Graham

Searching for Savanna

In fiction, short story on September 28, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Copyright © 2010 by Tad Laury Graham

Searching for Savanna

I’m not planning to see her after all these years. At least, I don’t think I am. I guess I’m not sure what I think, other than it might be amusing to look her up—figuratively speaking, of course. Keeping my distance, I would insist.

As anyone can see, it isn’t much of a plan. It’s more like an opportunity that presented itself, both by my recently unencumbered retirement and by the invention and ubiquitous availability of the Internet. Frankly, I just went along for the ride.

The idea, such as it is, was born in a fog of uncertainty during one of the many domestic storms that accompanied my divorce. In the early stages of my discontent, I was motivated by the existence of a growing niche market, specializing in finding old friends—a market that is worth billions to the young technocrats who figured out there are a lot of lonely people out here.

That’s only part of the story. The rest was payback for all of those rotten things she did when we were kids. Then again, maybe the rest was just the opposite. Maybe in the beginning I was driven by guilt feelings for how I treated her. So while it began with my failed marriage and the estrangement I felt from my children, what it comes down to is that I want another shot. I think I can get it right this time. After all, we were childhood sweethearts in spite of the mistakes, and you never get over your first.

It was probably a little sadistic of me because I already got her back in ways I would like to forget. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to actually hurt her—not physically, anyway—maybe make her a little jealous, show her what she missed. I want her to know how much better things could have been had she recognized my potential, which today translates into a two million dollar house, a half million dollar summer cottage on the lake and an $80,000 car—my ex-wife got the $50,000 car in the divorce settlement.

I started down this path by doing the research to ensure that she wasn’t married to a bigger success than me, or heaven forbid that she isn’t a bigger success in her own right. I mean, what good will it do if I tell her how well I have done if she comes right back at me with how much better she has done? I’m not worried, just want to be thorough … no stone unturned sort of thing. I am certain that she hasn’t achieved much of anything. It just isn’t in her character.

I met her at summer camp the year I was at Big Bear. I was eleven and she was nine. I know what you’re thinking: she was too young for me, especially noticeable because she was too short for me. I didn’t care. My dad is two years older than my mom, and they seem to be O.K. with it. So I followed her around from a distance thinking I wouldn’t be seen, sporting a dumb look on my face (I was sure).

She was so cute that I couldn’t help myself. I could barely talk to her without freezing up. I used to lie in my bunk and dream up ways I might bump into her, casual-like, so as not to seem desperate. I settled on borrowing a camera from Randy, a rich kid who lived in San Francisco, and snapping some pictures from a distance. Looking through the viewfinder, I quickly figured out that the images in the pictures would come out too small, so I got this idea that I would wait until she went into her tent, then I would quickly stick the camera inside and snap the picture. I figured the light from the flash would momentarily blind her and I could get away before she figured out who did it. It was a good plan, and it would have worked except that she could run faster than me and easily caught up while the evidence was still in my hands.

“Give it to me!” She demanded.

“Give what to you?” I pretended.

“Give me the film in that camera.”

“Why should I?”

“Because one of the girls was undressing to get into her swimsuit, now give it to me.”

I stood there, searching for excuses, feeling humiliated, until she said, “Please.” I melted. I didn’t want to admit anything, but I couldn’t say no so I found myself rolling the film up into the camera, removing it, and handing it to her without a word.

“Thank you,” she said, and she pulled the roll open to expose it to the sunlight, then handed it back to me, turned and walked back to her tent.

“It wasn’t you, was it?” I called after her.

Without breaking stride, she turned and smiled, walked backwards a few steps, then turned back to the front and slowly walked out of my life. It was at that moment that Savanna became my Helen of Troy whose face had launched a thousand ships, and for that alone I knew that I had to find her again, someday, somehow.

I had no idea until now how many people-search companies on the Internet guarantee the best results—for a hefty price—and swear that their competitors are dishonest at best and outright crooked at worst. I wade through all the hits for Savanna Jones, which I would have thought was damn few, and I wonder just how many people with that name live in this moment, on this planet. More important, from a practical view, what is Savanna’s middle name, or her date of birth? If I like her so much, why don’t I know?

I pay my $39.95 for the midlevel package from three different companies to get  their “comprehensive, confidential reports,” which are full of significant omissions. This makes me realize that I need a more cost-effective approach. I abandon stealth and take up trolling. I join My Space and write a personal profile to kill for, provide a semi-pathetic exposure of my vulnerable side, and deck out my account with thoughtful-looking pictures—including one of me sitting behind the wheel of my car, the one my ex-wife was awarded in the divorce (a 3-series imola red high performance BMW). Then I sit back in my chair, my feet up on the desk, and wait for her to find me.

A few weeks into trolling, I realize it isn’t working. I think it’s probably because My Space is more of a gathering place for people who already know each other, than a place to make new friends; at least, that would be my opinion. Soon I begin having doubts that I will ever find her. Anybody would if they went to all of this trouble and got nothing much in the way of return-on-investment.

It would be just like her to keep to herself, like when we volunteered to decorate the main hallway as the “tunnel of love” for homecoming at the high school. Nobody showed up to work on it but me and Savanna. I worked really hard on that project because I knew it meant something to her, but when we finished and I suggested we walk through it from beginning to end to make sure we got it right, I will never forget what she said.

“O.K.,” she said, “but not together. I’ll start. When I get to the turn and you can no longer see me, you follow.”

“What’s the point of that?” I asked.

“Just in case any of my friends see us, you know, so they don’t think we’re together.”

I don’t suppose it’s any surprise that we both showed up at the dance with different dates. She came with Timothy Bradley, well-dressed, well-mannered, predictable in behavior and speech, and get this, never swears. I mean you could finish his sentences for him, he was that boring—anyone could, and often did.

I came with Elizabeth Freeport, a regular, the kind of girl your mother wants you to marry—according to my mother. Lizzy, we called her “Lady Lizard” when she was out of hearing distance, had no clue what we talked about all evening. She learned early, however, with uncanny precision, how to laugh in the right places—not one of those hearty guffaw laughs but not what I call the “falsetto cackle,” either. It was more like an educated laugh, quiet and dignified. I felt kind of bad because she acted like she thought I was going to ask her to go steady, like we were an item or something, but I never lost sight of the fact that I was using her to get to Savanna. Not that I felt good about it.

The dance broke up around midnight. Lizzy excused herself to use the restroom and while I was waiting for her, Jake Richardson and a couple of guys who hang around with him came running up to me. Jake said, “I just learned that a group of girls are having a sleepover at Savanna’s house.”

“So what am I supposed to do about it?” I said, “I wasn’t invited.”

“Follow me,” Jake said, and he bolted across the gym room floor before I realized he was talking to me.

“Come on,” he shouted.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I said, “but they aren’t going to let us in.” You see, I’ve been to Savanna’s house. It was way out at the edge of town in a small orange grove. It had two stories, with the old-fashioned raised porch that wraps almost all the way around the building on both levels. Today it’s a gas station and the orange trees have been leveled to make room for a housing development, but in 1959 it was a plantation owner’s palace. What I’m saying is that most likely they would be on the second floor where Savanna and her sister, Pepper, had their bedrooms. There’s only one way we could be going up there.

“I’m not climbing that trellis for any amount of money,” I told Jake.

“Who said anything about climbing the trellis?” Jake asked.

“Tried that a year ago, got up to her window and there she was, sound asleep, wearing nothing but panties. I got so excited I stepped off the trellis and fell, hit the lower porch railing and damn near broke my back.”

“Shut up and get in,” Jake said.

“This is a jeep,” I said. “Nice.”

“Nobody can put one over on you, can they?” Jake said.

I climb into the front passenger seat, and Jake’s friends pile into the back.

The next thing you know, we’re down in the wash, running through the dry river bed at 15 or 20 mph, sitting on the hood and fenders of Jake’s jeep, jumping off and running after frogs caught in our headlights, then hopping back on and stuffing the little green victims into a burlap bag.

“What do you want with all of these frogs?” I asked Jake.

“Count them,” he said.

“Why?”

“How many?”

Looking into the bag, I said, “I estimate about a dozen. No, wait. … more like a dozen and a half.”

“We have enough,” Jake replied, and he made a sharp turn to the right, up the shallow river bank, throwing one of the fender-riders off the vehicle. After expressing a heated opinion about Jake’s driving, he piles back on and we cut across the field to the highway.

“What do we want with the frogs, Jake?”

“You’ll see,” he said.

I hate it when people string me along, and I wasn’t making an exception for Jake Richardson. So now I start to seriously interrogate his motives, but all he says is, “Get ready.” I say, “For what?” Then he turns into the long, dirt driveway of Savanna’s family orange grove and shuts off his lights. About a hundred feet from the house he turns off the ignition and coasts up to the backyard fence. I’m getting this uneasy feeling in my stomach.

“I’ll bet you didn’t know they put in a swimming pool since the last time you were here,” Jake said.

I said, “As a matter of fact, I didn’t,” but by now I could hear the distinct sounds of a diving board and the ripple of the water, and the sounds of a party that we weren’t invited to, and I know we gotta leave while we still can, but Jake said, “let’s get closer.” So I get out of the jeep and follow him, crouching close to the ground. Now I really am curious, so I forget about Jake and sneak right up to the fence. The next thing I know, the burlap bag sails over my head, into the center of the pool. The jeep starts up and peels rubber, and I hear Savanna say, “What’s that?”

Then some screaming and fussing, and I distinctly make out, “How gross!”

“Really disgusting,” says another.

One-by-one they come through the back gate, where I am standing, completely alone, and I have no idea how to explain that I really was not a part of this.

It only took a few days for the story to get all over school that I was trying to break up Jake and Savanna. The story making the rounds was that I wrote Jake’s name on a burlap bag containing at least a hundred dead biology-class lab-frogs and threw the bag through the window of Savanna’s bedroom during the sleepover. Who would have thought they were an item, anyway? If true, why didn’t she go to homecoming with him? I could only surmise that he was the victim as much as I.

My next move is to check out the on-line alumni locaters, like Reunion and Classmates. Reunion looks promising. They advertise themselves as having the largest database of former students in search of a childhood sweetheart, and they keep sending me email about all the people who are looking for me, George Scott, by name. Only trouble is, George Scott isn’t my name, so I guess they must be looking for someone else.

Classmates is another story. She didn’t fill out any of the requested information for her profile or for her communities.  She provided no pictures (then or now), but there she was, Savanna Tucker (Jones), with her graduation date and the name of our high school. Tucker isn’t her middle name, of course. It’s her married name, and the name in parentheses is the name she went by in school. I am elated, not because she is married, but because I never really expected to find her.

Now that I know her current name, I gotta start over. I enter “Savanna Tucker” and press return. Up pops the standard 10,000 to a quarter of a million google hits, in only a few microseconds. I sift through the first 30 or 40 in hopes that the right Savanna Tucker will appear in at least one of these first few entries. Amazingly enough, my approach seems to work. I discover a program, a description for a stage performance at a community theater. Bit part, not enough of a part to include pictures, I guess. Wait a minute … what’s this? “Starring Brent Tucker as Aegean, in an updated performance of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors.”

Sounds dashing. This one’s gotta have a picture. I mouse back to the credits, and sure enough, there he is: a picture of an over the hill, over weight, tired out, balding, perhaps arrogant man, who not only starred in the play, but also directed and produced it. On closer inspection, the program was dated 1972. I would have been 31, and she would have been 29. This guy looks to be in his 50’s. Most interesting, he’s definitely not rich. That was the last thing she ever said to me, and it still pisses me off when I think about it. Not so much for the way she used me, but that she thought she had to trick me into being used. What makes it worse is that it worked.

I asked her out, you know. “Would you like to go to a movie with me?”

Without resistance, and wholly uncharacteristic of her, she says, “Sure, pick me up at eight on Saturday.”

I say, “Great! I’ll be looking forward to it.”

“No biggie,” she says, “just don’t be late.”

“No problem,” I say. “I can come earlier if you like.”

“Good,” she says, “how about 6:30?”

“You thinking of having dinner before the movie?”

“More like breakfast.”

“Breakfast? I guess I missed something.”

“Why would you want to eat dinner at 6:30 in the morning?” She asked.

“Oh, … I sorta thought you meant Saturday evening.”

“I’ll be busy then. Besides, I want you to meet my parents.”

“OK, … I guess we can always grab a matinee later.”

“Then it’s decided,” she says, “I have to run. See you then.”

I guess I should have smelled a rat, but fancied myself too much in love to be thinking straight. It was sort of like the homecoming experience where she wouldn’t be seen with me. I guess I should have known because she never forgave me for the frogs, even though she knew more than she let on. For some reason, Lizzy wasn’t speaking to me either.

I showed up at exactly 6:30 am. Well, I showed up earlier, but I knocked on the door at exactly 6:30 am. I was wearing my best Sunday slacks and long sleeve dress shirt, the ones without holes in the elbows or knees. Savanna answered the door in blue jeans and a white blouse, with a little bit of red trim. I know immediately from the way she looks at me that I am over dressed. God, it’s hard to know what to wear and what not to wear when you are dating. Why don’t they just tell us what they want us to wear?

“I’m sorry,” I begin.

“Don’t be,” she said with authority. “Come  into the kitchen, breakfast is on the table.”

“Daddy, this is the boy I was telling you about.”

“Big strapping fellow,” her dad said. “He’ll work out fine. Have a seat, son. Help yourself to whatever you want. If you don’t see it on the table, we probably have it in the refrigerator or the pantry.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“This one has manners. I like that,” he said. “Mabel, get this boy a plate.”

I begin to wonder if everybody in this family isn’t just a bit of a screweball.
“Thank you, ma’am,” I say to her mother.

“Oh, my,” she says. “You are welcome in this house, anytime.”

Breakfast is really good, and while I associate this with Savanna, I already know the only way I would ever taste a meal as good as this one again would be to marry her mother.

“Bout ready?” Her Dad asked.

I’m not sure what he’s talking about and I look at Savanna for a hint. She does a backhanded wave for me to follow him, so I get up and we go out on the porch.

“We’ll start with the rabbit hutches,” he says. “Ever cleaned a rabbit hutch before?”

“No, not really,” I said.

“Nothing to it,” he says. “The cages are all on stilts and the floor is half-inch chicken wire, so most of the droppings fall to the ground underneath. All you need to do is put the rabbits in the holding pen while you hose off the cage. Then shovel the pellets into a bucket and dump them in the grove.”

I’m thinking that I knew this was bound to be a shitty date, but I could never have guessed just how bad it would get. After the rabbits, I helped him repair the fence, clean out the barn, and pick rocks out back of the grove where they were getting ready to plant more trees. Not a word from Savanna, not even a sighting. Her father didn’t have much to say either, except when he was giving careful and detailed instructions on how to do some particular chore. The sun was overhead, now and I had been sweating so heavily that my clothes were drenched, no longer clean enough for a movie, or much of anything else.

“It’s about time for lunch,” her dad said. “Run along up to the house … they’ll be calling us soon, anyway.”

I was feeling some relief because I wanted to know what the deuce was going on,  so I made no pretense such as offering to clean up. I dropped everything where I stood and hurried back to the house without breaking into a run. Savanna was on the porch swing, staring off into the distance.

“What’s this all about, Savanna?”

“What’s what about?” She says.

“I thought we were going to a movie.”

“Oh, that … I changed my mind.”

“The truth,” I say.

Her dad came trudging up the path, and we go silent to let him pass. He stopped and said, “We haven’t fixed on a wage for you. How does 85¢ an hour sound? I think that’s a little above minimum.”

“Whatever you think is fair, sir.”

“Then it’s settled,” he said, as he moved on.

When he was safely through the door, I said, “So that’s how it is. I’m your Dad’s hired hand.”

She didn’t answer right away, but then she said, “I can never marry you. You know that, don’t you?”

“Who said anything about marriage? I just want to take you to a movie.”

“That’s how it starts,” she said. “Then you begin hanging around, and telling dumb jokes, and soon you get jealous of my other friends and you make snide remarks and drive them away, and it ends up being ownership.”

“You have it all figured out, don’t you?”

“Pretty much.”

“Why me? Why am I the one?”

“You aren’t the only one,” she said, “I can’t marry anyone who doesn’t have money.”

I guess there were many things I could have said, but I didn’t. I just wanted to get away from her. Without looking back, I walked quickly to my car, slipped behind the steering wheel, slammed the door, and peeled rubber.

One of my friends forwarded an email to me that talks about an upcoming 50th Anniversary Reunion at the high school. I can’t remember when I have been more excited and I drop everything to read about it. It will be held at the school on a weekend, beginning on Friday with a tour of the upgraded facilities, and ending on Saturday night with a homecoming party. It’s déjà vu. Maybe they still need someone to decorate the tunnel of love! Then I notice that the weekend in question was last weekend.

I call my friend and ask him if he knows anything more about it and we speculate about why I didn’t get the email, and why he got it so late. There doesn’t seem to be an answer. I call the school and they act like they had nothing to do with it. “We don’t sponsor alumni parties,” they say. “We don’t even have an official web site.”

“Sure you do, it’s right here on the email,” I say.

“Read the disclaimer at the end.”

They are right, of course. It was the alumni for the class of 1959 who were sponsoring and running the whole event. I was referred to some guy named Jack, who was the school’s point-of-contact for the reunion. I called and asked him if Savanna Tucker (Jones) had attended. Jack really wants to help, but says he is obligated to protect the privacy rights of the attendees.

“That’s kind of silly, if you ask me,” I say.

“To you, it probably is silly. To me, it’s the rules.”

“What if I didn’t miss it? What if I had been there, and saw her there. Would you still say it would be a violation of privacy?”

“Of course not, but what if you attended and she wasn’t there? Would you still think it wasn’t a privacy issue to pass out personal information to the attendees?”

“Look, I’ll give you my email address,” I say. “You send it to her and tell her I am trying to reach her. Then we wait and see. No rules broken.”

I didn’t know what Jack would tell her, or even if he would give her the message, so I initiate a new search, but this time for Brent Tucker. I can’t believe how many hits this guy gets. Sure, many of the hits aren’t the right Brent Tucker, but enough are that I can piece together a chronology of mediocre and failed performances right up until last year. The theaters he plays are all within a few miles of each other, located perhaps fewer than 20 miles from where Savanna grew up. I suddenly develop an interest in community theatre, but before I can go down that path, Jack calls me back.

“There is no Savanna Jones in the class of ’59,” he says.

“What are you talking about? Of course there is.”

“Checked it myself,” he says.

I thank him and hang up. Then I realize of course he’s right. She’s two years younger than me. How did I forget that? Finding Savanna had finally become an obsession, but I know I am too close to throw in the towel.

Within a few minutes, I’m back on the phone, calling around to the theaters referenced in the google search and trying to find something in which Brent is currently appearing. It takes most of the morning, but I finally locate him playing Torvald Helmer in A Doll’s House. It’s a little dinner theater, where you eat an evening meal while you watch the performance.

I order two tickets, thinking I should take a date just in case Savanna recognizes me. If someone is with me, I won’t look like the pathetic, divorced, middle age crisis that she will undoubtedly think I am—assuming she’ll be there. It isn’t a very safe bet because she never was one to sit around and wait for the world to come to her. Most likely, she will be out doing her own thing, not giving this event a second thought.

The night of the performance arrives quickly, but I have had no luck finding a date, so I am stuck with the extra ticket. I rationalize that it’s better this way because the evening was shaping up to be a bit of a snoozer. I had checked the collected plays of Henrik Ibsen out of the library and read A Doll’s House, in case I had to justify my interest in what appeared to be a women’s liberation drama—one of the first I overheard someone say. Personally, I don’t think I ever got all the way through the play without falling asleep. I mean, it was written more than a hundred years ago. It was all the more reason that she probably won’t be there. If I had any sense, I wouldn’t be there either.

I pull into the parking lot a little early, turn off the ignition and sit for a few minutes, trying to work up enough interest to see the over-the-hill Brent Tucker make a fool of himself. Remembering that I get dinner with his “Lard-ship the Ham” I get out of the car and head on over to will call where I pick up my tickets, then down the aisle to box seating, which it turns out is located on-stage, off to the side. I was the only one in the box. Feeling somewhat self-conscious I open my program to hide my face, just as the lights dim, and I read: “Featuring Savanna Tucker as Nora.”

Next thing I know, I have a lump in my throat. It never occurred to me to ask if Savanna had a part, so nobody bothers to mention that she has the starring role. As the curtain goes up, I am suddenly overwhelmed with how awkward this is going to turn out. I take my tickets out of my pocket and place them face down on the table. I quickly write “It was nice seeing you again” on one, and on the other “This one’s for you.” Then I get up and walk to the back of the room where I hide in the shadows for 15 or 20 minutes—just long enough to take a couple of pictures on my iphone, and to know that she was going to be stunning.

“You found her,” I say to myself.

“Now what?” I ask out loud, causing a man and his wife to turn and stare at me.

Outside, I pause to look at the sliver of bright light emanating from the new moon. It has a calming affect, which I associate with the phrase, “Light at the end of the tunnel.” I begin to consider the idea that it might be time to let her go. Perhaps it’s past time.

I begin walking to the car and pass a trash barrel where I test my new resolve by dropping the program guide in with the other discards. On reaching the car, I turn around and hurry back to retrieve it—not because I am any less committed, but because letting go is not the same as forgetting.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: