Sam and Kate
Jo Gallup Hood
Sam and Kate
Sam had never known another woman. Not as he had known Kate. They had
met on a campsite beach when they were ten years old, spending what they feared would
be the longest long weekend ever. Sam’s parents felt family time and nature were important
to his development. Sam had stopped pointing out the boredom, isolation and the fact
that his parents only left the pop-up camper long enough to cook a hot dog on the
grill. Sam knew his father’s response, “Someday Sam, you will look back and appreciate
this.” His father would quickly turn his attention back to the baseball game that
crackled through his transistor radio.
This morning had started as so many before. He had finished his cereal and left the tiny confines of the camper to pass time with pointless wanderings. As he approached the beach, he saw a small figure bent over at the water’s edge. Sam had never encountered a single person on his early morning walks. The figure suddenly jumped to her feet and screamed. Sam ran toward her. She was standing with her hands raised, her eyes and mouth wide open. Sam saw a fish flopping on the shore, struggling to breathe. He laughed. “It’s just a fish,” he said. Sam grabbed the fish and put it in the water.
“He doesn’t look too good,” Sam said, “but he might make it.” He turned back the girl. Slowly her hands dropped to her sides. Very seriously she said, “I thought he was dead. He wasn’t moving, and then he just started flopping around.”
They stood looking at each other. Then Sam started to laugh. He tried not to, but he could not stifle it. The girl was glaring at him and then slowly, against her will, joined in. Their laughter went on. They would near composure, only to fall back into giggles. Their stomachs ached as they bent forward in fatigue, struggling to catch their breath.
“Wow, that was funny,” Sam said. “Hey, I never saw you here before.”
“We just got here,” she said. “I’m Kate. My parents are trying to set up the tent, so I thought I’d get out of there. They keep saying it’s good for me and someday I’ll appreciate it.”
“I get it. I’m Sam,” he said, “You wanna see the woods?” As they walked, he began to point out the highlights; the stream, the cliffs, a moss-covered lane. He had not realized how intimately he knew the trails. Yet, he felt he was seeing them for the first time as he shared them with his new friend Kate. His pride grew as she asked questions and commented on his knowledge.
Sam had one special place that he wanted to show her. They left the trail and began climbing upward through the bush. At first, Kate was confident in her leader, but as they climbed even higher, she questioned the decision. “We are fine,” Sam responded to her concerns. “It’s just a little further. You’ll see.”
At last Kate caught a glimpse of the sky through the trees and realized they were reaching the summit. “It’s right over here” Sam said. “Here look,” he said as he grabbed her hand.
Sam led her through the trees into the sunlight. A curtain had opened and she found herself on top of a rocky cliff. She could look across to its mirror image and between, far below, a fast-moving stream cut its way through rocks and trees. The sun shined down on these two new friends, holding hands and gazing in wonder at the vast beauty of their own small space in the world.
Kate and Sam spent every day together. They explored every inch of the park, shared stories and made plans to stay in touch. Time flew by. On the morning they were to leave, Sam and Kate made one last trip to their special place on the cliff. They laid back, side by side, hand in hand, to feel the sun upon their faces and listen to the stream as it carved its way through the forest on its way home.
Sam wished the weekend was longer. As the family cleaned up the campsite, he began pleading with his family to return every weekend.
As soon as the car had stopped in the driveway, Sam jumped out and ran to his room. He rummaged through his school supplies, untouched since June. He then wrote the first of a lifetime of letters to his beloved Kate. Upon finishing, he grabbed an envelope and stamp from his parents’ desk, jumped on his Schwinn and headed for the post office. Sam dropped the letter in the box, stepped back and stared. He felt his letter somehow took flight, carried magically to his Kate.
And the magic continued. Sam and Kate became voracious writers and campers. Their parents never formed a relationship but supported their children’s bond. No one would have predicted that the friendship would last. How could ten-year olds, spending weekends together and writing letters, develop a relationship that would be stronger than a school year filled with sports, academics, hobbies, different friends and just growing up? Any one thing affecting one of the two would put an end to it. Yet it endured.
Sam began working at 13. He couldn’t work on the books, but he could mow lawns, shovel snow, walk dogs, or whatever needed to be done. He had plans. Sam needed a car to be able to visit Kate when he was 16. For him, the summers were too short.
Sam thought back to his 1971 Chevy Malibu, brand new, straight from the showroom floor. He had proudly handed over his $2,887 in cash. Sam had not told Kate about the car or that he was coming. Sam had worried about arriving so early on a Saturday morning, but he was too excited to wait. He carefully parked along the curb and walked to the front door holding wildflowers he had picked along the roadside. He knocked softly. Kate’s face appeared at her bedroom window. “Stay there Sam. Don’t knock again. I’ll be down.” Sam forgot about his new car. He forgot about everything, except Kate. His concern grew when she appeared at the door. She pushed him. “Let’s go,” she said, “just go.” They quickly got into the car. “Drive,” she said. “Get away from here.” She stared straight ahead for a long while, and then turned to him. She began sobbing uncontrollably, moaning, as if in physical pain.
Sam pulled the car over and ran to the passenger side of the car. He threw the door open and held Kate in his arms, until she stopped sobbing. They sat in silence. At last, she looked at Sam and asked, “Whose car is this?” Sam looked at her confused state and began to laugh. Slowly, her own laughter rose until they were both as out of control as at their first meeting. Exhaustion came quickly for Kate and Sam realized how thin and frail she appeared.
“I didn’t want you to go in the house, Sam. I didn’t want you to see. It’s bad. I thought for a long time it was the drinking, but it’s not. She is crazy Sam. My mother is crazy. It just gets worse, and my dad just pretends it’s not. Last night, she was hitting him and hitting him, and she wouldn’t stop, and I…” Kate began to cry and he reached out to her, but she put up her hand to stop him. She gathered herself and said, “My mother did not know who I was. She… she thought I was there to take my father away from her, like I was some other woman stealing her man!”
They sat quietly, neither understanding what had entered their 16-year-old worlds.
Kate looked at Sam, “So really, whose car is this?”
Sam stood up, walked to the driver’s side, picked up the wildflowers and handed them to Kate. He said, “It’s ours, Kate. And we are free to go wherever you want.”
“Drive,” she said “to the campsite. Let’s walk the trails and climb the cliffs. I want to listen to the water and feel the sun on my face.
Forty years later, that is where Sam found himself, but without his lovely Kate. He had left her in that place he had sworn she would never go. He had no choice. Sam was not concerned with his blackened eye or the scratches that ran the length of his arms. It was Kate’s terror. She did not know him. Kate was certain that he was trying to kill her. In her mind, as it was in her mother’s so many years before, her husband was a demon, an imposter who must be banished. Sam now knew the demon’s name. It was Alzheimer’s. And it would torture and kill his lovely Kate whom he had loved so deeply and singularly for 46 years.
Sam had expertly climbed the overgrown trail leading to their place on the cliff and now he lay back remembering their first meeting. He reflexively reached for Kate’s hand and wondered if he could find the trail home.