By Trish Hubschman
Here’s how the story goes: my younger sister, Claire, is an occupational therapist. For the past six years, she’s worked at a school for developmentally disabled children. There’s also a woman speech therapist there who Claire feels she knows from somewhere but can’t put her finger on it.
Mom was relaying this to me. My curiosity was growing fast. “What about the woman’s ID tag?” I asked. Claire wore hers around her neck on a chain, as most people did. “Did she ask someone the woman’s name?” I figured that had to be the first place to start in trying to make an identity connection.
Mom shook her head. I felt suddenly crest-fallen and I wasn’t sure about what. “The ID says her married name, like Claire’s,” Mom said. She was right. “And I don’t think Claire asked anyone the woman’s name. They sometimes have to work together with a student, so I’m assuming they exchanged names at some point.” ”
Okay, whatever the case, who was this woman? “Was the mystery solved then?” I prodded.
Mom shook her head. “On Claire’s end, yes. On the woman’s, no. She didn’t recognize Claire’s name or her face, but Claire was only nine when we moved, so it makes some sense,” Mom said. Mom smiled. “Claire told her she was your sister. She said your name and of course, the other woman knew who you were and, ultimately, who Claire is, though she really doesn’t remember Claire.”
That made sense, I think. “Who are we talking about here?” I think my teeth were grit tightly together and I wanted to stomp my feet.
Mom came up short. “Oh, yes, of course, the woman is your old friend, Paula!”
My mouth dropped open. I didn’t know if I should scream or cry for joy, beg Mom for more information or send Claire a text. I did none of the above. I was struck speechless. Paula and I drifted apart maybe twenty years ago. I always missed her, but never knew how to touch base with her. Now she pops up at the same school as my kid sister works for. What are the odds on that? “I guess it really is a small world,” I said. Now, that sounds stupid. “Try to get me her email address from Claire?” I added.
. . .
I was in fifth grade, Paula in fourth. We were in the same elementary school. The last bell of the day rang. School was out. I had to race downstairs from Mrs. Greg’s classroom and outside to search for my bus to go home. I was usually the last one on it. The other kids had better eyesight than me, so they could see the number on the bus or someone they knew getting onto it. People who didn’t belong on our bus weren’t allowed on it. That was the bus driver’s rule. Nobody was allowed to bring friends home from school on it.
Finding my bus, I stomped up the three steps. As usual, there were a lot of people. Kids were sitting three in a seat. I looked down the aisle and spotted my friend, Pam, sitting on the window side of the bench. I didn’t recognize the girl beside her. I made my way down to that seat and perched on the edge of it.
“You don’t belong on this bus,” I told the girl in the middle, shaking my head.
“Yes, I do,” she replied in a friendly voice. “We moved here last year when I was in third grade at Parkway,” she said. Parkway was the elementary school up the block from my house. It was from kindergarten to third grade. Joyce Road was fourth to sixth. “I’m in Mrs. Bruno’s fourth grade class,” she added. Her classroom was across the hall from mine.
I smiled. She seemed like a really nice girl. “I’m Patty,” I said.
After that, we started meeting on the muscle man jumbo gym in the school yard at recess. We sat on one of the monkey bars and talked and talked. She lived around the corner from me, directly across the street from the side of Parkway school. We played together in that school yard too. We went to each other’s houses. She had a really sweet black Labrador Retriever dog, named Midnight. She also lived next to a sump, which was cool. It was perfect for playing Nancy Drew. We’d make up our own mysteries, see footsteps in the sump, something sinister was going on. Midnight would lead us to the buried treasure or whatever.
After my family moved in 1978, Paula still came over to my house. Her mom would drop her off and she’d sleep over. We still played Nancy Drew. At other times, my mom would drive me into the old town to, take me to my friend, Carol’s, usually for a party. Paula would be there. She was friends with Carol too. Paula and I would talk and talk. We’d end the evening promising we’d get together soon, but, as time passed and we got older, we rarely did. Sadly, we went our own ways.
. . .
Claire didn’t get me Paula’s email address. I had to figure out another way to touch base with her. Think, think, think, I told myself. “What have you heard lately about Paula?” I asked my friend, Carol. It had been the three of us when we were in our teens.
Carol shrugged. “Well, I know she’s married,” she replied.
I already knew that, so it wasn’t helpful. Think, think, think, I urged myself. A lightbulb suddenly flashed. “Do her parents still live in the same house as when we were kids?” I asked. Carol worked for a bank in the town we grew up in.
Carol’s eyes widened. “No idea. I haven’t seen them in years. Even if they are, do you know their address, I mean exactly, house number and all?” she asked.
Off the top of my head, no, but I would give it some serious thought. Consequently, I did come up with her mother’s house number, I hoped. My old house number was one digit and the number for the mailman was over the mailbox on the house. Paula’s house had the numbers in script over the garage, three digits. It looked so cool. I was jealous.
I dashed a letter off to that address to her mother giving my email. Two weeks later, I got a response from Paula. She seemed happy I tracked her down. I was thrilled I found her.
I invited her to my house. We talked and talked and talked, like old times. She came to my fiftieth birthday party. I went to hers. Despite the gap in time, we just seemed to picked up where we left off. She’s the same sweet person I met on the school bus all those years ago.
Trish Hubschman is the author of the Tracy Gayle mystery series: Tidalwave, Stiff Competition, Ratings Game, Uneasy Tides, and Gayle’s tales.
Trish is a graduate of Long Island University’s Southampton Campus and has a Bachelor’s degree in English-writing. She is deaf-blind and lives in Pennsylvania with her husband Kevin and their dog Henry.
Visit her website.