People frown at you if you wear flip-flops to a funeral. This thought came to me as my plane touched down on Long Island, and I realized I was due at one in a few hours and had forgotten to pack shoes. Luckily I was in my hometown. Giving myself the requisite half hour to get lost in traffic on roads I used to know, I finally pulled into the shoe store I’d frequented as a teenager. I started looking.
“Do you need some help?”
I turned to the clerk in back of me to say, “Yes” but stopped.
It was Bobby Werner. From high school. Class of ’68. His hair was all gelled up, committed to a bad comb-over I wish someone had talked him out of. He’d lost those full cheeks he had as a kid. But it was him.
Before I even say my next words aloud, here’s where I’ve been in my head: Bobby Werner made Honor Society our junior year, which was the province of kids whose fathers were internists, so it was doubly impressive because his father worked at Grumman, like mine. He scored touchdowns against rival football teams. He lived on Forest Avenue. His house was green.
There’s more, and I retrieve that, too. He sat in front of me in English class junior year, where he turned around to pass me the SAT practice ditto every morning. So if my math is right, Bobby Werner was forced to look in my direction 180 times, give or take. I had such a thing for Bobby Werner, and I was wondering — now that we were face to face all these years later — if the feeling had been mutual.
“Wow,” I say as if we’re old friends who just haven’t gotten around to seeing each other in several decades. “How are you, Bobby?”
I see blank. Of course, it’s probably not Bobby anymore, I’m thinking. He’s probably ratcheted it down to Bob. Hence the void, I’m sure. So I hop right back in.
“Linda DeMers. From high school?”
Not a glimmer yet. But he’s squinting a bit, so I think he’s trying.
“Massapequa?” I add, just in case he secretly went to more than one high school.
“You went to Massapequa?” he asks. I nod. He stares, and the pause sashays over, right into awkward.
“Impossible,” he says. “I know I’d remember you.”
At first I think he’s flirting with me, but maybe he sees this conversation as an attack on his powers of memory. Whichever it is, I bet he never guessed he’d end up working in a shoe store in his hometown. Or come across a woman who knows the details of his illustrious past.
There’s another pause — even longer than the first one — signaling that we’re finished dancing down memory lane. So remembering why I’m here in the first place, I break the silence.
“Do you have this shoe in black?”
When he returns from the back, he has a shoe box in his hand. He doesn’t say he recognizes me after all, now that he’s had time to think. He doesn’t say he’ll look me up in the yearbook when he gets home.
I bet Bobby Werner remembers graduation day when we smiled for the camera with our proud parents. Our class motto was “We are good! We are great! We’re the Class of ’68!” When we screamed it at pep rallies, we emphasized the middle sentence, believing we were immune to the chips and scratches that would eventually find us.
“Anything else today?” he asks.
I hand him my credit card.