A Friendship Grows
When we returned, Charlie headed off to dinner. I continued packing up my gear. The nurse we had passed in the hall approached me. “I’m not sure what you did Mr. Jackson, but I haven’t seen Charlie that positive in a long time. Why, I swear he was even, dare I say, happy.”
“Well, we took his Caddy out for a spin, and I think he enjoyed that.” I extended my hand. “Please, call me Evan. I apologize for Charlie’s earlier comments.”
She smiled. “Apology not necessary. My name is Abbey. So, do you intend to visit Charlie and take him for a ride on a regular basis? I’m sure he would love that.”
“He did say I would be welcome to do just that anytime. Do you think it would help? I mean, would it be good for him?”
“It certainly would. Charlie has no family visitors so any activity with a friend outside of this place would be a welcome change for him.”
“Okay, Abbey. You tell Charlie I will see him next Sunday, and we can take Elvis out for another spin. Maybe you could join us sometime?”
She smiled. “If you can do that for Charlie, that would be great. Thank you, Evan.”
She walked away to carry on with her rounds and then turned with a smile. “As for me joining you . . . Well, I guess that would be okay, providing you are there to chaperone. Have to watch that Charlie fellow,” she laughed. I watched her as she greeted another resident. Now that’s a person doing some good in this world.
I didn’t need convincing. The following weeks turned into months as I visited Charlie on a regular basis. Every Sunday afternoon I would pick him up. He and his trusty huge mug of coffee would be waiting to go cruising. When Abbey was free, she would join us. They were carefree afternoons. We would cruise the main drag, do some local sightseeing, and often stop for a bite at the local burger shop.
One day, Charlie said he wasn’t feeling up to the ride. He insisted Abbey, and I take the Caddy and carry on. We spent some time driving around, had an excellent meal, and talked into the wee hours. She told me of her dream to become a doctor, a specialist in geriatric medicine. She already had strong opinions on the current model for care of the elderly and a determination to make things better.
I dropped her off at her home and made a feeble attempt at a parting kiss.
“Whoa there, buddy. I never kiss anyone that soon. Why we haven’t been out on a date yet.”
“But, Abbey, wasn’t today just like a date?”
“Nope. Just because Charlie didn’t join us, hardly makes it an official date.”
As she spoke those words, and before I could ask her out on a formal date, she was out of the Caddy. She blew me a kiss as she closed the door.
I realized how much I liked Abbey and seriously considered taking our relationship to the next level. I had my doubts. Why would this intelligent young woman be interested in a struggling musician? Regardless I decided one of these days I would ask her out.
The following Sunday, Charlie and I headed out for a burger and a cruise. Over the weeks, he had shared his past: the good times, the bad times, regrets, and finally, his dreams. They weren’t just dreams. More accurately, they were nightmares, and they haunted him.
He explained that they were unlike any dreams he had experienced in his past. They had started late in his life. The most significant being about his father’s experiences in the war and another about Angie Elliot, a woman he had shut out of his life and lost forever. Others included occasions when he could have, should have, intervened to save or change people’s lives.
“You know, Evan, I started out in this life following in my pa’s footsteps. I mistreated a lot of people, especially black folks. The war in Korea helped me see the light. Just as I now know my pa’s war had changed him. War has a way of doing that, changing a man, sometimes for the better, often the other way around.
“In my case, Korea did both. It helped me to see things I did wrong, but it was also the reason I broke up with the only woman I ever loved.”
Charlie told me more than once how he wished he could go back and make things right for himself, his pa, and the woman he loved named Angie.
I shared a lot with him as well, including my passion for songwriting and music. It was on that Sunday, when I was telling him about my disappointment on not making a planned trip to Memphis with my mom, that he uttered those fatal words, “Hell, son, what’s stopping us from filling up the old Caddy’s gas tank and making that trip ourselves?”
“Damn tootin’ kid. We could do just like your song says and make that pilgrimage. I’ll show you things no tour guide has on their agenda.”
“I don’t know, Charlie. Abbey says I’m not to take you out more than an hour or two, doctor’s orders. It takes a little longer than that to get to Memphis.”
“Balderdash. I know Abbey means well, but if I have my medicine, I’m good to go. I’ve saved a stash of it. You know, just in case I ever wanted to spring myself from this place.”
“I studied my frail looking friend. I’m not sure, Charlie. Memphis?”
“Hell, yeah. And, I’m not talking your regular, touristy, let’s go see the Jungle Room, trek to Graceland. I’d like to show you the Memphis I knew, that Elvis and I knew. Whaddaya say, son? It’s a dying man’s wish.”
“You don’t look like you’re dying to me, Charlie.”
“If I stay here much longer, I will.”
“Shake on it kid, and we’ll go do what you sing in that song of yours.”
With a firm handshake, I confirmed he could count me in.
Immediately, we started planning our pilgrimage to Memphis. We studied the maps, set a date, and made up an itinerary. Then, just four days before I was set to spring Charlie from his prison . . .
until I received the phone call.
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