Last spring Cheryl announced that several girlfriends from her childhood in Southern California — people I had virtually no knowledge of — were planning a three-day reunion, possibly on a houseboat on Lake Shasta.
And, yes, husbands were invited.
I did not comprehend. Strangers? Houseboat? Me? All together?
No way, I said. Husbands, especially second husbands, should be left out of it.
Cheryl pointed out that she’s been on trips where she met several of my college roommates. Then she fell silent. She knew I would crumble.
As much as I dislike social situations that last more than a couple of hours and was sure I hated houseboats, crumble I did.
This would be no routine reunion. Sue and Nina were Cheryl’s besties back in La Crescenta, a Los Angeles suburb. Starting in the mid-60s, they had all gone through the crucible of junior high, high school and junior college together.
Their ties stayed strong in adulthood even after everyone had left L.A. Then, 20 years ago, Cheryl essentially dropped out. Hit with a bitter divorce, she went into survival mode. She had to create a career for herself while raising three children ... and, in time, marrying me.
This Shasta reunion could be a great thing. A sign that Cheryl’s life had regained its equilibrium, that she was back in the pack with a new guy in tow.
The day before we set out for Shasta, Cheryl broke the news to her girlfriends: Kevin, the recluse, had changed his mind. He’s coming.
And to me she announced: No houseboat. We’re staying in a motel.
The reunion that played out at the base of the stunning volcanic hulk that is Mount Shasta did not follow any script that I could have predicted.
We met up in the lobby of the Best Western. Sue, Nina and their husbands lit up at seeing Cheryl for the first time in two decades. So many hugs, so much chatter. And for the next two days no one stopped talking.
Talk of teachers, classmates and wild boys. Talk of a never-to-be-repeated moment of debauchery involving malt liquor the night Cheryl turned 16. And, of course, talk of children.
After assessing me for several hours, Sue straight out said I was a better mate for Cheryl than Husband No. 1. She heartily approved. So did Nina.
I fluffed my feathers. What lovely people, this Sue, this Nina.
Soon I was joking with the gals and guys, acting as if their stories from a half century ago were my stories. I envied their closeness, their laughter. I wanted part of the action.
The spouses, Eric and Duain, were nice guys. I judged them to be as fully worthy of their wives as I was of Cheryl.
When I meet people, I often wonder about their politics as a shorthand way of sizing them up. With Eric and Duain and Nina and Sue, I did my best not to find out. What did politics matter at a moment such as this?
For our first outing, we went to a city park from which the headwaters of the Sacramento River flowed. When I say flowed, I mean gushed, attracting a counterculture group of people wanting to take home jugs of the supposed goodness.
Eric passed around a bottle of captured headwater. I was the only one not to take a sip. If everyone else were to subsequently die a painful death, I wanted to be able to tell the tale of Shasta and this remarkable reunion.
At night in our motel room, Cheryl and I would lie there, processing the day’s events. Cheryl glowed like the school girl I had never had the opportunity to meet.
When we parted after breakfast on the third day, everyone had a heavy heart. None of us wanted to say goodbye.
As a farewell gift, I asked Nina and Sue if they could do that hand jive thing with Cheryl that was part of their teen years self-amusement. Cheryl had showed me some of the moves.
No one moved. No one felt bold enough to do it.
Then Sue skipped over to the restaurant’s porch railing and began hopping on and off the bottom rail.
What the heck?
As Sue then explained it, she was recreating a day in 1965 at La Crescenta Elementary School when Cheryl, a sixth grader, was jumping on and off a fence by herself.
Unexpectedly, Sue said, Cheryl turned to her — a non-friend — and asked if she wanted to jump with her.
In that instant, a lifelong friendship was born.