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A Perfect Yesterday

by Ann L. Tucker

Copyright 2017 by Ann L. Tucker

First edition

Book Design: Y42K Publishing Services


Table of Contents

"The heart is the only broken instrument that works."

-T.E. Kalem


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 corner booth.

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 verification.

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 compliment.

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.

Chapter One: Early Beginnings

April 9, 2006

Today was a perfect yesterday.

April’s bright sunshine spilled brilliantly onto our special time capsule day - one I had longed for, for thirty five years. It was finally time to live yesterday over!

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 sources.

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 coffee.

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.

Chapter Two: Junie

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 70’s.

Chapter Three: George

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.

Junie open-mouthed 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.

Chapter Four: 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.

Finally, Junie 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 was coming.

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 inspector.

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.

George’s family’s 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 have said?

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 no guarantee.

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.”

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