When Erich Segal wrote his 1970 novel “Love Story” the first line read “What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old who died?” He then proceeded to tell a classic American boy meets girl love story. One could not accuse him of the proverbial “burying the lead” in the story. Nevertheless despite the fact that the book and the movie both began with that sentence, many people were surprised when near the end of the story the girl dies. It’s like people forgot the opening sentence no matter how memorable it might have been. If you ask someone to quote a famous line from that book or movie you will probably get “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” When Ryan O’Neal who starred in Love Story was fed that line in another movie, his reply was “That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.” I tend to agree.
Perhaps Sagal was too clever with his opening line. Maybe he should’ve been more blunt. In an attempt to learn from his mistake we begin our tale as follows.
A couple of days ago I found out that the first girl I ever kissed had died in 2013.
The fact that she was the first girl I ever kissed is the only really significant thing about her. I’ve had other girlfriends (some living some now dead) who meant much more to me. But because she holds the distinction of being my first kiss, her story deserves to be chronicled considering that I’ve chronicled so much of my life story in blogs, emails to friends, and even published magazine articles.
I recently have gone on a string of Internet searches for long-lost friends. It’s not the first time I’ve done Facebook and Google searches to reconnect with my past but I seem to have done a lot of it lately. Perhaps it’s because a little over a year ago I passed the milestone age of 60. Perhaps it’s the fact that I made it to 61 and beyond that has caused me to gain more nostalgia for my youth.
In the past few months I’ve had some great success. I reconnected with an old college buddy named Frank Williams who was especially hard to find because Frank Williams is such a common name. Frank was part of a gang of people that hung out with me and my lifetime friends Rich and Kathy Logan. Frank used to play keyboards in a band that would play out local bars and nightclubs. I discovered that 40 years later he still is playing the part of “piano man” singing Billy Joel songs in bars and nightclubs. I finally discovered him on Facebook. He’s the guy who used to occasionally call me Christopher even though my given name is Chris. In retaliation I would call him Frankfurter. I would say if you could put a “… topher” on my name that doesn’t belong I can put a “… furter” on your name that doesn’t belong. It was also appropriate to call him Frankfurter because every day for lunch he would eat two hot dogs split down the middle on white bread piled with so much catsup and mustard there was almost more condiment then there was meat. We have swapped a few Facebook messages and will probably get together again for an in person visit sometime soon. Perhaps I’ll go see him play in a bar somewhere.
From the former girlfriend department I also recently reconnected with Ella Vinci via Facebook. We met in a sociology class in college my third semester at IUPUI and had lunch together every day after class. We went out for dinner and a movie several times. She took me to my first hockey game. She is normally a mild-mannered person however when she is at a hockey game her personality totally changes. She screams and yells at every hard hit “Kill him kill him!” I have often described her as the person who taught me a deep appreciation of violence on ice. She also happens to be the first girl not in a wheelchair that I ever dated. But more than any of those things she taught me that I could have a very enjoyable and rewarding platonic friendship with a woman. She deserves a major multi-part blog to really do her story justice.
Other Google searches for long-lost friends have not fared as well. I still can’t find grade school and junior high friends Teddy Hayes or Greg Whitney. There was a girl I knew at Northwest High School named Melody Richards or perhaps Richardson I forget. Like Frank Williams that name is too common.
Others I found too late. There is evidence that one of my best grade school friends Estel Troxel passed away several years ago as did my buddy Carol Nash. I found obituaries that I’m pretty sure belong to them. Much irony regarding Nash’s passing. Over the years whenever I have run into him various places he has greeted me with the words “Aren’t you dead yet?” He is referring to the fact that all of our friends from grade school and high school who had muscular dystrophy died in their late teens or early 20s. I always took his greeting as a backhanded way of saying “I’m glad you made it this far”. Fortunately for me I have a different kind of genetic neuromuscular disease than any of them had and I made it to 61 and counting.
But let’s get to the story that we really want to tell. Her name was Cheryl Fayette. She was a freshman when I was a senior at IPS #97 James E Roberts School. That was a special school built only for handicapped kids. The story of that school is chronicled in my award-winning magazine article “The Reunion” which you can read here.
The short version of the Roberts School story is that it was attended by me and other disabled kids from kindergarten all the way through high school. The high school consisted of approximately 30 students and that is all for years we’re talking about. Not 30 per year. There were just two teachers and two classrooms. It was the best they could do but the place was really a joke. That’s why I spent my sophomore through senior years attending my regular neighborhood high school Northwest High School part of the day. I went to Roberts School the other half of the day. I could not take all my classes at Northwest because it did not have an elevator in those days.
At Roberts they did their best to give us as “normal” of an experience as they could and to that end we actually had prom at the end of the school year. With only 30 students total we obviously did not have separate junior and senior proms. But to make it a little more special it was open to juniors and seniors only as well as recent alumni and of course their dates.
My junior year I didn’t want to go because I didn’t have a date. And it wasn’t so significant that I didn’t have a date but that I would not be able to get my picture taken dressed up in the tuxedo next to some girl. My friend Rosie, whom I had had a serious crush on since the moment I laid eyes on her in seventh grade, agreed to let me have my picture taken with her even though she wasn’t officially my date. You can read lots more about Rosie in the article “The Reunion” but for our purposes know that if I could’ve attended any event anywhere anytime with the girl of my choice it would’ve been her. When the prom photos came back, somewhere along the way my photos with Rosie got lost. Rosie and I did go out a couple of times early in our senior year but it was strictly just as friends. By the way if you’re wondering, Rosie passed away sometime in the early 1990s.
When senior year rolled around I plan to go stag again to the prom and got Rosie to agree to do retakes of the photos since we apparently broke the camera the first time 🙂 But fate had other plans for me besides Rosie. Cheryl Fayette really wanted to go to the prom but because she was a freshman she needed a Junior or Senior or an alumni to invite her.
Even with a bias of my lifelong crush on Rosie, I must admit that Cheryl was the best looking girl in the school. She was in a wheelchair but I don’t really know if she was spinal cord injury or what her particular disability was. She had a cute smile, long black hairy and a really nice chest. If the rumors were to be believed, that ample bosom had been thoroughly explored one day in the art supply room when she made out with Alan Whitney. It could’ve been just his bragging but the story was well known and she never denied it.
It was probably because she was the best looking girl in the school that guys liked to tease her relentlessly. One day one of the guys grabbed her purse and a bunch of them played keep away with it getting her to chase them around. They eventually hung it out the window of the second story boy’s restroom and invited her to “come and get it”. She went and told the shop teacher Mr. Batt and he went and got it for her. He just looked at the guys like “Seriously this is the best stunt you can pull to get a girls attention?” He did not turn them into the principal but warned them to not count on his generosity for future stunts. I was not directly involved in those shenanigans but I had a ringside seat and enjoyed watching.
At some point Cheryl made it known to everyone that she would welcome an invitation to the problem from me. So it’s really a matter of interpretation as to whether I invited her she invited me. But we have to be honest and say that she definitely made the first move. I eventually did ask her and she said yes but it was more of me saying yes I know you are me to ask you so this is me asking. It was sort of like she was the last girl and I was the last guy available. I don’t know if he ever really had any interest in be personally or not. But it didn’t matter. I ended up with a date with a hot girl for the prom.
I explained to her the whole story about Rosie and the lost pictures from last year. She agreed that I could do a retake photo with Rosie. I made it clear that in all other respects Cheryl was my only date. She went about finding a prom dress and I rented a tuxedo and purchased a corsage. The next issue to resolve was transportation. Of course neither of us could drive a car and even though there may have been wheelchair vans for hire in those days they were hardly like hiring a limousine for a prom date. My mom would drive us in our lift equipped van.
One of my buddies Wayman Glass also wanted to go to the prom and wasn’t going to let the lack of a date stop him. His major problem would be transportation as well. We determined that we could actually get 3 wheelchairs into our van so mom agreed that we could pick up Wayman, go get Cheryl, go to the prom, and take them home again. There would be one other stop along the way. Rosie got her mom to agree to have an after prom party for some people at her house.
The prom itself was really pretty lame. Obviously there wasn’t much dancing going on. The Tech High School swing band provided the music. There were munchies and fancy decorations and of course photos in front of a centerpiece. I don’t recall the official “theme” of the prom but the centerpiece was a giant peace symbol made out of chicken wire and crape paper. I got my photo taken with both Rosie and Cheryl. I still have the photos somewhere but I didn’t bother to dig them out for this blog. I probably should have. Perhaps I resisted because its better I remember it than I actually see it at this point.
When we went to Rosie’s house after the prom, all of the kids sat in the living room and our parents gathered in the dining room and drank wine. Mom agreed with me that the after party was much more fun than the prom itself even though she did not drink maybe more than a glass of wine since she was driving. The only bad part about the party was I didn’t end up sitting next to Cheryl. Somehow we ended up across the room for one another which I had hoped to rectify later but the room was so crowded we ended up that way the rest of the evening. I later apologized to her saying at least I could sit and look at the prettiest girl in the room all evening. Not my smoothest move but it was okay. Seriously though during the prom itself she was sitting next to me and I really couldn’t look at her. It was nice to be looking at this hot girl who was my date.
It turned out I was sitting next to my buddy Wayman at Rosie’s party. It was at that point, he was not an interloper who was going to ruin my date but he became my wingman who was going to facilitate the best part of the evening. I wanted to get a good night kiss but with her sitting across the room there was no chance. Also the three of us about to about to get into my van for the ride home which was no good. I knew that outside Rosie’s house was going to be my last opportunity. Wayman was “the man with the plan” as are all good wingmen. I had told him of my plan to try to kiss her and asked if he would give us a moment alone. He had a better idea. He deliberately left his jacket is Rosie’s living room. Just as my mom was about to load us into the van he said “Mrs. Young I forgot my jacket could you go get it please?” My mom went back in the house. Wayman turned his back. And I asked Cheryl for a good night kiss and she agreed.
As first kisses go… It went really well. It wasn’t too awkward. No tongue but for a first one that’s not unusual. Not too wet nor too dry. It was great. It did not escape me however that I was 17 years old, it was prom night, and I was just getting my first kiss ever. Around the city either that weekend or adjacent weekends, hundreds of guys were getting a laid for the first time as part of a prom night tradition. I like to think of it as me being on the right track but seriously behind schedule.
We dropped Cheryl off at her home and then took Wayman home. By that time it was about 2 AM. Wayman lived in a really rough neighborhood just off of 10th St. west of White River. When mom knocked on his door no one answered for a really long time. She said it was kind of scary being out at 2 AM banging on the door in a rough black neighborhood with nothing but a couple of 17-year-olds in wheelchairs as “protection”. His brother finally woke up and came to the door without incident.
So the entire evening was a fun adventure from my mom as well. Over the years she probably told as many stories about that evening as I did. When word got out among our friends that I had kissed her on prom night Rosie seemed very surprised. It might have been wishful thinking on my part that interpreted as jealousy. I remember looking at Rosie and saying “Don’t look at me that way… You blew your chance that this many times”.
I’m sad to report that Wayman was one of those guys with muscular dystrophy that Carol Nash was always talking about. Wayman Glass passed away at about age 25.
After the prom there was still about two weeks left in school before graduation. It was a difficult time for me as high school graduation always is. I knew I was going to be saying goodbye to friends that I would likely never see again. Again I refer you to my story “the Reunion” for more of the details about me somewhat depressing times all of us were going through at Robert School.
One of the things that I had been going through was the realization that if I was to ever find love in life, it probably was not going to be with another handicapped person. When I had a crush on Rosie at age 12 or 13, I never really thought about what kind of life we could or could not have had together. Although her disability was not so severe that she needed any help in daily living skills, she was just barely capable of taking care of herself. A few years later when her mother passed away she was able to live on her own in her own home or apartment for many years until she later married. On the other hand I need pretty much 24/7 help with everything that I do. And even though I had much more capabilities back then than I do now, she would never have been physically capable enough to do everything that I need someone to do for me on a daily basis.
There was always the possibility that I could hire the attendant to perhaps come in the morning to dress me and to put me to bed at night. Ideally such an attendant would be “live-in” but that would ruin our privacy and naturally strain the relationship. There was the option that I could marry a girl in a wheelchair and we would continue to live with my parents or hers but that also seemed like a really bad option. We later knew of disabled couples who married but lived with parents. Although Rosie’s mom and my folks had always done their best to help us be as independent as possible, other people we knew struggled because their parents continued to treat them like children into adulthood. The one couple married couple we knew who lived with their parents ended up divorcing shortly later. Relationships fail for lots of reasons but I always presumed it was information that the “stay with the parents” solution to my problem was no good. Carol Nash and his wife Mary had a great marriage but they were both capable of taking care of themselves despite their disabilities.
I had come to the conclusion that I would never seek a serious romantic relationship with another handicapped person. Perhaps it was an excuse to help me deal with the realization that I was never going to end up with Rosie. But I really think it was the fact that I was older and more mature and really thinking about my future and not being able to envision it working out with another girl in a wheelchair.
After the prom, Cheryl and I exchanged some love letters and we had a really nice day at the class picnic where we went off for a stroll through Garfield Park by ourselves for a while. No repeat kiss but it was really nice. After graduation we talked by phone couple of times and talked about getting together again but it just didn’t happen. It seemed to me it would been dishonest for me to pursue a relationship with her, knowing up front that it was destined to go nowhere. Keep in mind this was almost 2 years prior to Ella Vinci illustrating up to me that I can have a really fun and fulfilling platonic relationship with a woman. So the end result was I never spoke to Cheryl again. But I think I did see her once…
It was many years later I was at a rock concert at Market Square Arena. I saw a girl in a wheelchair sitting one section over from me. She was really good looking and I thought I should try to go over and talk to her just for the hell of it. In fact after the concert I went past her, made eye contact, smiled but never said anything. As I did so I thought she looked kind of familiar. I was on the elevator headed down to my car in the parking garage of MSA when it suddenly occurred to me why she was so familiar. It was very likely my prom date and first kiss Cheryl Fayette. What an idiot I had been for not realizing it first and saying something to her. I’m not 100% sure it was her but I’m pretty sure.
So what about one in the morning one sleepless night last week I decided to Facebook search and Google search Cheryl Fayette. And I found her on Facebook! Her profile picture was definitely her. She was still a very attractive woman. As is usual when I reconnect with old girlfriends, the first thing I notice is that they have a boyfriend or a husband. There was a guy with her in the photo and I didn’t think it was a brother. In fact I later determined it was not.
Her posts on Facebook were not public and the three photos that were visible all were posted over the course of about 2 months in 2013. I could see her other Facebook friends and found the guy who was in the profile picture with her. His Facebook posts were public but they also ended sometime in 2013. Many of his posts thank God that he was alive yet another day. Some people wrote to him asking “How is Cheryl?” but there was no reply from him. There was nothing in his timeline newer than 2013. I got a familiar suspicious feeling so I turned to Google.
A search for “Cheryl Fayette Indianapolis” on Google produced this as the number one result.
It is an Indianapolis Star obituary published August 7, 2013 saying that Cheryl A. Fayette 55, Indianapolis, died Aug. 3, 2013. It told the time of the visitation and services but gave no other information. In 2013 I was 58. If Cheryl was a freshman when I was a senior that would put three years between us so the age was right. It had to be her given the abrupt cutoff of her Facebook information at the same time.
After I found out she had died I told my dad “I found out the first girl I ever kissed died in 2013”. To try to lighten the moment he said “You killed her”. I laughed and said “It must’ve been a slow and painful death. It took over 40 years.” We both just laughed.
Anyway, I really don’t know who the guy was in her photo but it’s obvious from looking at it that he was someone special to her and vice versa. I’m happy for her on that account that she had love in her life even if her last name did not change which I presume means she did not marry. It was similar to the relief knowing that Rosie had eventually got married and had a child even though she died at an early age as she knew she would.
But somehow I can’t help but feeling that I missed an opportunity for a lifelong friendship. Had I known what Ella and Joyce and Judy and others have taught me over the years about the rewards of platonic friendship I might not have dismissed so quickly a continuing relationship with Cheryl.
I really should have googled her much sooner.