Amanda

by
James R. Muri
Copyright 1996

It was late May, 1961. We loaded up the yellow buses in front of Henley High School there in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and headed south. Henley High was about ten miles out of town, a country high school, and it was attended by residents of the country around it. There were two busloads of those residents, so the seating wasn't crowded, as the whole class, chaperones, and drivers numbered only 67 souls. Immediately some of the boys got themselves together in the rear of the bus and started playing cards, others struck up conversations, some of the girls gathered together and started their conversations, and a few paired off to talk.

Somehow I'd gotten a seat next to Ruth Anne. I'd taken her to the prom, and she wasn't exactly a beauty - she had a skin problem, lots of little blisters and things that looked terrible - and, I've come to believe in this environmentally enlightened time, the result of her father's extensive use of chemicals on their farm - but didn't take away from her enjoyable personality. She'd become a friend, even though not someone I could find myself romantically inclined towards. Lust, yes. Friend, yes. Romance, no. If that's confusing, then you understand.

We talked for about ten hours, not counting pit stops, and finally found ourselves collectively ensconced in the YMCA hotel in San Francisco. This hotel was on an island called Treasure Island, although I never found out where the treasure was buried. Probably someone found it and used it to build the hotel. Anyway, six of us boys found ourselves assigned the penthouse, on the top floor. I think it was fourteen floors up, and we had a door that went out onto the roof. After supper (meal chits provided as part of the trip - really wonderful food, as you would expect) some of us acquired some balloons and soon we were engaged in the sophisticated and mature sport of trying to hit automobiles pulling into the parking lot a hundred and forty feet below.

Yes, it's true. Seniors acting like fourth-graders who should have known better. We especially enjoyed convertibles.

But I was a nerdly sort, not inclined to get wrapped up in hooting and carrying on, although enjoying the exercise in ballistics that hitting a moving vehicle entailed, a skill I put to use more than a decade later as an artillery officer. So when the inevitable bottles of illicit beverages found their way into our penthouse, I abstained. I hadn't ever had a hard or mixed drink anyway, although I'd had my share of beer while on all-night catfishing parties on the banks of the Lost River, drinking and telling lies along with a half dozen or so other boys by the light of a pile of burning tires.

Eventually Mike and I went down to the lobby, and found (yes, we did) Marlene and Amanda eyeing the food dispenser machines. Mike and I, having already eaten our chit's worth and still hungry, were going to go out and find some additional food, so we invited them along.

Now Henley High School sits at an altitude of 4400 feet, and of course San Francisco is at sea level. So we all (the girls too) took off at a trot, and trotted, and trotted, and trotted. We seemed inexhaustible, tireless, charged in the oxygen-enriched sea-level atmosphere being pumped through our lungs. Eventually, miles later, we found a place where a guy was tossing dough up in the air and spinning it into a larger and larger circle.

I'd heard of Pizza, but never had any. This was in 1961. The English language had just been invented and Italian words had yet to be incorporated completely, like they are today. But even so I recognized the ingredients, and we decided after consulting our very thin wallets that perhaps we could split a medium ($3.59, I think it was) four ways if we only drank water. Those were the days when a pizza had a bunch of toppings. So we decided on anchovies (I had no idea what they were, but the name sounded right), mushrooms, green peppers and onions, in addition to the usual toppings.

Food sure to kindle romance.

Of course this wasn't a date. Just four people trying to decide how to politely claim the last piece of pizza. It didn't matter that Marlene was driving me slowly insane with the way she'd sort of peel her lips back and gently bite the pizza . . . she caught me staring once, and I don't think she understood the look on my face, because she looked a little puzzled. I didn't understand my endocrine reactions to the situation, either.

It wasn't a date.

Later Amanda and I found ourselves walking along Fisherman's Wharf. We'd taken the tram just like tourists are supposed to do, and I think Mike and Marlene had gotten off somewhere near the Embarcadero, or something.

We walked along and sniffed the fish, the crab, the sea, watched some boats still unloading their catches for the next day's market. We talked and walked.

Funny how I'd never really gotten to know her, all that time in school. Another nice girl. No skin problems, either. I don't understand yet how it came to be that we found ourselves alone on the main street that winds along the waterfront - I forget its name, maybe it's Water Street, like in lots of harbor towns - but we were holding hands and somehow felt like old friends. There were streetlights every couple hundred feet or so, casting pale yellow pools at the bases of their posts, and as the night wore on the foot traffic got thinner and thinner, and the benches along the street and walkway there became vacant.

We made it back in time to clean up and get on the buses for the next day's field trip (this was the main excuse for the trip - field trips) to the C&H Sugar Refinery. It was down on the waterfront too, in another part of town than Amanda and I had wound up in the previous night. Amanda never told me how she had managed the chaperone situation. I wasn't asked, being a guy. But then no one caught us sneaking into the hotel that morning, either, and my roomies weren't going to rat on me, since some of them may have been guilty of some other infraction.

I preferred my infractions to theirs, though. They were hung over and feeling like shit. I was wasted and felt wonderful.

I already knew I was probably leaving in July for Riverside, California to start college. Admissions tests, moving in with my aunt and uncle while my folks finished selling the house. Amanda had been in about half my classes since I'd arrived in Klamath Falls more than a year ago, and it had taken until last night to discover her. I thought about that while we were being bussed to the refinery, Amanda and I discreetly on different parts of the bus. I don't remember what else I was thinking, but I remember thinking.

It was embarrassing to be escorted back to the hotel by the police early the next morning. It was especially embarrassing having to explain to the chaperones the cryptic and incomplete information provided by the officers who escorted us, who informed them that we had been behaving in an "inappropriate" manner on the grass behind one of the benches. Then they handed over the folded blanket I'd borrowed off my bed in the penthouse.

I was just trying to be considerate.

We visited the Zoological Gardens that day.

I was placed on a sign-out system for the remainder of the field trip. Sign out with the chaperones to go anywhere, sign back in. And Amanda was, too, but she couldn't sign out the same time I did. We could not both be signed out at the same time. We had to stay in the hotel.

But her roommate could sign out. We came to an arrangement.

The field trip lasted four nights. I learned a lot that I'd only imagined before. I won't recommend this sort of thing to my kids, though. Even though I only have fond memories of the time we spent together, I wondered for years how she was doing, and sometimes I felt regret.

Sometimes, even, I wished I hadn't left.


September of 1979. Driving north via the back road from Fall River Mills, California to Seattle, there to catch an aeroplane to lovely Korea. Left behind a soon-to-be-ex-wife, one child, three step children.

What the hell, I thought. I have to go through Klamath Falls anyway, I'll stop and see about the 20th Anniversary Reunion party, if there is one, etc. So about eleven or so the second day (I goofed off the first day and left late) I pull into Henley High School. I decided that the first place to check for such scheduled activities might be the office of the Vice Principal.

The school had changed. The building that had been the high school was now the junior high, and a newer and larger more efficient and character-free building was housing the high school. But the athletic fields were the same, as were the grandstands.

But back to the office. I was introduced to the Vice Principal, Mrs. Ruth Anne _____. (I forget her last name now.)

Both of us surprised. She was plumper, no more zits or blisters. Prettier. She rose and smiled, shook my hand.

"The years have been far too kind to you, Ruth Anne. You look better now than when I left."

She laughed. "The wonders of dermabrasion and motherhood, and moving away from home."

We chatted for a few minutes, and I inquired about a reunion party. She asked if I was volunteering to put one together, but I copped a plea (assignment to Korea) and asked if I could leave a number or address where I could be contacted in the event one was scheduled.

Eventually the conversation came around to Amanda. Where was she, how was she, etc. She looked at me, sort of sad and regretfully.

"Are you free for lunch, Tim? I'll take you to see her."

I wasn't sure that would be a good idea, what with my married status hanging by a thread as it was, but she assured me there'd be no problem. So at lunch time I got into her truck and we drove out to what I think is called the Greater Poe Valley Cemetery.

We stood in front of her family's vault, their last name engraved in large gothic letters across the top. Below them were little squares with the names of the residents therein. She pointed out one. "Amanda and Jay, Beloved Daughter and Grandson, Died 3 February 1962" It went on to give each of their birthdates, and Jay was born 3 February 1962.

A short life for the little guy.

Amanda's parents were both there, too, although they died several years later.

I sat down on a nearby bench, did some fast counting. After a moment Ruth Anne started talking quietly.

"She was in labor, at about 2:30 in the morning. Her dad put her in his truck and headed to the hospital in town. But you know that Olene road, Tim. That curve by the bridge? It was icy, a little light snow. He was in a hurry, skidded off, and she went through the windshield. He hit the steering wheel and was pinned unconscious against the seat. When they were found about seven, she'd bled to death in the snow and her son was still between her legs, dead from exposure."

The rest of my visit to Klamath Falls was meaningless, and I won't go into it. People suspected, but didn't know for sure. She'd never told me in the few letters she wrote. Ruth Anne said she had hoped I might come back up to see her, and in fact had invited me (I remember that letter very well), but I was then busy learning the fine art of beer drinking and girl chasing in college.

I don't think there's much more about Amanda that I need to say, except -

Sometimes I wish I'd never left.


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