Sunday, October 17, 2010
Late September 1991:
Scott rubbed his cold hands and plunged them into his jacket pockets as he strolled down the deserted boardwalk praying the place he sought still existed in some fashion. The day was overcast with an unusually cold wind and a fine mist keeping what few tourists that remained in their hotel rooms leaving him alone to his thoughts and insane hopes. The city of Myrtle Beach renovated the area extensively after Hurricane Hugo and Scott was sure that many of the places he remembered from his teenage years only lived on in his memories. He only cared about one place, a stupid bar whose history extended long before his birth and he hoped the urban planners had not changed it into some cheap t-shirt shop or chain restaurant.
Somehow, he still found a way to almost overlook and pass the place by. The lamppost and the bench mounted to the edge of the boardwalk next the railing were what caught him. It was the place where they had their last conversation ten years before under the light of that lamp. Scott turned around and recognized the bar even though it had not remained unchanged, gone was the screened-in porch and the fake Tiki hut-like thatched roof. In their place were huge ornate glass windows and some sort of dignified name benefiting tourists seeking a safe and familiar refuge.
He still had two hours before the hoped for noon rendezvous but he was already nervous with a brooding realization he might have come all this way for nothing. Try as he might to find her it was as if she had fallen off the face of the earth. The only hope he had was a vague promise they made to each other to be at the place where so much had passed between them. Still he thought if nothing was ventured then nothing could be gained and with that thought, he pulled open the door and went inside.
While the exterior of the bar was greatly changed, the interior had suffered even more. Gone were the surfboards hanging from the ceiling, the angry tiki gods sitting on small shelves, the group pictures of past customers, and the tattered remains of psychedelic posters proclaiming peace and love stapled to the walls.
The actual bar was mounted next the wall on the right side of the room and ran its entire length, behind it were shelves displaying a huge collection of beer bottles from across the world. At the bar itself sets of levers for draft beer dispensers were placed at even spaces along its length offering the same brand time and time again, a stark contrast to the extensive collection on the shelves. On the customer side oak bar stools with comfortable cushions, advertising a national brand of beer stood empty. The rest of the bar held matching oak tables and chairs with the walls adorned with the mindless clutter of American Pop Culture.
Scott looked around while taking a seat at the bar noticing only a couple of college age students at one of the tables studying and a bald bartender dressed in a white shirt under a maroon vest behind the bar robotically polishing bottles .
“What can I get for you sir?” The bartender asked walking up to Scott.
“Bud Light,” Scott said noticing the asinine nametag the bartender wore proclaiming, “Hi I’m Fred” just above the handkerchief pocket on his vest.
Fred quickly delivered an icy bottle and a bowl of peanuts and drifted back over to his place which Scott noticed concealed a small television hidden by the bar overhang.
In silence, he began his waiting but not before pulling out his senior year high school yearbook and started leafing through the pages. As the minutes slip by with the only sounds in the bar were the soft murmur coming from the small television, the subdued voices from the students, and the sound of pages being turned. Regularly, Scott exchanged his empty bottles for full ones and occasionally stepped back outside to pace in front of the building while checking his watch only to come back inside and take his seat again.
A few people filtered into the bar as noon approached seeking refuge from the usually cold weather and each time Scott jumped as the opening door bumped the bell mounted above it signaling their entrance. The newcomers broke up the solemn atmosphere and heavy silence with the sounds of conversation and laughter but all quickly left again leaving only the bartender and one student now sitting alone at his table wrapped up in a book.
Noon came with Scott visibly disturbed and slightly drunk but still he waited in silence incessantly looking through the yearbook.
“Fred,” Scott said slightly slurred, “I’m just going to walk outside for a few minutes and get some air.”
Fred waved back barely acknowledging the man and returned to his television. Scott made the few steps outside while zipping his jacket back up and took a seat on the bench. He sat there watching the ocean and if someone looked closely enough they might have saw tears rolling down his face but that could have been the mist.
Another hour passed and Scott came back inside, paid his bar tab, and after collecting his yearbook walked back out disappearing into the thickening mist.
The bar remained essentially empty for a while until the arrival of a woman dressed in jeans, sweatshirt, and carrying a small overnight bag. As the door closed behind her, she quickly scanned the bar, obviously for someone but only seeing the bartender and the student.
“Yes ma’am,” Fred said rushing up to the lady, “what can I get for you?”
“There wasn’t a man waiting here was there?” She asked in an urgent voice.
“Why yes there was,” Fred said then giving a belief description, “he left about twenty minutes ago and was walking back toward the Pavilion.”
The lady wasted no time and rushed back out and began running in the direction of the huge shuttered building. Fred the bartender and the student exchanged a look of puzzlement with Fred stepping back over to the television and the student throwing his book into his backpack and heading out to meet someone himself.
Author’s note: This really happened on a cold Myrtle Beach September day, I was the college student studying with a buddy when “Scott” came in with his Myrtle Beach High School yearbook clearly waiting for someone and was the lone student reading a book when “Jennifer” arrived. I have always wondered about the situation between those two people. The following is just my mind filling in the blanks.
About a month before:
The intense sun of an Atlanta morning streamed through the window of the small apartment, waking the man sprawled on the couch. He swung his feet to the floor to sit up knocking over the mostly empty beer cans littering the floor soaking small sections of the moldy carpet with lukewarm remains of last night’s liquid entertainment. For reasons he could not figure out Scott Fisher tried to remember the night before but it was a sickening familiar blur after returning home from work. The rest of his weekend was easy to figure out, a near continuous repeat of Friday night to the last possible minute allowing him just enough time to recover so he could return to work without looking like the drunk he felt himself becoming.
Still he could at least be a clean drunk and with that thought, he stood up and walked from the living room consisting of only his couch and a television that rested on a small coffee table then into his bedroom, which stood empty except for a collection of cardboard boxes. He thought of the dozen or so containers as the parting gifts of his botched marriage, much like something they give a failed game show contestant.
Stepping out of the bathroom minutes, later Scott walked over to his closet and after combing through the few items he actually hung up and the suitcases at the bottom, which still held much of his clothing, he found a pair of shorts and t-shirt that would serve him for the day. Feeling more clear-headed and slightly motivated he began throwing his clothes into one pile for clean and the other for dirty, the former being remarkably small and the latter large and smelly.
“Well, I’ve gone and done it,” he said to himself just to hear the words, “I guess this means a trip to the laundromat.” Scott reached down to pick up his dirty clothes and set them on the top of the cardboard boxes stacked next the wall. Looking at the mound, he realized he was going to need something to carry them all and stepped back to the closet to empty out one of the suitcases to use for transport. It was then that one of the bottom cardboard boxes gave way sending the three others on top to the floor spilling out the contents.
“Dammit, this is asking too much of me today.” Scott again said to himself and began picking up the items littering the floor. Laying half out of one of the boxes was a high school yearbook and Scott felt drawn to it for some reason he could not explain. Being a man of little concern or care he forgot about everything this time and with a tenderness bordering on excessive he sat on the floor and began looking through the book. It was not long before he saw the picture of Jennifer and him, the one taken of them holding each other and sitting on the bench at Myrtle Beach in front of the seedy bar. In the background, surfers and other locals smiled and joked, their youth and emotions forever frozen in the year of 1971. Also frozen was the look of love between Jennifer and him, sweethearts all though high school but soon to be off to different colleges and to eventually grow apart with Jennifer sending him a breakup letter in the middle of their freshmen year.
Even with the recollection of their breakup the softer memories of their time together was a welcome release from the far more recent traumas he had suffered. It was at the bottom of the page that he spied the newer message written in her handwriting. It said, “Don’t forget if things are still bad for the both of us ten years from now let’s meet at our special place and run off together.” Jennifer had written out and circled the date September 30, 1991 and below that twelve noon as the time for them to meet if their lives had not improved.
It was crazy but it was as if someone handed Scott a life preserver, he had a little over a month to find her and understand her current marital situation. Even if he couldn’t figure out a way to contact her he would be at that place waiting.
About two weeks after Scott found his yearbook:
The last of the boxes from the attic now rested in the hallway waiting for Jennifer Stewart to make the final call as to which would go to the condominium, be given to charity, or be sent to the landfill. She had already separated much of her ex-husband’s, Luke, stuff and marked it to spend eternity buried along with the other trash produced by the people of Seattle. He would not need it after running off with her former best friend, Sally, to the country of Panama of all places. At least Jennifer had the last, bitter, laugh. The happy couple had barely settled in their seaside cottage to begin a lifetime of soaking up tropical sun when Sally had become infatuated with a Panamanian businessman leaving Luke in the lurch.
It was for the best; Jennifer realized that their marriage had limped along for years for the sake of the kids. Now with them safely in college she could begin her life anew. Moreover, her new life would be far simpler with the selling of the huge house that she had always hated and moving into a condominium allowing her to skip the tedious and expensive work of maintaining the place. First, she had to go through the dusty boxes in the hallway to see what she might keep with her.
Several hours later, she opened the last of the boxes and starting pouring through the contents. Inside were a bunch of LP’s, books, and other odd items that she figured at one time meant something. Cleaning out the bottom of the box were her high school yearbooks and feeling a need to reconnect she began looking through the pages. It was at the end of the yearbook for her senior year that that she saw the picture of her first love Scott and her sitting on the bench. The flood of emotion almost brought her to tears but what pushed her over the edge was the note she saw written at the bottom of the page. It was in Scott’s handwriting and it mentioned a promise they both made at their ten-year reunion.
Luke’s career had moved them all over the country through the years leaving her greatly surprised when she received the notice about her ten-year high school reunion. The organizers had gotten a great deal at a new Myrtle Beach resort and Sally jumped at the chance to fly back home and see old friends. Luke, who at that time hated to travel, stayed home letting Jennifer go alone. It was during one of the dances that old friends pushed Scott and her back together. Even though it was uncomfortable at first, they fell back into an easy familiar rhythm and since he had traveled alone as well, it was not long before old feelings started to reappear.
After slipping away from the resort, they strolled on the boardwalk and before long happened upon the old bench, lamppost, and bar where their last picture together was taken. Taking a seat on that bench the conversation about old times and the failure of their lives after went long and they were soon holding each other again. Sitting there, they knew the long forgotten emotions they were feeling were real. But the realization that they were still married to other people and for separate reasons could not break away from their marriages trumped everything. After a long kiss, they each made the promise that if things were not better in ten years they would meet again at the same place and try again.
Jennifer remembered that night and the promise, at first she tried to move on but something inside her refused to let it go. The next morning she began trying to find Scott’s address and number but as the days rolled by she was left with nothing but the promise and the feelings she knew still existed. When it came time, she could do nothing other than to make flight reservations, be waiting for him, and hope he would be there.