by Jerry Guarino
March 17th, 1978 (New
Brunswick, N.J.) - Tony packed his green duffel
bag and headed to Newark airport. His dreams of a
journalism career on hold, he decided to pursue,
for the last time, one Pamela Jean Johnson,
formerly of North Augusta, South Carolina. Even
though he was leaving college three months before
graduation, he was of a singular mindset, to have
the love of his life, his first love, the best
love he had ever known. Nothing else seemed to
matter. It all started eight years ago.
November, 1969 (East Orange, N.J.) Pam is
visiting Laura. Red and orange leaves were
blowing around the high school soccer field; the
air was a cool 50 degrees. John, Lauras
boyfriend, and Tony were moving the ball
downfield on attack. When Lauras slow walk
passed across Johns line of sight, he
missed a pass from Tony, turning the ball over.
Tony glanced at John and carped, How did
you miss that? Then he saw Laura and her
cousin Pam, dressed in cotton sweaters, plaid
wool skirts, navy blue tights and clogs. They
were both 59 tall, athletic, with
clear, slightly olive skin tones. They each had
long, straight hair, cut evenly eight inches
below the shoulder; Lauras was dark brown,
while Pams shade was light brown, like
stained oak, the same color as her tortoise style,
Never mind said Tony as he recognized
the source of his friends distraction.
Who is that with Laura?
John moved closer so other players couldnt
hear his answer. Her cousin Pam, visiting
for Thanksgiving break, said John. Laura
and Pam were sharing thoughts that Tony only
hoped he was a part of. Pam adjusted her
eyeglasses, stroked her hair and whispered
something in Lauras ear.
Double date Tony said, more like a
command than a question, to John as they returned
their attention to the game.
On the way off the field after a win, the crowd
applauding, Tony and John stopped for a moment to
meet the girls. Pam, this is my friend Tony.
Pam held out her hand. Hi, her
southern accent apparent even in this one
Hi, said Tony, the poor kid from
John tried to close this favor for his friend.
Laura, maybe Pam and Tony can join us at
the movie tonight?
Laura didnt even confer her cousin replying,
Thats just what we were thinking.
Pick us up at 7.
As John and Tony left the field for the locker
room, Tony turned back for one more look at Pam;
framed in the autumn dusk, a long shadow trailing
behind, she held Lauras arm and giggled.
Tony slapped John on the back. John, Im
going to marry that girl.
John laughed. Its only a first date
Romeo. Take some time to get to know her.
Tony and Pam held hands in the theater and
whispered to each other, their connection not
unnoticed by Laura. Look she said to
John just smiled. Youll never guess
what Tony said to me earlier but he didnt
tell Laura even as she coaxed him. Later that
night getting pizza, the two girls sitting
opposite of the boys, you could see that Tony and
Pam were becoming closer.
Pam was a proper 17-year-old Christian girl, so
anything more than petting was out of the
question, even in the era of free love. But Tony
was so enamored that he would wait, a long time
as it turns out. After spending the week together,
Pam returned home. They talked on the phone for
the next six months. Pam, can you come back
this summer, stay with Laura?
At this point, Pam was trying to work this out
with her parents. If I can Tony. My parents
want me to work this summer.
Tony had an idea. Bonds Ice Cream
is looking for help. We could both work there.
Both Tony and Pam were going to be seniors,
planning for college and the future.
July, 1970 (East Orange, N.J.) Although
Pam was able to come back North, working with
Tony didnt happen. Tony worked at Bonds,
pushing ice cream, while Pam and Laura worked at
the new clothing store for teenagers, The Gap.
Pam had done some modeling for a local store in
South Carolina; both she and Laura loved to use
their paycheck to buy the latest fashions from
San Francisco, the epicenter for this generation.
Oh Pam, you must try this on; it goes
perfectly with your eyes.
Laura held the cornflower hippie dress up to her
neck. With crème color knee socks?
said Pam. Tony will love it!
Most summer nights, the four had dinner together
and listened to music. The Beatles (of course),
Three Dog Night, Simon and Garfunkel, Chicago and
Rare Earth were putting out new songs while the
classics of the 1960s were still popular. MASH
and Catch 22 were playing at the movies and poor
kids were heading to Vietnam. Richard Nixon was
in the White House. The country was splitting up
and taking sides.
At the pizza shop, Edwin Starr was pumping out War.
Im not going to Vietnam, said
John. Ill be in college.
Pam and Laura stopped in mid bite. John is
applying to Rutgers and Im applying to
Douglas, said his girlfriend. Tony knew his
family didnt have money for college. What
about you Tony? said Pam, holding his hand.
Bridge over Troubled Waters
started to play.
Tony hadnt thought about this before and
didnt know what Pams plans were.
Im not sure, maybe RU looking
at her. What about you Pam? said John.
Laura nudged her boyfriend, gesturing to be quiet.
Laura wants me to join her at Douglas, but
my parents want me to go to a church college
closer to home. The jukebox blared Give
Me Just a Little More Time, the plea
Tony was thinking about.
It was late August and Pam was going home the
next day. Making out in the back seat of Tonys
Dodge Dart, on a hill overlooking the skyline of
Manhattan, Pam leaned back and asked him the
question he had been avoiding. What about
college Tony? Do you think you could go to school
in the South?
Tony knew that out of state tuition, even at a
state school, was out of his reach. He would be
lucky to get loans to cover Rutgers. I
could do that, he lied as long as we
could be together. Pam smiled and kissed
Tony. She seemed satisfied with the possibility
Starting their senior year, Tony and Pam kept in
touch in writing or on the phone. It was Tony and
Johns last year on the soccer team and they
enjoyed a championship season. But as John went
off with Laura to celebrate after games, Tony
could only call Pam, telling her how much he
missed her. While time flew by for John and Laura,
it seemed like a year until Christmas for Tony.
He sent Pam a music box that played Serenade #12
by Mozart. She decided to come up to New Jersey
for a week.
January, 1971 (East Orange, N.J.) It was a
week of bliss. Tony and Pam spent most of their
time together by themselves, away from their
family and friends. Fortunately, college
admissions letters hadnt come back yet,
saving a discussion Tony dreaded. I got an
early admission to Presbyterian College and Im
still waiting to hear from Douglas said Pam.
Im still waiting to hear from both
schools, Tony said. He had applied to
Rutgers, but not the private school Pams
parents wanted her to attend.
So I guess were still not settled
as she squeezed his hand.
It will work out, said Tony. She was
so beautiful and was wearing the same kind of
outfit she had on that afternoon of the soccer
game, triggering a love flashback memory. Tony
hadnt dated anyone else since they had met,
feeling they were destined to be together.
April 14th, 1971. Tonys birthday. Pam had
sent him a gift and called him that night. Happy
birthday Tony. I miss you.
Tony had a feeling the college discussion was
going to come up. I miss you too,
A pause. My parents want me to go to
Presbyterian. Did you get in?
Tony had to modify his lie. No, sorry,
only a half truth since he never applied.
But theres some bad news. I was
drafted, number 28. Ill be heading off to
Pam began to cry. No. Youll be sent
to Vietnam. What about the college deferment?
Tony used the political situation to get out of
his predicament. College deferments ended
this month. Only a serious medical condition will
get you out of the draft.
Pam continued to cry. I dont want to
Tony had planned for this. Realizing he didnt
have the money for college, he had decided to
enlist in the Air Force, avoiding direct combat
in Vietnam and giving him money for college.
Its OK, Pam. Im going to join
the Air Force. I wont be going to Vietnam.
We can be together after that.
Pam sobbed a little less now. How long will
Now Tony choked up a little. Four years.
Tony and Pam spent the next hours remembering the
time they spent together and promising to
continue their relationship, though it would have
to be long-distance.
November, 1971 (Takhli Royal Air Force Base,
Thailand) In the middle of the jungle,
Tony was writing his weekly letter.
I miss you so much. Even though its late
November, its very hot, 90s during the day
and not much cooler at night. Theres no air
conditioning, just large fans in the tents we
live in. Im hoping to get stationed at Shaw
Air Force Base in Charleston when we leave here.
We could see each other again.
All my love,
Pam and Tony continued to write each other every
week, making small talk and expressions of love.
After a year in Thailand, Tony was stationed in
California, far from his girlfriend. Later, he
was sent back to South East Asia, for another
year of duty. Toward the end of his third year,
the frequency of letters diminished. Then his
orders came through, Eglin Air Force Base in the
Florida panhandle. It was a nine hour drive to
Columbia, S.C. but infinitely closer than he had
been since high school graduation. He was eager
to write the good news when he opened a letter
I am so sorry. Its been so long since we
have been together and I have been lonely. I met
someone here at college. Hes going to be a
pastor and he asked me to marry him. I didnt
want to say anything before it became serious. Im
going to say yes.
I wish I could have waited for you. I will never
forget the time we had together. I hope you find
someone as good as you are.
Tony knew that Pam had made a difficult decision,
one that she wouldnt change. He decided
that he would spare them both more pain by not
responding to her letter, not writing her anymore
or calling her when he returned to the states.
Tony had been taking college courses while he was
in the Air Force, to take his mind off the
loneliness and to get ahead on his education. Now
that he and Pam were finished, he could go to
Rutgers on the G.I. Bill and still have money for
September, 1975 (New Brunswick, N.J.) Tony
entered Rutgers as a sophomore, having
accumulated 36 college credits during his time in
the military. John was a senior now and engaged
to Laura who went to Douglass, the womens
college at Rutgers. Tony and John still hung out
together. One day at Pattis Pizza,
John saw his good friend looking sad. You
still miss her, dont you? said John.
Of course I do. She was the best thing that
ever happened to me. John was curious.
Why dont you try to get her back?
Tony shrugged. Shes engaged. I dont
want to ruin that. Even if I wanted to, Im
in school here now and shes graduating.
December, 1977 (New Brunswick, N.J.) - Tony dated
many women during college but never found one
that made him feel like Pam did. John wanted to
cheer him up and invited him to an engagement/Christmas
party at Lauras house. Not being attached,
Tony decided to go. He arrived with a bottle of
wine and an engagement present for the couple.
John met him at the door and took the presents.
Hey buddy, thanks. I have a present for you
too. Tony looked confused. Guess who
Tonys heart began to race. Pam?
John opened the door and there she was. They
rushed to each other and hugged. What are
you doing here? Arent you supposed to be
with your fiancé?
Pam took his hand quickly to a room away from the
guests. Her smile turned to sadness and she began
to cry. We broke up last week. He was
cheating on me. She hugged him tightly.
Im sorry dear, Im really sorry,
said Tony with genuine empathy. Then he took her
head gently, pulled it towards him and kissed her.
Pam responded and suddenly they were both
reminded how much they meant to each other.
Laura said I could move in with her this
summer, to help her plan the wedding. Tonys
world had turned around. This miraculous ending
must mean they were meant to be together.
March 10th, 1978. Pam called Tony for their
nightly talk. Tony, my ex has been pursuing
me again, begging me to take him back. I dont
know what to do. Tony was floored, but
tried to remain composed.
I thought you loved me. I thought we were
going to be together again.
Pam began to cry. I know. I thought so too.
I told him I had to think about it and give him
an answer at the end of the semester.
Tony didnt want to pressure Pam into her ex
fiancées arms, but need reassurance.
I love you Pam. I will do anything to be
with you. It has to be your decision. It
was time for a grand gesture, but what?
Spring break had just ended. If he had gone down
South during this time, maybe he could have
prevented this. But he was busy completing his
writing portfolio for graduate school and had a
reference from a former professor at Columbia
School of Journalism. The next week was torture
for Tony and graduate school seemed less
important as each day passed.
March 18th, 1978 (Columbia, S.C.) Tonys
plane landed and he rented a car. He found an
apartment and put down two months cash
toward the lease. Then he headed to the office of
the Columbia S.C. News. His writing and
photography portfolio in hand, he met with the
editor who appreciated this veterans
enthusiasm and gave him a position. Now he had a
job and a place to live. It was time to find Pam.
He showed up at her apartment and rang the bell.
Pam opened the door. Tony! What are you
doing here? They kissed. I was going
crazy, waiting to hear from you. I came down and
already have an apartment and a job. Pam, will
you marry me?
Pam was in shock. Tony, I dont know
what to say. Tony and Pam made love that
night for the first time. Tony knew that it would
be magical. Pam thought it would be too, but it
She felt so guilty and confused. Tony, I
need more time to think about it. But Tony
realized that it wasnt meant to be.
He packed up, returned the rental car and flew
back to New Jersey. He finished his senior year
but did poorly on his final exams, his heart