One Flood, Two Fishermen

Kristy and I met at Iowa State University. We had been around the world together, at least to Venezuela where we did our student teaching, plus Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. Then we were roommates in the middle of nowhere, Nebraska.
As the story goes, I applied for the third grade teaching job, the principal interviewed me, showed me the stack of applicants for that position, and then offered me the high school Spanish job instead. That’s what I got for earning a dual degree.
When the principal asked me what he had to do to get me to move to his little town of 2000 people and as many pigs, I told him to give the third grade job to my friend, Kristy.
“I can’t promise you that,” he said, “but I can promise Kristy an interview.”
She got the job. Two months later, Kristy and I moved into the ancient, remodeled farmhouse off Highway 6, between Omaha and Lincoln.
I soon resented my roomie, who taught eight and nine-year-olds all day and partied at night while I graded homework and invented the Spanish curriculum. Kristy had a habit of coming home from her nights with a guy in tow, awkward for us in our one-bedroom farmhouse (there were unheated bedrooms above, filled with scurrying mice, or worse).
Then, in the spring, the creek that bordered our farm flooded, and we were hip-high in creek water. The landlord/superintendent came over at 2:00 a.m. to check on us and made us move my submerged car. Kristy put on his hip waders, went out to my fire engine red Chevy Monza, opened the driver’s side door and let two and a half feet of creek water inside. At least the landlord saved my dog, Cleo, chained up inside the car port where my car should’ve been.
A week later, the creek receded, but our farm still had plenty of low spots with big puddles, deep enough for fish. On Sunday afternoon two guys, one big and burly, came by on motorcycles and knocked on our door.
“Do you mind if we fish the puddles?” the smaller guy asked.
Kristy was thrilled that men were knocking on our otherwise remote door, and she spent the afternoon outside with them, flirting and laughing, the same way she had done in South America, the way that had opened so many doors for us. She was a blue-eyed Swedish beauty. Men had followed us everywhere. She had even gotten us a private tour with the hotel bell boy in Machu Picchu, who also procured two rollaway beds for us in the hallway since the hotel was full. My girl could work it.
Later that fishy day, Kristy took off on the back of the short guy’s motorcycle without a word to me. I ironed my clothes for the upcoming week, ate supper, watched All in the Family, and worried.
Kristy didn’t come back by dark. She didn’t come back by bedtime. She didn’t come back at all.
This was pre-cell-phone days. I had no way to call her. She didn’t call me. I tried to sleep but spent the night tossing and turning, dreaming about my friend, dead in a ditch somewhere.
The next morning, I felt sick to my stomach. She’d left with scruffy-looking strangers — two of them, only one of her. I drove to the Greenwood Elementary School to teach my morning remedial reading classes in the basement by the piano. Why were they always sticking me by the musical instruments?
At noon, before driving to the high school, I called over to the other grade school in Ashland, where Kristy taught, and asked the office secretary if she was there.
“Yes, she’s in her classroom. Do you want me to transfer the call down to her?”
“No, that’s okay,” I said.
That afternoon, Kristy came home in the same clothes she’d had on the day before.
“OMG, Kristy,” I said. “I was so worried about you!”
“I already have a mother,” she said, leaving the room.
Was this the same girl who’d climbed Huayna Picchu with me, who’d carried over-the-import-limit leather Colombian suitcases through U.S. Customs with me, only to get me reprimanded when I told the exact same lies that she had? Was this the smiling girl who charmed her way across Venezuela and had throngs of men following her wherever we went?
Kristy remained cold to me for weeks after. She never did tell me what happened. Our friendship did not recover from the exchange that day.
When the school year ended, Kristy went off to teach summer camp somewhere, and she didn’t come back, at my request. I may not have been her mother, but I cared and worried about her reckless behavior, just two years before AIDS changed the way everybody thought about one-night stands. I couldn’t live with her if she wasn’t going to assure me that she was safe.
This is not a worst date story, but it’s the worst way to end a friendship.

Couldda Wouldda Shouldda
If the two of us had been more mature, we would’ve talked about what happened. I would’ve promised to be less mom-like if she would’ve promised to be less reckless and to let me know she was okay. We would’ve been maids of honor in each other’s weddings and would’ve written our memoir together and called it Blond, Blue-eyed, and Buxom: How to See South America on a Shoestring. We would have done the talk-show circuit after our book became a New York Times best seller. We would’ve named our daughters after each other.

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