[p.153]He had said goodbye to Rose on a Sunday, in the spring of ’64. KUPI ran a special on the Beatles that day, nothing but the Beatles all afternoon. “She Loves You,” “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” “When I Saw Her Standing There,” “Twist and Shout,” “Roll Over Beethoven.”
Rose didn’t like the Beatles. In February, she and Ryan had seen them on the Ed Sullivan Show. They were sitting in the TV room of Rose’s dorm with a crowd of girls, everyone excited to see the Beatles and their long hair.
“Look at that hair. They look like girls.”
That was all she said. Ryan told Rose he thought they were comparable to Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
But all she could say was, “I can’t stand that hair.”
He hated it when she acted like that. Anyone could see these guys were harmless. She was going out of her way to be offended.
Sitting there in the dorm with Rose, their wedding date now set for June (she said it was romantic to be a June bride, besides, she would be out of school for the summer, and her grandparents wouldn’t have to worry about Donner’s Pass, and [p.154]a thousand other reasons), he knew they wouldn’t be together much longer. Rose’s dad had relented, apologizing and saying
Ryan and Rose would always be welcome in his home. He could afford to say that now. He had accomplished his mission.
When Ryan was with Rose now, she clung to him like she was desperate to do her duty. She no longer greeted him with spontaneous smiles but with too-sincere, almost comic, expressions of love and devotion.
The DJ was talking about the history of the Beatles. Who was he kidding? How could they have much of a history when most people hadn’t heard of them six months ago? Elvis had a history. These guys were still wet behind the ears.
Ryan had parked his car near the tennis courts and was watching a couple play tennis. He and Rose hadn’t played for a long time. The summer after their sophomore year, they were out here all the time, playing tennis three or four times a week. She drove him crazy in that little outfit she wore. They’d go over to the lodge afterwards, and she’d get on him for drinking Coke. He got mad once.
“Stop trying to make me feel guilty. Everyone doesn’t have to live by your standards.”
“I’m sorry, Ry’.”
He knew she was.
The couple at the court patted the ball back and forth like novices, the guy letting the girl win an occasional point.
“Don’t you ever let me win,” Rose said once.
“Rose, I’m the one who has to worry about winning without earning it.”
The DJ was talking about the Beatles serving their apprenticeship in Hamburg, Germany, heaping one compliment on top of another, as if playing a small club before making it big were something new. Hadn’t he heard of Buddy Holly playing in a high school gym in Lubbock?
[p.155]People wouldn’t be making such a fuss over the Beatles if Buddy Holly were still around.
It was 3:30. Rose would be out of church now. Her mother would have a roast in the oven, with several large spuds wrapped in tin foil. Corn and green beans on the stove, a gallon of Challenge Milk in the fridge, Farrs chocolate in the freezer.
The scenario was always the same when he ate there on Sunday afternoons. Rose busied herself by helping her mother, who made conversation with Ryan. Rose’s dad sometimes went the entire meal without saying a word.
In his own way Stayner Richards wasn’t a bad man. His concern for Rose was genuine. He believed in Mormonism and wanted his daughter to enjoy everything it offered. She couldn’t do that if she married out of the temple. So he wasn’t going to let her. He had used force as long as it was practical. Now he had switched to resignation. Yes, he would give his reluctant consent.
But Ryan wasn’t as dumb as Stayner thought. He could see what life would be like with this man as a father-in-law.
Visits with Rose’s parents would never be comfortable, Stayner forever greeting him with a half-smile and a suspicious glance, never initiating a conversation. Everyone would grow uncomfortable if religion came up. Ryan would be the odd-man-out when they had their family prayers, or went to church together, watched general conference on TV, or even said a blessing on the food.
Children would complicate everything, Grandpa telling his grandkids that their dad lived a life that wasn’t quite right. They’d learn to love their grandpa. He would bless them, baptize and confirm them, ordain the boys deacons when they were twelve.
But the real problem wasn’t Grandpa—it was Rose. She [p.156]kept insisting she wanted to get married, but she revealed herself at every turn, with inferences that Ryan might some day join the church, with comments about a friend’s wonderful wedding in the temple, with glances at other guys while she and Ryan were together—the clean-cut, righteous returned missionaries who frequented Rose’s dorm.
One night Ryan was sitting in the lounge waiting for Rose when a guy sat down across from him.
“Hello,” he said to Ryan, “how are you?”
“You look familiar. Did you serve in the Southern States Mission?”
“You didn’t have a brother who served there, did you?”
“Where did you go?”
That’s the way it was. No one ever left you alone. There was always someone to bug you about The Church. When he and Rose settled down he knew the bishop would be over. We’d like to invite you out to church. There would be home teachers and stake missionaries wanting to talk to him. He didn’t know how Neal had put up with it for thirty years.
He walked past the tennis courts to his car. A married couple was playing on the court he and Rose always used, the man arguing that his shot had been in bounds. This wasn’t going to surprise Rose. She probably hoped he would break things off. Then she could fall in love with her returned missionary.
It would almost be a relief to say goodbye.
Her mother came to the door.
“Hello, Ryan, please come in.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Richards.”
“Rose is in her room. She’ll be out in a moment. I’m just finishing up in the kitchen.”
[p.157]He walked into the kitchen with her, and she asked if she could fix him a sandwich. He told her no thanks.
“How are things, Ryan?”
“Okay, I guess.”
“You look a little blue.”
“No, I’m all right.”
“How’s your father doing, Ryan?”
“Pretty good. He met this woman from Florida who’s here visiting her sister. He took her to dinner last night.”
She stopped putting the dishes away and looked at Ryan.
“How do you feel about that?”
“I bet,” she said. “It’s a hard adjustment for everyone.”
Watching her made him miss his mother. Everything would have been different if she had lived. It wasn’t hard to see that his mother’s death was the real reason Rose had decided to marry him. She didn’t want to add another hurt to the hurt of losing his mother. And maybe she thought that death would make him think seriously about religion.
He could hear music from Rose’s room—Gene Pitney talking about small minds tearing you apart, asking how love could survive in a town without pity.
Rose loved those Gene Pitney songs. Especially the sad ones. “Twenty-four Hours from Tulsa,” “It Hurts To Be in Love,” “I Must Be Seeing Things,” “I’m Gonna Be Strong,” “Just One Smile,” “Half-Heaven, Half-Heartache.” She liked to sit beside her bed and listen to Gene Pitney’s sad love songs. For all her optimism, she had a sense of the tragic. Ryan had just thought the songs were sentimental. But now, he felt like the songs were right on the mark. Crying because everything you have has been taken from you, dying a little because you’re in love, people claiming you’re too young to fall in love.
He hadn’t made fun of those songs in front of Rose. That [p.158]would have hurt her. But privately he had mocked and ridiculed them. Now they made him want to cry. Too bad Rose would never know that.
Mrs. Richards looked out the window.
“Stayner’s out back with the boys,” she said. “Helping them with a Cub Scout project.”
“He’s busy, but he always finds time for the boys,” she said.
“I guess he does.”
“He’s a good man. I’m sorry the two of you haven’t gotten along too well.”
“So am I.”
“I hope you won’t be too downhearted about it. You never know what is possible.”
“I guess you don’t.”
That was a lie. He knew perfectly well what was possible. Marrying Rose wasn’t on the list. It never had been. Rose had tried to put it there, but someone kept erasing it.
Music from Rose’s room: falling in love with someone new when you were only a day away from your sweetheart in Tulsa. And you could never go home again.
Where the heck was Rose? He was tempted to leave without even seeing her, just walk out the door, climb in his car, and drive away. She was back in her room listening to her records, taking her sweet time. Didn’t she know anything? He had come to say goodbye, and she was back in her Gene Pitney dreamworld powdering her nose.
They loved each other, or had loved each other. That’s what made the whole thing a cheat. Breaking up because you didn’t love each other or because you couldn’t get along was one thing; breaking up because of circumstance was nothing but a cheat. Rose harped about blessings, but how did she account for this?
When you say it’s the end, I’ll just hand you a line. That’s what [p.159]he would do with Rose—tell her everything was going to be fine, that it was all for the best, and then break down when he was alone.
Rose’s mother was still talking, but he had lost track of what she was saying.
“ … I hope you’ll remember that, Ryan.”
What was she talking about? She knew he and Rose were breaking up; she was trying to console him. Well, she could forget it.
Rose finally came out. Smiling, of course. Sometimes he hated her happiness.
“I’m glad you came over. We’ve got a lot to talk about.”
Mrs. Richards left them alone.
“What’s wrong?” asked Rose.
“You’re not yourself.”
“Well, you know.”
“Is it Dad? Did he say something to you?”
“Then what’s the matter?”
“Could we just go outside for a minute?”
She held his hand as they walked out to the driveway. He wasn’t going to tell her goodbye. He loved her too much. He didn’t care about her dad, or about the home teachers in the hypothetical future. He had a chance to marry her; there was no way in the world he was going to let that slip out of reach.
They stood in her driveway and leaned against his Chevy. She was still wearing the dress she had worn to church, a dark green outfit that outlined her body—thin arms, small breasts, [p.160]and narrow hips—without appearing immodest. She had taken off her heels but not her nylons. He always liked that. Sometimes, sitting on the couch in her TV room, she drove him out of his mind just by taking off her shoes.
She started to cry.
“You want to break up, don’t you?”
“You know I don’t want to. It’s just never going to work.”
“It’s not fair.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“We don’t have to be so final about it. We can wait and see what happens.”
“Oh, stop it, Rose.” His anger surprised him. “You know we’ve got to be final about it.”
“Okay.” She couldn’t stop crying.
“Rose.” It was her mother at the door. “Tracy’s on the phone.”
“Not now, please, Mother.”
Mrs. Richards held the screen ajar, staring sadly at Ryan for a few seconds. It was one of those rare moments when he felt pure sympathy from another human being. Then she was gone.
Maybe it was simple coincidence that his father announced his intention to marry the stranger from Florida a week later. To Ryan it was a cruel coincidence.
“Dad, you’ve only known her for a few weeks.”
“I know it’s quick, but this is a good thing for me.”
“Okay. I’m sorry. It will just be kind of strange having her here.”
Then Clark announced his next bit of news: he and his new bride would be living in Florida.
“Florida? What for?”
[p.161]“She has a nice home there, and well—she’s rather attached to it.”
“Ryan, I don’t think you’re being fair.”
“I don’t care.”
“Please try not to get upset. I know this is sudden.”
“You’re going to Florida just because she has a home there? We’ve got a home here.”
“There are other reasons. We want you to come with us.”
“I’m not going to Florida.”
“I know it’s sudden—”
“I’m not mad because it’s sudden. That’s not what I’m talking about. I just don’t understand how in the world you were so easily persuaded to move across the country when you used to fight Mom like crazy, and all she wanted to do was live in Idaho Falls.”
That silenced Clark and silenced him good. Ryan watched him turn and walk back to his room. Maybe it was mean to talk that way, but it was the truth. April hadn’t made many demands—she just wanted a nice home in Idaho Falls. Wyoming was only ninety minutes away. Clark could hunt and fish and camp to his heart’s content. She didn’t complain about him being gone. But that wasn’t enough for him. He had to whine about buying a few acres outside Alpine or Crowheart or Pinedale, where he could chop his own firewood every morning and see the mountains from his window and walk to a good fishing spot.
He never budged. Even after they had lived on 20th for four years, after April had made friends in the neighborhood and fixed the house the way she wanted it, he still talked about Wyoming. Now, less than a month after meeting a widow from Orlando, he was ready to give up Wyoming completely.
Her name was Eleanor. She was a good-looking, young-looking fifty, two years older than Clark, with a son and a [p.162]daughter in college. In the winter of ’64 she came to spend some time with her sister in Idaho Falls. Talking to Rose about her, Ryan called her the mysterious stranger.
“What’s so mysterious about her?”
“Who leaves Florida for Idaho in the winter?”
“Maybe she was lonely,” said Rose.
Clark’s meeting Eleanor was pure circumstance. He happened to be home one day for lunch when Mrs. Blair across the street knocked on the door. She was having problems with her car. Could he possibly give her a hand?
He walked across the street to take a look at the car.
He was cleaning the battery cables when a mysterious stranger from Florida came out the front door, Mr. Blair’s sister.
Maybe it hadn’t been circumstance—maybe Mrs. Blair had planned the whole thing. If so, she had played Cupid well.
So Clark fell in love, for the second time, or possibly the first time. You couldn’t fault him. He had been just as lonely as April. Now he had a second chance. And he was lucky enough not to fall in love with a Catholic determined not to marry out of the faith, or a Jew determined not to marry out of the faith, or a Mormon determined not to marry out of the faith.
Eleanor was nice enough. She used too much eye make-up and she talked too much about her children, but she was nice. She went out of her way to be considerate of Ryan. He probably would have gotten along with her well in different circumstances. She liked to read just like April had.
One circumstance led to another, and before April had been gone a year, Clark and Eleanor were living a happy little life in sunny Florida, Clark managing a local garage. Norma was the one who insisted that Ryan move in with her and Neal.
He took Susan’s old room, bringing his stereo and his parents’ old TV.
Norma surprised him by leaving him alone. He sat in his [p.163]room every night watching TV till eleven, but she never lectured him about wasting his time. She didn’t try to get him out to church. She didn’t talk to him about finding a nice girl; she didn’t tell him he should forget Rose.
Neal was different. When Ryan wanted to stop working for a while, Neal wouldn’t hear of it.
“Look at yourself, Ryan, you’re falling apart. I know it’s been a tough year for you. But that’s exactly why you must work. It’s good for the soul.”
“You sound like a Mormon.”
“Don’t you ever talk to me like that. You insult Norma every time you say something like that. You insult me. Stop blaming other people for your problems.”
“I’m not blaming anyone.”
“You’re feeling sorry for yourself. Well, go ahead. But you can’t live here unless you work.”
Ryan didn’t call his bluff. He didn’t want to leave the comfort of that room, where Norma left him alone and took care of him at the same time.
She left him alone and took care of him all summer. And she let him hurt, not telling him a single time that he would learn from his experiences or that suffering had value or that he would get over Rose or that work was good for the soul.
One night in August he did what he knew he would do all along: he drove to Rexburg to see Rose. He circled the dorm twice before stopping the car. She might be overjoyed to see him, throwing her arms around him and crying.
“Oh, Ryan, don’t ever leave me again.”
Or she might be sad.
“Ryan, why did you come?”
“Because I love you.”
“You know it will never work. You told me that yourself.”
He hadn’t seen her for four months. She might be simply irritated that he had shown up. He might find her sitting on [p.164]the couch with her returned missionary, who would shake hands with Ryan (his grip overly firm) and act happy to meet “an old friend” of Rose’s.
Rose might be in love, engaged again. She might have found herself an artist and a runner and an elder all wrapped into one, a sensitive, mature individual who wanted to take her to the temple. A returned missionary who broke the mold. It would all be a matter of luck.
Not getting out of the car, he drove to a five and dime on Center Street. He sat there in the car aching for Rose. It would be easier to never see her again, never hear that she was engaged, or that she had married a hot-shot pre-law student in the Idaho Falls Temple, or that she had just had her first child.
He wandered into the store, sat down at the fountain, and ordered a large Coke, hoping something would happen—that someone would sit next to him and announce a change in the rules: he and Rose could get married without him joining the church and without her compromising her beliefs.
It was perfectly possible that a stroke of bad luck, a quirk, something illogical and incomprehensible, could be thrown into your life and ruin everything. There were no limits on how bad luck could overtake you.
Any number of bad things could happen to you just while you sat innocently in a drug store. But what were the chances of an incredible stroke of good luck coming your way while you sat sipping your Coke in a five and dime? No chance at all.
He left the counter and meandered down the street, past a hardware store to the Center Theatre. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. He had seen it twice with Rose and two or three times by himself.
Rose loved the Jimmy Stewart character and she loved the theme song by Gene Pitney. They saw it for the first time at the Paramount, sharing a large popcorn and a large orange. [p.165]Then they drove across the river and parked.
He wanted to remember seeing the movie that night. He had lost her and he wanted to hurt for the rest of his life. He wanted to remember every time they had been together, bits and pieces of dialogue, expressions and gestures. He wanted to remember her clothes, her perfume and nail polish, pins she had worn in her hair.
“One,” he said to the girl in the ticket booth.
She looked at him sadly.
“I’m afraid it’s half-over,” she said.
“I don’t mind.”
He sat down just before John Wayne shot Lee Marvin. Aunt Norma wouldn’t worry about him; she knew he would be home sooner or later.
Now Ryan liked the John Wayne character more than ever, saving Jimmy Stewart’s life and losing Vera Miles because of it, burning down the house he had built for her.
The movie started again about 8:00 and again at 10:00. He would have watched it all night if given the choice. Jimmy Stewart with his law books, John Wayne showing him how to shoot, the cowboy riding a horse into the convention, an astonished Strother Martin and Lee Van Cleef seeing Lee Marvin killed—every scene reminded Ryan of Rose, and he wanted to be reminded of her constantly.
The closing scene was the best, the train conductor telling an old Jimmy Stewart that nothing is too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance. A sadness falls over Jimmy Stewart and Vera Miles, a tribute of sorts to the dead John Wayne, and then the train winding around a bend, and a fading to black.
You could say it was a corny movie, but it wasn’t to him. The song was one of Rose’s favorites, Gene Pitney singing about how a woman’s love could make a man stay on when he shouldn’t, trying to build a happy life where love was free to grow.
[p.166]Rose loved to listen to that song over and over, sitting on her bedroom floor, with her copy of The Grapes of Wrath and her tennis racket on the shelf next to her, and all her Gene Pitney albums spread out on the bed.