In August 1970, Gabby left Philadelphia to return to California. The grape boycott had been won, and thousands of lettuce workers were on strike in Salinas. In leaving, he left Young Emily, the could-be-dream-lover of his lifetime. They said goodbye in Clark Park, not knowing if they would see each other again. Here is what he wrote about that meeting:
I threw my gear into the back of the car, said adios to a few neighbors, and pulled out of Mascher Street with Young Emily close by my side – hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder – in the front seat of the black Ford station wagon with big-ass fins.
We shared a Great Silence broken only once drove to West Philly.
As we passed over the Schuylkill on the Spring Garden Street Bridge, I asked, “And – if we had found each other earlier, last fall – what?”
“Moth. Flame. Poof.” She pantomimed the moth (one hand), the flame (the other), and the poof (both hands).
“Point of clarification: who’s the moth, you or me?”
“We are the moth, Young E and Kool G, you and me, us. If we had found each other much earlier you would not be going back to California and that would be a mistake for all concerned.” And a minute later the only doubt I ever heard from her lips – “At least I think it would.”
We continued on to her home, shoulder to shoulder in the Ford, for one of those aching and shocking young goodbyes when you don’t know if there is going to be an if or a when and if there is an if when the when will be.
We walked across the street from her mom’s brownstone to Clark Park with the bronze Frank Edwin Elwell sculpture of Charles Dickens with Little Nell which I mention only because Dickens is a great hero of Lance’s. In her Catholic schoolgirl Navy blue skirt and a white Ladybug shirt and the delicate silver cross around her neck, her neck and throat still slightly flushed from our last minutes in peace and tranquility, Young Emily looked so very young and I felt so very lost and so very stupid, so unprepared to leave. Nothing I had ever learned or read or heard had readied me for this.
“How to best say goodbye?” she asked.
I could not believe my ears. “You of course know that you split an infinitive!”
“Just for you Gabby. Only you.” She handed me a photograph.
“You look very young.”
“It’s from eighth grade. My mom doesn’t take a lot of pictures.” And the back of the photo she had written “Thanks for, well, everything.” Oh my.
I gave her a picture of me from a picket line in Trenton earlier that summer, standing in front of what surely appears to be a 1969 Dodge Super Bee. I then told her my wish for her – “Stay as sweet as you are now.”
“Did you make that up?”
“No. No, I did not, but I did mean it.”
“I know that you didn’t make it up. Forgive me for the appearance of having tested you. Tracy Nelson and Mother Earth – right?”
“Forgiven. Right. I mean what those words say.”
“I know what you mean. Good enough.”
“I know. And I know.”
I touched her hair. “Emily, when you said double down, you weren’t just talking about these hours were you? You were saying to further surrender – surrender further – as we go away from each other.”
“Yup.” She touched my face and walked away, across the street, in, the long walk from my car to her front porch. As I started the Ford, Tavia walked out of the front door and towards to my car. I heard Young Emily playing pentatonic scales on the piano from inside the house. I turned the car off, bracing myself. Here it comes! Very bad things for me! A mother’s fury! Retribution for lost virginity of young daughter! Is she armed? Extreme danger! Red alert!
Tavia leaned over to speak to me. “Well, my young friend Gabriel la Bastille, was I right?”
“I thought so. She broke it, did she?”
“Well, no x-ray results yet but they’re pretty sure it’s a break.”
“She’s like – no – other, right?”
“She is like no other. More like no other than I know yet.”
“You won’t leave easily, will you?”
“Not at all.”
“On what terms did you two leave this? What am I facing inside with Emmy?”
“We left this in perfect sorrow.”
“Safe home, my friend Gabriel, I pray for you and I know that Emily does too” and she walked inside.
* * * * *
I showed my friend Gabby’s story. “You know, I like Gabby, but he was an idiot to leave Young Emily. And Tracy Nelson gets me every time.”
I agreed – “That’s what everybody told him for the next three years. He listened to a lot of Edith Piaf in those three years.” What did he think of the story, all in all, aside from Gabby is an idiot?