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The Same Woman (Alice)

You know those movies like Groundhog Day wherein a character keeps waking up and reliving the same day over and over until he learns whatever the universe wants him to learn? Well that doesn’t happen to Andrew. What happens to Andrew is that every few years he meets the same woman, and though he always recognizes her and is glad to see her again, she never recognizes him as someone she’s met before because though she is the same woman, she always has a different identity than the one she had when Andrew last knew her.

This has been going on since Andrew was a little boy. And now Andrew is seventy-seven. The last time he met the woman was four years ago and he’s beginning to think he may not meet her again before he dies.

If this seems impossible to you, imagine how it seems to Andrew who never would have believed such a thing was possible if it hadn’t happened to him over and over again.

Does the woman age? Yes. She is the same age as Andrew. Does her place of origin change? So it seems. Does her appearance change each time they meet? Not really. The way she wears her hair changes, though she is always a brunette, and her clothing changes, her style choices change, but her face and body and personality do not change except in the ways faces and bodies and personalities change as we age.

Andrew first met her when he was six and starting First Grade halfway through the school year at Little Hills Elementary School in Redwood City. He was an old hand at starting school without knowing any of the other kids, having gone to two kindergartens in Texas and another First Grade in San Mateo.

One of the things he learned from his time in those three other schools was that there was no need for him to try to make friends because he and his future friends would effortlessly find each other in the course of going to school together.

At Morning Recess on Andrew’s first day at Little Hills, three girls approached him as he waited in line for a turn on the swings. One of those girls was the person he would meet again and again throughout his life. Her name was Alice, and Andrew had already decided she was one of the four cutest girls in his class.

Alice was flanked by Lynn, the tallest girl in their class, and Gina, another of the girls Andrew felt was among the four cutest. Lynn had glossy blonde hair that reached her shoulders. Alice and Gina both had brown hair cut an inch or so below their ears. They were all wearing skirts and blouses and tennis shoes and Andrew thought they were marvelous.

“Hi Andrew,” said Gina, smiling at Andrew. “We’re in Mrs. Bushnell’s class with you.”

“I know,” he said, blushing. “I saw you.”

“We want to know if you’re like the other boys,” said Gina, her smile changing to a frown.

“What do you mean?” asked Andrew, hoping they didn’t want to see his penis. At his three previous schools there were girls and boys who wanted to see his penis, and Andrew had not been cooperative in this regard. He much preferred girls and boys who left his genitals out of the social equation.

“Would you let girls run in races with boys?” asked Lynn, who had by far the deepest voice of any of the kids in their class.

“Why not?” said Andrew, sensing a possible tricky situation developing.

Another thing he’d learned at those three other schools was to avoid tricky situations whenever possible because they often ended badly for someone who might be him.

“Because,” said Alice, jutting out her chin and pouting at the same time, a combination Andrew found adorable, “the other boys won’t let us race them because I’m fastest and Gina is faster than all of them except Biff.”

“I don’t know anyone here,” said Andrew, who was by then next in line for a turn on the swings. “Except my sisters. They’re older than me. One is in Third Grade and one is in Fifth.”

“So you think girls should be able to race with boys,” said Gina, stating this as a fact rather than a question.

“Okay,” said Andrew, hurrying to claim the just-vacated swing.

And he thought no more about girls racing with boys until Lunch Recess when he was in line to play Four Square and two boys who were in the Second Grade confronted him.

The bigger of the two boys was a few inches taller than Andrew and twenty pounds heavier.

“Hey turd face,” said this bigger boy, “why did you say the girls could race with us?”

“I never did,” said Andrew, shaking his head.

“Yes, you did,” said the boy, giving Andrew a shove.

Andrew took a deep breath and replied, “I said girls should be able to race with boys, not could. This is my first day here and I don’t know all the rules. Please leave me alone.”

“Maybe I don’t want to, turd face,” said the boy, shoving Andrew again.

Now another thing Andrew learned at his previous three schools was that when someone bullied you and you didn’t fight back, the bullying continued until you did fight back. And to be effective, the fighting back had to be more than merely exchanging a shove for a shove. To stop the bullying, fighting back had to transcend the initial assault.

So before the boy knew what was happening, Andrew curled his right hand into a fist and slugged the boy really hard in the center of the forehead. And before the bully’s pal could react to Andrew slugging the bully, Andrew punched him equally hard in the forehead, too.

Both boys were staggered by the blows and yowling in pain when two teachers intervened. Mrs. Dalrymple, a large Second Grade teacher with curly red hair, took charge of Chad, the boy who had initiated the conflict, and Chad’s cohort Biff, while Miss Nakamoto, a petite First Grade Teacher with long black hair, escorted Andrew away from the scene.

And following close behind Andrew and Miss Nakamoto were Alice and Gina and Lynn, Alice declaring loudly, “We saw the whole thing, Miss Nakamoto. Chad and Biff started it because Andrew said girls could race with boys and they know I’m the fastest and they hate losing to me.”

Which is how Andrew became friends with Alice and was not so secretly in love with her for the next three years until she and her family moved to Canada and he never saw her again, except he did, only the next time she was thirteen and named Sara.

But before we get to Sara, we will end the Alice chapter of Andrew’s life by saying that at Lunch Recess on the last day of Fourth Grade, Alice approached Andrew and said she wanted to speak to him in private.

They walked across the playground to the big oak tree and Alice stood very close to him and said, “I’m really gonna miss you, Andrew. Every time I think about not living here anymore, I think about you and how much I like you.” Then she frowned and pouted at the same time, a combination Andrew found adorable. “I think I want to marry you. Would you like to marry me?”

“Yes,” said Andrew, without the slightest hesitation. “We’ll send each other letters and talk on the phone and visit each other during summer vacation and get married when we’re eighteen.”

“Okay, good,” said Alice, sighing with relief. “I’ll give you my new address in Canada.”

“And I’ll give you mine,” said Andrew, brimming with happiness.

Andrew wrote to Alice three times that summer after Fourth Grade. But she never wrote back. He was heartbroken until the beginning of Fifth Grade when he fell madly in love with Sharon Goldfarb who toyed with his affections for half the school year before going steady with, you guessed it, Chad.

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