if she’s just saying that to cut me loose? How will I ever know the truth?
Not knowing for sure was driving me crazy. But what could I do? There was no way to reach Linda and no one to talk to about my situation. I felt so alone.
The whole thing was making me sick. I couldn’t sleep. I skipped meals. I lost weight, even though I drank beer every night. I skipped classes. I dropped a class. My midterm grades were a disaster. My mom wrote me to make sure I was okay. I assured her I was. I hated lying to my mother.
I hitched a ride home for Thanksgiving. The first thing I did was drive over to Linda’s apartment. But someone else was living there now.
I called Linda’s parents’ home. Her mom told me she had moved to Chicago.
I went to see a friend of Linda’s named Peggy who had also been a carhop at the root beer stand. They’d worked there together the rest of the summer and into the fall. I told Peggy I’d heard Linda might be pregnant.
“Well, if that’s the case, she never mentioned it,” Peggy said. “She sure wasn’t showing.”
This made me wonder if Linda really was pregnant. On my Christmas break, I called Linda’s mom again. She told me Linda had a new job and had moved in with a guy in Chicago.
“I’m glad to hear she’s doing well,” I said.
“I think she’s very happy,” her mom said.
It sure didn’t sound like Linda was pregnant.
After that, I decided to move on with my life too. After Christmas break, I returned to school and got serious about my studies. My midterm grades were excellent. My mom even wrote to congratulate me.
I started taking care of myself. I ate well, stopped drinking and started running.
One day my roommate told me a girl named Kimberly in our economics class had asked about me.
“So?” I said.
“So? Man, she’s foxy!”
“I’m just not interested in dating right now.”
But the truth was I felt so burned by my experience with Linda that I didn’t want to risk getting into a relationship with anyone I might not be able to trust.
My reluctance to get close to others didn’t stop with potential dates, though. I was growing suspicious of nearly everyone. Intellectually, I knew I should be more trusting. But emotionally, my experience with Linda had made me gun-shy.
So I withdrew from the social scene and kept my interactions in school to a minimum. I had never been an extravert, but now I was becoming a loner.
I graduated magna cum laude with a degree in finance. I got hired as an assistant manager by a bank in Indianapolis.
The job was okay. It wasn’t very interesting, but I didn’t have to deal with customers, and that was a real plus. I pretty much kept to myself. No lunches with co-workers or parties for me.
I was aware I was developing a reputation as a bit of an odd duck, but I didn’t care. My experience with Linda was never far from my mind. I had decided to never allow myself to get too close to anyone again.
I worked at the bank for 35 years. After I retired, I started walking every day. I thought I was in good health until about six months ago, when I felt a dull pain in my stomach and then my back. At first, the pain came and went, but then it was constant and got worse.
My doctor sent me to the hospital for tests. I found out I have stage four pancreatic cancer.
The doctors say it’s not always fatal anymore and I could increase my chance of survival with chemotherapy or radiation. But there are no guarantees, and I don’t trust doctors anyway, so I’m opting for palliative care when the time comes, probably very soon.
I wrecked my life. Not by having a fling with Linda that summer but allowing that experience to make me distrustful. I’ve lived in a prison of my own making.
We all have experiences we regret. Don’t let yours keep you from living your life.
If someone hurts you, let it go. Be good to yourself. And whatever happens, be free.