I went on my very first date in 1988.
It was a double date. I don’t recall how but I had somehow mustered enough courage to ask Erica, a cute blonde, to go out in a date. At the same time my best friend Jay had scored a yes from her friend Sara. Our respective relationships had blossomed over the fall. The four of us sharing our mornings and afternoons along seemingly endless school bus rides. We learned how to flirt as we fumbled our way through the courtship of youth. Our bus driver was Jim. An ancient and crotchety man who would occasionally speed up over speed bumps to send us flying through the air as we squealed with delight. It was Route #11. It’s funny isn’t it? The queer and inconsequential details you recall of youth. We were 10 going on 20 with our whole lives ahead of us. Endless destinies lay at our feet. Paths branching with each choice we made. Paving the road which would lead us to become the person we were meant to be. As it turns out one of us was destined to become a killer.
Our date was on a Friday night and I recall it with a vivid fondness. It was a different age. It was the 80′s. A time where it perfectly acceptable practice to drop a group of 10 year olds off at the mall entrance with nothing more than a kiss on the cheek and specific directions for the time and place to be picked up. Back then a kid could freely roam the mall without fear of being stopped by a security guard wondering where their guardian was. And that’s exactly what we did on our first date… we roamed the mall. We were kings of men as we traveled from shop to shop with our ladies in tow. Looking back now I am brought to the painful realization that on that night I would reach a zenith of self assuredness. Never before, and not since, would I enjoy being so cocksure. I practically oozed confidence. My pocket full of cash; a full $30 half given by my mom and half earned by returning soda cans for their deposits. I felt was a goddamned Rockafeller. I had balls big enough to have asked out a girl and she said yes. Now here she was laughing at my jokes and holding my hand as we thumbed through Def Leppard cassette tapes at a Records & Such. I was a man without worry. Life hadn’t yet taught me the great risk of jealousy, fear, pain and loss that accompanies the reckless abandon of adolescent love. Unburdened by fear. Emboldened by naïveté. I was as handsome and charming as I have ever been. My friend Jay had hit it off just as perfectly with his date. They too were so obviously smitten with one another. Sometimes the girls would sneak off to a different isle to chat in whispered tones and hushed giggles. Jay and I would compare notes and revel in how radically awesome it was to finally be men with girlfriends. As the evening progressed we ended up at the movies. ”Ernest Saves Christmas” to be exact. We made our way to the Crossgates Mall theater. The old one on the third floor high above the food court. I can practically feel the heavy metallic seats covered in a faded maroon fabric; a slightly softer version of burlap. We took our seats in the very first aisle; a last resort for adults arriving late but the first choice for a group of overstimulated pre-teens. Neck cramps be damned. The movie was the last thing we were paying attention to. As it is with young boys we were more interested in demonstrating our machismo by getting into a verbal pissing match with the kids directly behind us or throwing the occasional kernels of popcorn at the screen. We had our first taste of the electric fear of making a move. That mixture of doubt and anticipation that exists as you slowly stretch your arm around her hoping not to be denied. It was a night of discovery packed with first time experiences. After the show we met Jay’s mom and her tank of a ride (a bare bones GMC Suburban) at the designated time and pick up point. We dropped Erica off first. I made the rookie mistake of letting Erica walk herself to the door. Jay’s mom quickly pointed out my faux pas and I raced to catch her so that I may demonstrate my chivalrous nature. I made my way back to the tank without a goodnight kiss but was elated nonetheless. Sara was next to be dropped off and Jay, having learned from my mistake, escorted Sara to her waiting parents. I spent the night at Jay’s house. Still high on power and adrenaline, we laid in his bunk bed and excitedly recapped the details our adventure. Before long the exhaustion of the come down set in and we drifted into a contented sleep in the middle of the conversation.
Other dates would follow but there never was another experience that could live up to the magic of that first date. It was just a few weeks later that I found myself calling my mom immediately after getting off the school bus to tell her the devastating news that Erica had dumped me. That was the first time I would hear the phase “There are plenty of fish in the sea.” Nurturing advice from a mother giving a much needed perspective. Jay and Sara’s relationship managed to hang on for another few weeks after that. Our bus rides had forever changed and the four of us, once thick as thieves, had broken up and moved on.
In the years that followed, as is the nature of growing up, each of us would find and travel along different path. The long establish social caste system of high school school ensured we were categorized and distributed amongst varied cliques. I don’t recall much of Erica thereafter. I seem to recall her being somewhat aloof and I’m pretty sure she was into art or music. Something along those lines. I’m not sure if she’d know me from Adam if she bumped into me today. Though we ran in different circles, Jay and I remained friendly through high school. We would both end up joining the service shortly after graduation. As fate would have it we ended up being stationed pretty close to each other. We were roommates for a short time sharing a dingy apartment in Virginia Beach. He’s since been married and divorced. He has kids that I don’t think that he sees as often as he’d like. While I got out of the service after 4 years he decided to make it a career. I found out he made Chief Petty Officer a few years back and while we haven’t spoken in years I still found myself deeply proud of his achievement. At 35, he’s less than 5 years away from retirement and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was more than a little jealous. And then comes Sara. Our paths didn’t really cross thereafter. My only memories being vague recollections of sharing the same ‘home-room’ in High School. She’s someone who probably hasn’t crossed my mind for a single instance in at least 15 years. That is until I last night; when her name was spoken on the nightly news.
The lead story involved the investigation into the murder of a 79 year old man named Richard Englander. My wife had mentioned this story to me a few days ago as yet another example of the sometimes deplorable nature of what some human beings are capable of. The report stated that Mr. Englander is believed to have been killed at the hands his in-home caretaker; a woman who had caught the attention of his bank by cashing a number of his checks. The bank called Mr. Englander to discuss with him the suspicious nature of the transactions. While on the phone an argument began and the operator heard what sounded like Mr. Englander being assaulted. Shortly thereafter the woman attempted to cash yet another check. The police were notified and they detained her after pulling car over not far from the bank. As the reporter recounted the details she mentioned the name of the woman being charged; Sara Moore. The sound of the name caught my immediate attention and I felt an instant chill. Even though I had no confirmation that this was the Sara Moore I remember, I found myself assuming that it was. I can’t tell you the reason, it is certainly nothing based on my limited personal experiences with her, but I felt somehow less shocked than I would have expected. On a conscious level I didn’t see her as a killer. Yet upon hearing the news I realized that on some deeper level I must have believed it was something she was capable of. The report continued with more details I had not previously known. Still though, it was a fairly common sounding name and it did not mean that the woman they were discussing on the news was the same girl that I knew all those years ago. All but the slightest of doubts disappeared, however, when they reported that she was my age and that she was from a town very close to the one where we all grew up. The last whisper of doubt vanished when I looked to the TV and saw the woman standing there in the courtroom. I don’t know if I would have recognized her had I saw her on the street two weeks ago but there now in the courtroom it was unmistakable.
She looked much older than I remember, as we all do of course. But it was more than age. It was a look. A look that betrayed her melancholy. Pain and unease authored by time and etched line by line into the creases of her skin. Here face read like the pages of a worn and tattered novel which told her tragic tale. She looked scared and confused standing there clad in a bright orange jumper. As she turned to the sheriff for instruction I caught a glimpse of the girl that I remember from that night so many years ago. It was hidden deep beneath the horror she now displayed but I recognized it nonetheless. I have spent much of the day since I saw the story ruminating on the why’s and the what ifs. What is it in her life that lead her to this place? With such similar backgrounds and shared childhood experiences, what is it that lead her to a moment where she finds herself accused of heartless greed and viscous murder? What path did she take in life that ended with her displayed on my living room television; nakedly presented before the architects of her judgement and potential demise? How did it come to be that while she awaits trial inside the confines of a jail cell I sit comfortably on my couch admiring my beautiful children?
As with any American accused of a crime, she is afforded the presumption of innocence. I don’t know whether or not she is guilty of this crime. I only know what my gut tells me. It goes without saying that I feel sadness for Mr. Englander, whose life was taken, and that I am terribly sorry for the loss his friends and family must be experiencing at this time. But I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I also feel a great deal of sadness for Sara as well. Not for the woman accused of taking the life of a disabled 79 year old man, but rather for the girl I remember. Of all the dreams she may have had and all the paths she could have chosen, I find myself heartbroken by the woman that she ultimately became. For that little girl I grieve.