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The Same Woman (Sara)

Every few years Andrew meets the same woman and always recognizes her, though she never recognizes him as anyone she knew before.

They met for the first time in elementary school in 1955 when her name was Alice. The second time their paths crossed was in the summer before they started high school. 1962. He was thirteen and so was she. In fact, she is always his age.

Thirteen-year-old Andrew is a handsome lad with hard-to-tame brown hair and olive skin. Five-foot-seven and growing fast, the beginnings of a beard and mustache have recently emerged on his chin and upper lip, prompting him to shave every few days. He is an avid basketball player and has a weekend and summer job involving hard work with pick and shovel and wheelbarrow. Thus he is agile and muscular and very strong for his age.

A few weeks before high school begins, Andrew is given the marvelous gift of being allowed to go with his best friend Jeremy and Jeremy’s parents and younger sister to a little house on the north shore of Lake Tahoe that Jeremy’s family rents for two weeks every summer.

The little house is just a block from a white sand beach. Renters of the little house may avail themselves of two rowboats tethered to the pier at the south end of the beach. Hiking, fishing, swimming, rowing, and goofing around are on the holiday agenda, though ogling girls is at the top of Jeremy and Andrew’s vacation to-do list.

Goofing around on the beach is what Jeremy and Andrew are doing on their second day at the lake, the afternoon warm and windless, perfect for throwing the Frisbee and diving into the lake in pursuit of the enticing disk.

As Andrew emerges from the lake after a spectacular dive and catch, he sees two comely young women, a blonde and a brunette, arriving on the beach, and he is struck by the uncanny resemblance of the brunette to the Alice he knew and loved from age six until he was almost ten. That’s when Alice and her family moved from California to Canada and he never heard from her again.

The young women spread big beach towels on the sand twenty feet away from Jeremy and Andrew’s towels and remove their sarongs to reveal their lovely young bodies clad in bikinis. Now they lather on sun block, don sunglasses, and lie down for a bout of tanning, though both of them are already deeply tanned.

Jeremy and Andrew plant themselves on their towels, gaze longingly at the sunbathing maidens, and Jeremy quietly opines, “Are we in heaven or what?”

“I think I know one of them,” says Andrew, touching his heart in homage to the first girl he ever loved.

“The blonde or the brunette?” asks Jeremy, frowning at Andrew. “And how come I don’t know her?”

“Alice Rivera,” says Andrew, on the verge of tears. “She left at the end of Fourth Grade and you came in Fifth. I told you about her. Didn’t I?”

“I don’t think so,” says Jeremy, shaking his head. “Are you sure it’s her? Wasn’t she only like nine the last time you saw her?”

“We were almost ten,” says Andrew, feeling again how much he loved Alice. “And she was way ahead of the curve, if you know what I mean.”

“Judging by the curves she’s got now,” says Jeremy, grinning, “I do know what you mean. So you’re telling me this gorgeous babe is only thirteen?”

“If she’s Alice, yeah,” says Andrew, nodding.

“Well…” says Jeremy, his eyes widening expectantly, “introduce yourself.”

“No,” says Andrew, looking away from the young women. “I’m too shy.”

However, twenty minutes later in the midst of a splendid game of Frisbee, Jeremy flings the disk a bit higher than Andrew can leap and the swirling disk alights in the sand mere inches from the two young women who have been sitting up for some time now watching Andrew and Jeremy play.

The young woman who Andrew thinks is Alice picks up the Frisbee and smiles enticingly as Andrew comes near.

“Sorry about that,” he says, blushing.

“The old errant Frisbee gambit,” she says, her cheeks dimpling exactly as Alice’s always did.

Seeing those dimples, Andrew blurts, “Alice? Alice Rivera? I’m Andrew. Remember me? Andrew Ross.”

The young woman arches her eyebrow. “Followed by the old name-guessing ruse. But for future reference, Andrew, never add a last name to the first name guess. Because then when she replies, ‘I’m not Alice, I’m Sara,’ you can slap your forehead and say, ‘Oh of course. Sara. I meant Sara.’”

“But I didn’t mean Sara,” says Andrew, gazing in wonder at her. “I mean Alice. Everything about you is Alice. Your face, your eyes, the way you speak.” He takes a deep breath. “Little Hills Elementary. Redwood City. You moved to Canada four years ago and I wrote to you a bunch of times but you never wrote back.”

“He’s very cute,” says the blonde, “but I think he’s a little crazy.”

“I don’t mind a little crazy,” says the brunette, locking eyes with Andrew. “I’m Sara. This is Dominique. I’ve never been to Redwood City or Canada, but we can still be friends if you want. How long are you here for?”

“Twelve more days,” he says breathlessly. “You?”

“About the same,” she says, dimpling again. “And then we go back to Reno and start our first year of high school.”

“So…” He clears his throat.

“Maybe we can hang out,” she says, beating him to the punch as Alice always did. “What’s your friend’s name?”

“Jeremy,” says Andrew, beckoning to Jeremy who is standing in the shallows a hundred feet away. “He’s great. You’ll love him.”

“We’ll be the judge of that,” says Dominique, taking the Frisbee from Sara, rising gracefully, and flinging the disc straight as an arrow to Jeremy who catches it with both hands and tumbles backwards into the lake.

The next day, after a morning hike with Jeremy’s parents and sister, Andrew and Jeremy return to the beach where Sara and Dominique await them with a picnic of sandwiches and potato chips and soda pop and chocolate chip cookies.

They are all wonderfully comfortable with each other, and Andrew continues to marvel at how much Sara reminds him of Alice, her facial expressions, her gestures, the timbre of her voice, the way she listens so intently to what others are saying, and how she moves and runs and laughs.

In the late afternoon, they take the rowboats out on the lake, Dominique and Jeremy in one boat, Sara and Andrew in the other, and after a time their boats go in different directions.

“So tell me about this Alice you were in love with,” says Sara, sitting in the prow and facing Andrew as he rows.

“She was…” He smiles as he remembers Alice. “She was beautiful and super smart and very funny and the fastest runner in our class until Fourth Grade when a couple guys could finally beat her. And she was very sure of herself. Self-confident. Just like you.”

“Except she was an idiot not to write you back,” says Sara, pouting in the same adorable way Alice pouted. “I would have. I think you’re great.”

“Thanks.” He blushes. “I think you are, too.”

“You want to make out?” she says softly.

“You mean…”

“Kiss,” she says, nodding.

“Okay,” he says, ceasing to row. “I never have, but… I’d like to.”

“Never have?” she says, moving to sit beside him. “You seem so sophisticated.”

“Well, um, I read a lot,” he says, clearing his throat. “But I’ve never had a girlfriend, so…”

“You’ll have lots,” she says, kissing him tenderly.

“Wow,” he whispers. “That was amazing.”

“Again please,” she says, kissing him again.

After a few more minutes of incredibly pleasurable communion with each other, they jump in the lake and swim in a big circle around the boat before finding each other to kiss some more.

Sitting side-by-side in the rowboat, each manning an oar as they row back to shore, Sara says, “I wish you lived in Reno. Then we could go together and who knows what might happen.”

“I wish I lived there, too,” he says, nodding in agreement. “I’d give anything to live near you.”

“You seem older than thirteen,” she says, finding him ideal in every way.

“So do you,” he says, madly in love with her. “If I hadn’t thought you were Alice, I would have thought you were sixteen.”

Two nights later, Sara and Dominique come for supper with Jeremy and Andrew and Jeremy’s parents and sister. Sara and Dominique tell Jeremy’s inquiring mother what they already told Jeremy and Andrew, that their mothers are blackjack dealers in a big casino in Reno and every summer take a quasi-vacation by coming to Lake Tahoe with their daughters for a month of dealing blackjack four nights a week at a casino on the north shore. Sara’s father is a fitness trainer in Florida and she rarely sees him. Dominique’s father is a pit boss in a Reno casino. Dominique has an older brother; Sara is an only child.

“And what do you girls aspire to be?” asks Jeremy’s mother, who expects both her children to get at least PhDs.

“I might be a psychologist,” says Dominique, smiling warmly at Jeremy’s mother. “But I’m really into music, too, so maybe I’ll get a job with a record company or manage a band or something like that.”

“I want to be an actress,” says Sara, nodding assuredly. “I’ll try for Yale, but I’ll probably go to Nevada State. I sing, too.”

“How wonderful,” says Jeremy’s father, an electrical engineer. “When I was thirteen all I wanted to be was fourteen. Beyond that, I knew nothing. I think it’s great you know the direction you want to go.”

“Subject to change,” says Sara, winking at Andrew. “My mother wanted to be an actress, too. It’s a long shot, but why not dream?”

Three days after Dominique and Sara come for supper, Dominique and her mother have to go home to Reno to take care of Dominique’s grandmother who fell and broke her hip. Jeremy is devastated because he and Dominique were planning to lose their virginity together and now that won’t happen.

Andrew and Sara have no such plans, though their bouts of kissing and caressing sometimes verge on sex. But they both feel too young and too unsure and too afraid. In almost every way they seem to be of the same mind, and this is something Andrew has never experienced with anyone before.

On a beautiful evening, five days before their idyll must end, Sara and Andrew sit side-by-side at the end of the pier. They are dressed warmly for the cold that descends upon the lake every night as summer gives way to fall. Jeremy is with his parents and sister in the little house, making fudge and playing Monopoly.

“The problem, dear Andrew,” says Sara, with a credible British accent, “is that you’ve set the bar so dreadfully high, I despair of ever meeting someone as fine as you again in this one brief life I am given.

“Well I’m going to be an actor, too,” says Andrew, his British accent atrocious. “You never know. We just might meet again at Yale or Nevada State.”

“But truly, Andrew,” says Sara, dropping the British accent. “I can’t imagine ever meeting anyone I like as much as you. We just… we just go together so well in so many ways.”

“Want to count them?” he asks, putting his arm around her.

“No, I’ll get too sad,” she says, sighing. “If only we were twenty-five. That’s when I want to get married. But that’s twelve years from now. Who knows where we’ll be twelve years from now?”

“We’ll both know because we’ll write to each other and call each other and visit each other during the summers and…”

“No, we won’t,” she says shaking her head.

“Why not?”

“Because we’re thirteen. We’ll try to stay in touch, but after a few letters saying how much we miss each other, we’ll get all tangled up in high school and… meet other people.”

“No,” says Andrew, defiantly. “I’m gonna write to you every week for the rest of my life whether you write me back or not. Every Sunday. I won’t let myself eat until I’ve written you a letter and put a stamp on it and mailed it.”

“You’re so sweet,” she says, kissing him. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” he says, crying. “I’ve never known anyone as wonderful as you.”

Sara comes for supper on Andrew and Jeremy’s last night at the lake, and during supper Jeremy’s mother asks Sara if she’ll be coming to the lake again next summer.

“Probably not,” she says, shaking her head. “I have to get a job and there’s a summer Drama program I want to get into if I can. But if I don’t get in, maybe I’ll be back. I don’t know. We’ll see.”

“Well just so you know,” says Jeremy’s father, “we’ll be coming back here for the same two weeks next year and hope to drag Andrew along with us.”

Andrew escorts Sara home after supper, both of them crying as they hold hands and walk along under the starry sky.

“I never got to meet your mother,” says Andrew, sniffling back his tears.

“She would love you,” says Sara, giving his hand a squeeze. “I will try to write to you, Andrew. I will. But I might be too sad.”

“I know we’re gonna see each other again,” he says, his heart about to burst. “I know we will.”

“I hope so,” she says as they arrive at her house. “But no matter what happens, I’ll never forget you.”

Andrew writes to Sara every Sunday for seventeen Sundays, and Sara writes to him a few times, too. But when ten of his letters to her go unanswered, he skips a Sunday and then another, and when he tries to write to her again, he cannot coax a single word from his pen.

But he does see her again. Four years later. Her name is Laura when they meet at seventeen, and he knows her the minute he sees her, though she will claim she’s never seen him before.

fin

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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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