Ann L. Tucker
Copyright 2017 by Ann L. Tucker
Design: Y42K Publishing Services
Table of Contents
"The heart is the only broken instrument that works."
One afternoon, a
while ago, I asked George to meet me at Sunset Pizza, our favorite
restaurant, because I wanted to read him our story. He knew I was
writing it. He said he was excited to finally hear it, so we picked a
He immediately ordered
a beer. I asked him to please delay ordering beer while I was reading
to him. I gently explained that it was pretty important that he
listen intently to details because I needed his input and
He stubbornly told me
he was ordering a beer and “that was final”. His draft was
brought to the table. I shrugged and read the manuscript to him for
the next hour and a half or so. As I read the story, George intently
listened and quietly wept at times. He dabbed at his eyes with a
handkerchief as I read. He would quietly nod affirmatively multiple
times. He would murmur, “Oh, yeah” and say, “Yup, that’s
true, Ann” and smile broadly. He kept commenting that I had a “good
memory”. He often added information to enrich detail and I would
make notes to include his comments.
George nodded so many
times during the story that it affirmed to me that the facts
accurately described our history. George agreed with the story’s
details and outcome. He asked me to make sure that I included that my
father was “only trying to protect me from harm by doing a
then-unpopular thing”. I said I would.
George made me promise
to use his real name. “Don’t make me be someone else!” he
laughingly had said. I could see that knowing he was featured in a
book with such a special message was deeply satisfying to him. I told
him our story might help other people work through their own similar
sadnesses, reminding him his reaction to the involuntary ending of
our friendship would always serve as a model of tolerance for the
world. He loved that idea.
When I finished
reading, I asked George what he thought of our story. He wiped his
eyes again, thoughtfully taking his time to respond. He had never
touched the beer he had ordered before I began reading.
He looked straight at
me. Then, he said softly, “Ann - that story belongs in the Bible.”
Thank you, George.
There is no deeper
Sadly, before this book
could be published, George unexpectedly passed away at home, alone,
on January 23, 2017 at age 63. His parents had predeceased him,
within a year. I believe George missed his parents terribly and was
no longer built to live alone. Souls know when it’s time to leave
this earth and George knew it was his time.
I pray for his soul in
gratitude and love.
April 9, 2006
Today was a perfect
sunshine spilled brilliantly onto our special time capsule day - one
I had longed for, for thirty five years. It was finally time to live
We simply HAD to go
back in time - this time with an alternative ending that would leave
our hearts intact.
Let me explain how this
special day came about.
One cold winter
morning, I was perusing an on-line local newspaper. I was happy to be
home, newly-retired and savoring the luxury of having the time to
brush up on world happenings when an article from my high school alma
mater caught my eye.
The appearance of this
article portraying and celebrating my former high school as a
wonderfully diverse school had me reading, with vested interest, how
much the school and its social culture had improved. The article
reported that the school now included a multitude of ethnicities,
that students felt welcome and a new Diversity Office was available
for student support. Students reported a high level of acceptance and
satisfaction within the school’s culture. I was pleasantly struck
by students’ accounts of how openly diverse and accepting campus
life was, now.
I felt moved to add a
deeper understanding to this welcome news.
I emailed the reporter,
expressing how pleased I was to learn of these positive changes. I
contrasted the changes with what I had witnessed on the same campus
back in the 70’s.
My lengthy email
described difficult racial conditions that had existed in this same
quiet suburban Connecticut high school in the early 70’s. I cited
frequent on-campus fights for no articulable reason, name-calling and
self-imposed peer segregation in the cafeteria, on campus grounds and
in the classrooms. I recalled the many pop-up “assemblies” where
we were lectured by house masters on the value of “getting along”
and what consequences would be issued if fighting continued. A memory
of one particular assembly included adolescent me standing up, facing
the sea of faces and naively pleading, “Why can’t we get along?
You’re all my friends!” I recall being very emotional because I
worried that my friends would be hurt.
I also recall the
school, in mid-semester, creating and offering a new “mini-course”
called “Black History” in a conciliatory attempt to respond to
the on-going pop-up fights on campus. A young black male teacher in a
suit was hired to facilitate this class during specific study halls.
It was held in a little room in the library and anyone could sign up
for it. I signed up and attended as one of two white students. I
recall the room being crowded with students of color. It was an
enlightening experience because it opened dialogue between black and
white students. I was asked by peers why I was attending. I asked
right back, “Why can’t I?” I stood up for myself and soon
became accepted and known for having no fear of anything or anybody
new. It gave me an outlet to sort through my feelings although I
never talked about George in the group. Back then, I remember feeling
somewhat helpless but unwilling to remain quiet.
In the article, I
described the social tension caused and experienced by interracial
couples who were brave enough to “go public” with their
relationships and the associated uneasiness of having friends of
color during such a tumultuous time of change. It also described the
agony of being socially prohibited, even threatened, to ‘go public”
with a different color friend. It brought back ugly memories, hurt
feelings and associated sadness to recall those times. I never
dreamed the reporter planned to use my email as a basis for a
follow-up article complete with photos of me, then and now.
Its publication caused
an unintended surge of attention, prompting contact from unexpected
Belmiro or “Junie”,
an older, Cape Verdean former schoolmate had read the article about
me and was deeply touched. The article and photos brought him back to
our difficult high school days. Junie contacted the high school,
asking them to put us in touch, leaving his phone number. This
gesture led to me calling him and then to our first-ever meeting in
thirty five years. We shared an hours-long catch up conversation over
Junie and I had not
known each other personally back then, but we had known of each other
by sight, through mutual friends and through a handful of shared
social experiences. Junie was not someone I was allowed to be friends
with back then because of his beautiful mocha skin color. I was very
surprised to learn how acutely aware Junie was of some of my high
school experiences despite the fact that we never spoke to each
other. This was only one of the many intriguing facts I learned while
we shared our memories, experiences, perspectives and pain.
The more we talked, the
more we learned.
I was stunned to
learn from Junie how closely our lives actually had been intertwined.
I was a freshman when
he had graduated so our paths did not cross in high school. We had no
opportunity or reasons to socialize back then due to our age
difference even if we could have socialized. Junie knew who my
friends had been and that I commuted to high school from a
neighboring town. I only saw him on campus a few times when he would
meet up with friends for a basketball game or socialize after school.
I had always thought I
was invisible to him. To me, he had been a handsome “older guy”
whom I had admired silently from a distance. He had always seemed so
mysterious and “exotic- looking” to me. I recall wishing I could
get to know him but instinctively knew it was impossible. He was
handsome, wore aviator sun glasses, a black leather coat and drove a
car. He was the epitome of a girl’s “dreamy” kind of guy back
then but it felt like there was an invisible abyss between us that I
couldn’t even imagine crossing.
What I didn’t know
then, was that he struggled to gain acceptance from both blacks,
whites and pretty much everybody.
He later explained to
me that being Cape Verdean, during those times, was apparently not
“enough” of an identity. He had said it was common for Cape
Verdean children to be instructed by parents that, if they were asked
what ethnicity they were, they were to respond, “Portuguese”.
There was a distinct sense of insecurity in claiming Cape Verdean
lineage due to an overwhelming fear of not being accepted for not
having one’s own, independent country.
Cape Verde only
officially became an independent nation in 1975.
I listened with great,
yet sad, interest of how he was not able to attend some of the same
events I did because of his skin color. He related that, although it
was not often verbalized, he and his friends could not easily attend
social events. Upon his and his friends’ arrivals to events or
parties, it was made clear to them by white peers that their entry
was not welcomed. I heard how when he did attend, the gatherings
usually resulted in some type of fight-related drama of which he
never wished to be a part. He was not invited to peers’ house
parties with parental blessing. He told me that even today, as a
peace-loving man, and in reflection, he still has no accurate idea
why the fights occurred. He only knew that social aggression was
commonly directed towards him and his friends.
I began to be reminded,
again, how painfully difficult it was to be a person of color in the
I eventually asked
Junie what had become of our mutual friend George.
George was a tall,
friendly young man whom I had crushed as a freshman. George was my
first puppy love. A “love” that was completely defined by
infrequent phone conversations, talking at school, a clandestine
meeting at a dance against parental permission, hand-holding at an
outdoor winter skating pond and a few, awkward quick kisses.
I told Junie I had
often thought of George with fondness but lost touch completely
through the past three plus decades. Junie told me George was still
around. He said he had seen him around town but he didn’t keep in
close touch with him. He said he had never married and didn’t have
any children. I asked Junie if he thought George would remember me.
stared at me in stunned silence.
He asked, “Are you
kidding me!?” Junie informed me that all of his and George’s
friends were fully aware of George’s and my special friendship back
in the day. He was shocked that I even asked. He told me George had
“never let the fellas forget you” – even to today. He told me
that for years, George would talk about me as though I were still
around and still “his girl”. He said he often reminisced about
his “Ann” and how things “might have been.” He asked again
how could I even ask that question - I was still “his” Ann!
This was compelling to
hear because I had never had anyone to talk with about that
abruptly-limited painful experience. All my wonderings, thoughts,
pain and anger had only ever been kept in my head - until now. I
assumed I was alone in those thoughts and feelings and often wondered
if I had made too much of the loss of his friendship. To discover all
this had gone on without my knowledge made me fully understand the
age-old longing I had always felt to meet and talk to George, again.
We DID have unfinished business, after all.
I was very touched to
hear this but the news reopened old wounds.
The ancient guilt I had
always felt suddenly appeared in new form, resurrecting old anxiety.
Excitedly, I asked Junie if it were possible for me to see George,
again. Junie paused and was politely reluctant. “I don’t know,
Ann,” he had said, “things are different for him, now.” He told
me that George was somewhat disabled and could no longer drive or
ride a bike as a result. He reluctantly but kindly painted a bleak
picture of George’s current status due to daily alcohol
consumption. My heart sank to hear this, but I didn’t have any
preconceived notions. I really wasn’t concerned what state he was
in. My main concern was that I try to rekindle a friendship with
George and let him know how badly I still feel about what happened
back in the day, before either of us passed away.
I wanted to apologize
to George. I wanted to ensure that he was aware it was parental
pressure that ended our friendship, not me. I wanted him to know and
hear from me that there had never been anything wrong with him as a
person. I insisted to Junie that I would like to see him – the
sooner the better.
I pleaded with Junie to
try to locate him right then.
Preparing to Meet George
It was a dark, cold
and sleeting January night and Junie patiently suggested, more than
once, that we do this another time.
I didn’t want to be
rude or overly demanding but I didn’t want to wait any longer. I
couldn’t. I had waited over three decades, already. This was the
closest I had ever been to possibly seeing George, again. I felt an
urgency and a strong need to see George. I emphasized the need to
meet with him right then. It seemed that, after all these years, I
was so close yet still so far from seeing him.
I insisted to Junie
that we meet as soon as possible. I must have sounded pretty
irrational because I could feel Junie’s reluctance. It became
awkward for both of us for me to keep pressuring Junie this way. I
also felt Junie’s kind willingness to help put us in touch, again,
as if he knew it was a rare opportunity to repair the past.
acquiesced. I was so relieved and thankful to have Junie’s patient
cooperation and let him know how much I appreciated it. He was
somewhat of a town historian, a social leader and was very well known
in town. I trusted his knowledge, memories and judgment.
Junie devoted time to
finding George. After a few phone calls, he located him at his
parents’ home, his family’s original homestead where George now
lived, again, with his elderly parents. Junie expressed that he still
didn’t think it was a good idea, but before I knew it, we were on
our way to meet George.
George did not know I
I drove, with Junie
towards the “hill,” a neighborhood known as Laurel Hill where I
did not feel allowed to go as a teenager. I suddenly felt very
nervous, again, as though I were doing something wrong. Something
inside me would not settle for anything less than a face-to-face
meeting to confront this gnawing feeling that I had forgotten was
still festering inside me. It still felt like I was going against my
parents’ wishes even though I was a grown woman and retired police
It’s interesting to
realize how old, unresolved circumstances retain their haunting
emotional power over us when various old situations have never been
brought to appropriate closure.
house was perched atop a steep hillside rise, making our approach
risky on an icy night. I drove with great care, not wanting to risk
any reason to prevent this long-awaited and formerly-forbidden visit.
It was, metaphorically, a very precarious route to George’s house
that night and the weather conditions were the least of my concerns.
As we approached
George’s address, I couldn’t help but reflect on the wrongfulness
of never having been there, before. I wondered how many times I might
have been within a block, a store aisle or a highway lane away from
him through the years and never realized it. How many times might our
paths have crossed in town, at a concert or in a mall? What would I
My mind was swirling
with questions, thoughts and emotions which raced from then to now.
In my anxious anticipation, I questioned if this was truly the right
thing to do. I sincerely hoped it was not going to be a disaster, a
damaging disappointment to George or at the very least an
embarrassment to me. I had no way of knowing how George would react
to seeing me. My heart was pounding, knowing there was no turning
back. I needed this impromptu visit to go “right” and there was
One thing was clear,
though. I knew I needed to see George.
Suddenly, I knew what I
would say! I knew what I wanted George to know. I wanted to tell him,
that despite distance, time and circumstance, I had never stopped
being his special friend. That I had spent an inordinate amount of
time through the years mentally revisiting the short time we crushed
one another and had felt the associated emotions for years - in my
memory only. It was time to face some ugliness, this time with
freedom of choice.
My heart was pounding
like a school girl with an oddly-familiar anxiety.
Once in George’s
parent’s driveway, I turned off the lights and we remained in the
car. Junie called George’s house phone on his cell and George
answered. Junie asked George to come outside and didn’t tell him
why. George didn’t want to come outside. He sounded annoyed, saying
he had just arrived home from work and was eating dinner. He asserted
it was too cold and wet and he was in for the night. And that was
final! George was agitated that Junie was so insistent and after a
final “NO!” George hung up on him. Junie seemed relieved that
George made it so easy for him. He said to me, “I told you - he’s
not coming outside.”