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Spearfish Lake Tales
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Joe/Joan book cover

by Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 3

Actually I wasn’t all that good-looking right then. My face had taken a pounding, and there were visible bruises. I had a couple of bandages stuck in place, but under all that, there was still an awful lot of family resemblance to my mother, and I never thought she was a bad-looking woman, even when she was quite a bit older.

I couldn’t say anything about that, of course. About all I could say was, “I hadn’t realized I looked that bad.”

“It’s going away,” she replied. “You look better now than you did a few days ago.”

I didn’t want to get into that subject, or anything that was too personal right then – I knew I didn’t know enough to be able to make any intelligent comments, and I could trip myself up. To change the subject, I asked, “How bad did the tornado tear things up?” I already knew the answer to that from Joe’s memories, but Joanie couldn’t know much of anything about it.

“It’s pretty bad,” Mom replied, and started talking about the damage. Our house had escaped any real problems since the tornado track was a couple of miles away, and Simsville, where the high school was, also didn’t have much damage. But Lawrence was torn up pretty badly; to the west of us, a corner of Hackett had also received extensive damage.

I let Mom go on and describe it, with an occasional “Wow!” or something to let her know I was listening when I really wasn’t. I was mostly thinking about how much I looked like her, and what it would mean.

In retrospect, I guess I shouldn’t have been all that surprised. As Joe, I had always been my father’s son – I took after him a lot, especially physically. He was heavy set and always faced a weight problem, although to be honest he had better control of it than Joe had, mostly because he was a carpenter and did a lot of physical labor while Joe was a truck driver who mostly sat on his ass. From what I could tell, it was the same thing with Joey – he was his father’s son as much as Joe had been.

But as Joanie, I was definitely my mother’s daughter. She was about average height for a woman, about five foot four, give or take. She was about 115 or 120 pounds on a small frame, so perhaps a little underweight, if anything – just like I remembered her. She would have been about forty at that time and frankly didn’t look that old, at least to Joe’s eye. What’s more, she pretty much stayed that way; my Joe memory came up with her complaining about being up to 125 when she was in her sixties, but she lost a little weight as she aged.

What that meant was that if Joanie was as much a copy of her mother as Joey/Joe was of our father, well, the future looked good in that respect. I wouldn’t have the genetic predisposition to gain weight that Joe had, at least so long as I watched my diet and did some exercise. In fact, there was no reason I couldn’t be in better shape, because Mom was never an exercise-type person. Oh, she did what she needed to be done, work around the house and the office, but she never went for a walk or did exercise routines for the sake of doing them to keep her weight down. No one else in the family ever did, either. It was something I was clearly going to have to work on, but not right away, at least not until I was better.

Mom went on talking for a while, until Dr. Sloan came in again, this time just for his routine check, and he seemed to be satisfied with my progress. What was more, he said I could try drinking a little clear liquid, and if I handled it all right maybe I could have some more solid food in a day or two. That was nice, since I realized I really was starting to feel hungry, which was not surprising since I hadn’t eaten anything in over a week.

I was starting to get tired by the time that was over with, so told Mom I was pretty sleepy and she didn’t have to hang around on my account. I really was pretty tired – my stamina was still limited but improving. However I was also trying not to say much of anything while I learned what I could about Joanie. So it was just as nice that I had a chance to just lie there and integrate things a bit, as well as sleep.

I really did sleep for a while, so it was late afternoon before I woke up. After a while, and some chicken broth that tasted absolutely heavenly under the circumstances, I was conscious enough and pulling myself together enough that I was actually a little bored, and mentioned it to the nurse, who was a different one than in the morning. “I could turn on the TV if you’d like,” she suggested.

I – the old Joe, that is – really hadn’t cared much for what TV had become, but it was better than just lying in bed staring at the wall, so I told her to turn it on. She did and left to go do something else. It must have been later in the day than I thought, since I caught the tail end of the sports report, which was mostly about the beginning of the baseball season. What happened next really caught my attention, because what came on was the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. I didn’t really pay much attention to the lead story – I guess it was about Martin Luther King or something.

But wow, Walter Cronkite! And looking fairly young, well, at least middle aged. To top it off, a lot of the ads were for cigarettes, and the cars in the ads, well, they were straight out of the 1960s! This just about had to be 1965!

That made it sink in. How could this be 1965? Of course, people wrote stories about things like time machines – thank you, Mr. H. G. Wells – but they were fiction. Weren’t they? I remembered reading a brief article in Joe’s time a few years before that theorized that the right kind of rotating black hole could cause a time reversal if you could survive getting near the thing in the first place. But the article hadn’t made any sense to me, and I couldn’t remember anything more about it, other than it seemed to me like mathematicians who were too smart for their own good were throwing really screwy ideas around for lack of anything useful to do.

Besides, it just about had to be 1965 anyway. I had plenty of evidence in the young Mom, Dad, and Joey. When I got down to it, the why and the how were irrelevant; it just was. So this had to be real, or at least it seemed real. Again, Rule One: whether this is real or not, treat it like it’s real.

I tried to pay some attention to the news since it would be a step toward me fitting into 1965. There was a story about Vietnam; I didn’t pay that a lot of attention since I knew more about that place than I wanted to from having spent a year there as Joe.

I didn’t get to watch all of the news, since toward the end Joey came into the room. “Are you doing all right now, Sis?” he asked right up front.

“Doing better,” I told him.

“Good,” he smiled, coming over to lean up against the bed. “Look, Joanie, I don’t know how to say this, but ever since this happened, I’ve, well, I’ve been pretty sorry that I haven’t been nicer to you. I hadn’t realized just how much you mean to me. I’ll try to do better, Joanie, I really will.”

There must have been some sibling rivalry in the past, I thought. I didn’t remember any of it, of course, since I hadn’t had a sister while I was a kid – as Joe, that is. “Don’t worry about it, Joey,” I told him. “It must have been part of growing up.”

“I guess,” he shrugged. “Like I said, I’m sorry, Joanie.”

“Let’s just keep it in the past,” I smiled back at him. I could see this was uncomfortable for him and I had no desire to push him, so I changed the subject. “Mom said you’ve been helping out over at the Pendleton’s.”

“Yeah, the place is a mess. That tornado really did some screwy things. Their house isn’t too bad, but their chicken barn is scattered all over their north forty.” While we lived in Simsville, which wasn’t a big town, at least from my Joe memories. our family had friends living in the country, many of them farmers. “There are chicken feathers for miles,” he went on, “and all the dead chickens stink like hell.”

“That can’t be any fun.”

“It has to be done,” he shrugged. “There’s a lot of people who have had their places torn up. I haven’t been over to Lawrence, but I hear people say it was just about flattened.”

“That’s what Mom was saying,” I said. I still wasn’t talking real well, but a lot better than I had been the day before.

He was silent for a moment before he asked, “Joanie, do you remember anything about what happened?”

“No,” I admitted. “Not a thing. Total blank.” Well, that wasn’t totally true – I remembered the huge flash, but that was in the truck cab in Oklahoma. Or was it? No way of telling, so I decided it was best to not mention it to Joey.

“That’s what Mom was saying. Look, one of the guys who I was working with today said he thinks he saw what happened. He’s pretty sure it was Lanny’s car, anyway.”

“What did he see?”

“It was after dark, so he didn’t see a whole lot, but he said he saw what he thinks was Lanny’s car hit with a huge lightning bolt. The brightest one he ever saw, he said. It wasn’t far away, so it was a huge flash and bang at the same instant. It was bright enough that it blew out his night vision so he didn’t see the tornado hit, but he sure heard it. His car was flipped over and wrecked, although he only got a couple bumps and bruises. But when he finally pulled himself together Lanny’s car was nowhere in sight. They didn’t find his car until the next morning, and it was a good quarter mile away out in a field.”

“No idea,” I shook my head, although I was thinking that must have been one heck of a ride – and one heck of a tornado to pick up a car and carry it a quarter mile. To make it even worse, this was well before the time when seat belts were common in cars, and I doubt if Lanny’s car, which was a ’56 Ford if I remembered correctly, ever had them in the first place. If it had, we probably wouldn’t have been wearing them – it was a long time before they became accepted.

And then, to take a ride like that, then be trapped in the car for several hours before being discovered and rescued, well, no wonder I was in the hospital. It was surprising I was in as good a shape as I was instead of in a cemetery somewhere. “Maybe I’m lucky I don’t remember,” I said tentatively.

“I don’t think I’d want to remember it, either,” he agreed. “But Joanie, why were you with him in the first place? You and he never got along very well, and you always called him a creep. I can’t believe it was a date or anything. Everyone thought you were with Diana and Barb until after the storm when no one could figure out what happened to you.”

“Don’t know,” I said. “No idea. No memory of it at all.” I wasn’t going to say that it was a real interesting question. I had very little idea of what Joanie had actually been like before the accident, and it was something I was going to have to find out quickly. Could she have been a wild one? Could be, even though there wasn’t much indication of it from the things I’d heard so far. I was going to have to find out, and pretty soon. I could hide behind my injuries and my amnesia for a while, but I might not be able to hold out too long. Rule Two – don’t tell anyone – might be difficult if I let things get out of hand.

“I guess Mom and Dad didn’t want to ask you about it yet,” he replied. “But I know they’re curious, so I thought maybe I’d better give you a little warning in case there’s something you don’t want them to know.”

“If there is, I don’t know about it,” I told him. “Joey, I’ve lost a lot of my memory. There are a lot of things I just don’t know, more than I’ve told Mom about.”

“She said the doctor said you had some holes in your memory.”

“More than some,” I admitted. “He thinks I’ll get most of it back, but I don’t know.” I decided I’d better change the subject before I said something I shouldn’t. “So were any of the other kids from the class hurt?”

“A few cuts and bruises, nothing serious, at least from what I’ve heard,” he reported. “I do know Mike Hershfeld lost his home, but they were down in the basement and were able to ride it out. Other than that I haven’t seen many of the kids. I haven’t been to school since the storm. The school isn’t counting anyone as absent if they’re working on storm cleanup, and I’d rather do that than sit in school.”

That was in my Joe memories, as was Mike and his family losing their home. I’d figured it was better to be doing something useful, especially when I had a solid gold excuse to not be in a classroom. School had not exactly been my favorite place. In most respects Joey must not be a lot different than I had been as Joe. “Sounds like you,” I smiled.

We talked about the storm for a while. Like with Mom, it was a safe subject since I couldn’t be expected to know anything about it. There were a lot of questions I wanted to ask him, things he would know. But to ask them would be to reveal just how little I knew, so I avoided them.

I suppose I mostly listened to him rattle on for fifteen minutes or so, and sometimes in passing he dropped useful bits of information, mostly names I already knew from my Joe memories. Some of those memories were pretty fuzzy – it was over half a century in that past, after all – but some of them might be useful.

It was good to talk to Joey, although it was awkward in a way since in a way I was talking to myself, or what had been myself. The language sort of breaks down in circumstances like this! Although the memories were aged, I knew considerably more about Joey than I knew about Joanie, things that he might never have told his sister, things that I wouldn’t have told my sister if I’d had one. That was something I would have to be careful about too.

We were interrupted by a bright, perky voice saying, “So this is where you’ve been hiding! How are you doing, Joanie?”

I looked up to see Patty walking in the door, seeming to be just as full of crap as she ever was. My Joe memory of her was very strong; she was a huge gossip, a friend to everyone, always outgoing, cheerful, and warm. She had been the one, my Joe memory told me, who had kept up on everyone in the class for half a century or more. She had organized the class reunion that had updated me on a lot of the class, something that would likely prove useful in the days to come. I remembered that she and a few other kids and I had all been in first grade together, back in the end of the one-room school days, and in a way that made us a little closer than just being high school classmates. It was clear that both Joey and I as Joanie were on that same list in this life.

Among other things, I had decided many years before the accident that she represented possibly the biggest mistake of my life. As Joe, I had always liked Patty but had never really had any romantic thoughts about her, possibly because she was a chubby little thing, rather plain looking, and as a teenager I’d thought I ought to be able to do better. Well, I hadn’t; Cindy may have been slimmer when I married her but she passed Patty up quickly, and often seemed something of a sourpuss by comparison. Patty’s liveliness could well have resulted in a livelier me, at least in my life as Joe. Things would have been different; that was a sure thing.

If I’d had a lick of sense I’d have worked real hard to get something going with Patty while I was in high school, although admittedly I wasn’t exactly a lightweight myself in those days or any other time in my life. But by the time I’d come to my senses, after Vietnam, she was already married, to a jerk who treated her poorly and hadn’t realized the jewel he really had. I couldn’t remember his name and may have never known it. By the time she was free of him I was married to Cindy, and that was that.

At the time of the reunion she was still a chubby little thing but not much heavier than she had been in high school, and long a single mom. Her daughter had babysat Anita on occasion, and Anita had been over thirty before my transition or whatever you want to call it. On balance, at the reunion Patty had probably changed the least of any of us.

Even seeing her made me realize the lost opportunity, and I made up my mind I’d try to move Joey in her direction, although we were almost done with high school and the chance might not be there much longer. Oh, well, two ships that pass in the night . . .

Of course, we had to go through many of the same things that I’d already talked about with Joey and Mom: I told her that I was getting better, but I had huge holes in my memory. I wasn’t sure how good a friend I’d been with Patty as Joanie, but I soon realized we must have been pretty close. I soon realized that Patty might prove to be an important source in making myself pass as Joanie. What was more, her being a gossip might help give me some cover as I learned to be who I had been.

It was Patty and her gossip that soon cleared up several things, including the vexing question of what I’d been doing riding with Lanny during the storm; I’d wondered about that myself. “Diana told me that you and Barb and her had gotten together to ride up to the A&W in Hamford,” she reported. “The three of you ran into Lanny there, and you were having root beer floats or something when it was clear that there was a big storm coming. You all decided that it would be better if you were at home, and Lanny offered to take you home since he would be going right by your house, while it was out of the way for Diana and Barb.”

“I guess we must have misjudged it,” I nodded. “Are Diana and Barb all right?”

“According to Diana, they got blown around a bit but never left the road. I guess they weren’t real, real close to the storm. You and Lanny weren’t so lucky.”

I shook my head and drew on my Joe memories, although I don’t remember ever hearing what Lanny was actually doing the first time he died. It could have been much the same thing, just without company. “Isn’t that just like Lanny,” I sighed. “He died trying to do me a good deed, and I don’t even remember it.”

“That was Lanny, all right,” Patty agreed. “I know a lot of people never liked him, but he really was a good guy at heart.”

“Rest in peace, Lanny,” I said softly. In the years since I’ve often hoped that the lightning bolt or whatever it was kicked him into a different life like it had with me – a better life, since he deserved it if anyone did. I don’t know – I’ll never know – but at least there’s the hope.

I will say that hearing that story, and from some of the other things Patty said, that it was clear that Lanny and I hadn’t been dating or anything. Without Patty coming right out and saying it, it was also pretty clear that Joanie had been one of the good girls, at least in their eyes. I apparently hadn’t done much dating; there had been some, although apparently it had been pretty innocent – school dances and that sort of thing, and not much of that.

Going back to Joe’s memories again, it seemed likely that Joanie must have been one of the good kids, one of the straight ones, or Patty would probably not have been as friendly to me. On reflection back in those days Patty had seemed a little disdainful of some of the wilder girls in the class, oh, like Susie McVey, who, most of us guys agreed, got around more than any other girl in the class. I personally had never had any experience with her, which was probably just as well. Susie didn’t graduate with the class; she got pregnant, which was a much bigger deal in 1965 than it was to be in years to follow. I have no idea what happened to Susie; Patty didn’t seem to know at the reunion, or at least the subject never came up.

In any case, listening to Patty rattle on I learned more than a few things about Joanie, if only by inference. It really was fun to know that I had a friend, and by extension, more friends I hadn’t met yet – or at least that I remembered in Joe’s memory of fifty years before. I think I managed to hold up my end of the conversation without a great deal of input, although I had an excuse.

Finally I realized that I might be pushing my luck a little bit too far, at least for the first time. “Look, I hate to run you off,” I said finally, “But I’m really struggling to stay awake.” I remembered my resolution to try to put Joey and Patty together, so added, “Look, why don’t the two of you go out and get a Coke or something? If I could go with you, I would, but I can’t.”

“Sounds good to me,” Joey replied. “Patty, would you like to take her up on it?”

“Sure,” she smiled. “I think we can probably find something to talk about.” That was one thing that struck me as truth – if Patty was involved, there was always something to talk about.

“All right,” Joey agreed. “Joanie, I’ll try to get over and see you tomorrow. It may be in the evening since I guess I’m going to be at the Pendletons’ again. Mom and Dad will probably be in sometime.”

It was still a while before they left, but when they were gone I settled myself back against my pillow and let my exhaustion flow over me. It seemed like I might be able to get away with making myself into something like what Joanie had been, at least given a little luck and the crutch of amnesia. But at the same time I realized it was going to have to be an act, a façade that might not hold up forever. The real me was not the same thing as the imitation Joanie, and I was going to have to learn how to balance the two, at least for a while.

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To be continued . . .

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