Reconstructing Charlie

Gone before sleeping beauty opened her eyes, I waited in the gym with Coach Riley and watched a group of young women straggle in at 7 am. “Step lively,” Coach called and blew the whistle hanging around her neck for the first time, a sound we learned to respond to like Pavlov’s dog. The sound reverberated around the cavernous gym. How a small silver whistle commanded attention remained a mystery to me. A woman of average stature, maybe ten years older, and Coach Lynne Riley held us in the palm d hearbof her hand. My role model. From then on, whenever I’d hear a whistle blow, my feet itched to run. We, referring to the team, had a nice ring to it. Me the loner no more. And we all resembled each other, in lean shape, pony tail hair-do, intense and later, when we suited up in the purple uniforms, we were something to watch. As a freshman, I didn’t expect to win in competition. Everyone else had experience in major events, travel to other colleges, coverage by television. Scary stiff. I just ran fast. At first, my confidence level dropped and Coach took me aside. “Charlie, I saw you run and new you were right for our team. What’s the problem? A guy thing or do you have your period? I toed the ground, raised dust and looked ashamed. “Talk to me.” “I don’t have experience like the other girls. All those people yelling, the crowds.” “She handed over a bottle of water and said:Sit down. I think I know what the problem is. We drank. “You have stage fright .” Nodding to herself, she continued. An actor learns her lines yet when the curtain , she forgets or is too nervous to get them straight. So here’s what we’re going to do.” My story head drooped.’ “Look at me when I’m talking to you. I want to see the fire you ran with we met. We’re going to have a cross county meet at Purdue soon and I expect great results from you. More later, my friends.

Reconstructing Charlie

Unaware of her power, Shelley stopped bounced in the Dining Hall. Cutlery bounced off the parquet floor, a dish shattered and all because she entered the huge room. Her concentration focused on the food and she filled both our trays with fresh fruits, steamed vegetables, whole grain bread and pasta. I pictured Granny Apple’s meals and now Shelly took over in the care and feeding of me. I don’t know hoe the dorm people figured out roommate pairing, but I thanked them. A table in the center appeared to be empty. We hustled over and claimed it. Before long, other trays clattered down. Young men slid into oak chairs and getting to-no-you began. One eager guy leaned across the table to get Shelley’s attention. “Where do you come from? Uh, both of you.” I ignored him since he didn’t care if I came from Mars. Between healthy bites, at home with small talk, Shelley said, Alabama. English and Psych major concentrating on losing my southern accent.” I’m sure they were more interested in what else she’d lost like virginity, but she kept the conversation light and fun. With my backround, I’d never be comfortable with guys. Maybe I could learn to fake it by listening to Shelley. An offer to escort us to the Pub for a brew made me cringe. We turned down the beer, ordered iced tea in the crowded restaurant bar and watched the college scene whirl around us. “Fun, huh?” Shelley said. “I think so.” “Can’t stay too long. Practice begins tomorrow.” She flashed a grin, bounced an an invisible ball. “Me too.” Goodbyes waved to the nice guys and back to the dorm we went. “Y’all don’t like crowds.” Shelly said. “No.” “Y’all don’t like strangers bumping up against you.””Don’t go there, okay?” Uncomfortable silence followed for a block. I’ve been a closed book for years.” “When you’re ready to open the book, I’m here.”

Reconstructing Charlie

Gone, the self-assured arrogant beauty and in her place a teary eyed girl looking forlorn and maybe homesick. Hey Shelly, you’re just what I need. I don’t know about you, but this is a big school and I got lost a few times and I’m hungry. How about you?” I opened some drawers for a change of clothes and pulled out shorts, a tee shirt and clean underwear. Shelly sniffled. “What I said before, all bull shit. “Oh. I believed every word.” I sat at the edge of my bed removing my sneakers. “So you’re not a sleazy slut sleeping around and I’m stuck with you.?” “Yeah.” “Get dressed and let’s check out the Dinning Hall.” Clothes in hand, I beat Shelly to the bathroom, showered and changed and came out in ten minutes. Blew dry my hair, added a bit of make-up and picked up a book to study. Introduction to Law. Half an hour later, Shelle pranced out in starkers, the word my little brother used whenever our twin sisters ran around naked. She tossed a wet towel on the floor and searched for clothes to wear. I dressed in the bathroom and my roommate thought nothing of nakedness in front of me, a stranger. One of us had a lot to learn. ‘, Shelly, lets establish a ground rule her. I hope you plan to pick up the towel and keep the bathroom neat.” The smallest bikini panties I’d seen outside of a catalog were now on her body and she wiggled into a short shiny white skirt. A white stretch boob tube thing, the latest fashion, topped off the outfit and she tied the laces of white sneakers. “Neatness counts, y’all she said with a grin and like magic, the offensive towelhung on a rack to dry. Consentration gone, I closed the book and waited, stretched and waited some more.”What?” she said, poking earrings the size of baskball hoops through her ears. “You look so…Words failed me.” “So hot?” I dug into my bottom drawer, found the lacy black and white scarf Corrinne , the helpful sales woman had shown me hoe to to tie. On tiptoes, I drapped it around Shelley’s neck, made the adjustments and stood back to see the result. “Bare.” I said. “Now you look like the campus hottie. Let’s go.” Her big black eyes watered up. “That’s something Grandma would have done. Thanks. I learned a lesson the first day on campus. Friendships come in different sizes and shapes, and sometimes even color. Mine came six feet one tall, beautiful inside and out, and before long I found out , loyal. Charlie Costigan never had a friend before. Times were changing.

Reconstrucucting Charlie

Nortwestern University. I’d visited the campus a few times and this day, my bags were open on the bed next to the window in the sunny room for two. Not used to sharing, I dreaded what came next. A rommate. The thought of her gave me the shivers. And the idea of a co-ed dorm also made me uneasy. Lucky each room had an attached bathroom. Uncle Stuart assured me he’d pay extra for a single but I should give it a try. They spoiled me, those swteeties. I finished unp acking just as a key turned in the locked door. A life size Barbie the color of dark chocolate sailed in. A guy carrying too many bags trailed close behind. Space invaders. This will never work. Tossing what looked like an expensive bag on the other bed, she ordered the guy to leave the bags and get lost. He did. Prepared to hate her, she blinded me with a grin. “Names Shelley. Shelley Jackson. Basketball,” and stuckout a hand with long tapered fingers I pictured wrapped around a ball.. We shook hands. “Charlie Costigan. Cross coutry.” “Oh, the new kid on campus. I heard about NU recruiting for womens cross country.” Y’all must be fast. Y’all already proved it. Got here before me, grabbed the bed by the window.” I must have looked puzzled because she said, “Chill out. I won’t be sleeping here too often.” My lucky day. “Who’s the boyfriend?” “The one who carried in my bags.” That’s Len. He’s just one of them. And she unpacked twice as much as I brought on this first trip to college.

The August called me outside to explore. Key, bills and coins in my fanny pack. I headed out into the sunshine and a stiff wind. Classes didn’t start until next week but cross country practise began tomorrow and this day might be my one free time to check out the town. Walk east to watch waves splash over the rocks along Lake Michigan or west to town. I tossed a coin and said heads for the lake. Heads won. I ran ’till I got over. I ran ’till I got over a flash of sadness. Kind of a hippie feel to the street. Drawn to a small painting of a horse with blinders on anotHappy, I swadher booth, I knew I had to buy it. Lots of restaurants on the street.Without a campus map, new and confused, I found myself at the north end standing in front of the entrance to a garden. A huge ancient stone plaque said Shakespeare Gardon, dedicated 1916. I knew I’d found my place at Northwestern. I’d have to read about the garden. Somone , an interloper to my privacy, sat on a stone bench not far from me, nose buried in a text book.Dressed in football gear helmet in the grass at his feet, sat Thomas Donnelly. I waggled my fingers hello. For a long minute and he grinned. After a peaceful exploration of the garden, I headed back to find the dorm.

Reconstructing Charlie

Almost two years ago, I showed up at this house on Lake Shore Drive with no idea of how I’de be received. Today, as I stepped into a long olive dress the saleslady said looked perfect with my hair and Aunt Eleanor agreed, I left that fifteen year old girl behind. Graduation Day. Wow. A full scholarship to Northwestern based on my cross country record and academics. I twirled around feeling the slinky dress spread out from my hips down. Almost time to go. I had tickets for everyone but Lord and Lady. My family. One of the ten most perfect days of the year. Carrying my cap and gown, I almost plummeted down the stairs in new clunky heel pumps. Robert beeped the horn, Edgar stood by the limousine door to escort me inside where Aunt and Uncle sat beaming. Granny Apple and Sean smiled up at me. Edgar arranged his long legs in front and off we went. For just a second, I wondered if Mom realized she hadn’t called me Her loss. I willed the dark thought away. The valedictorian, Thomas Donnelly, gave a speech about giving back to the community and volunteering whenever we could. Cheers erupted from the crowd. Admired by all, Tom, the guy who never spoke to me but had watched for the new girl in his quiet way. I’d miss him a lot. When the names of the class were called, we had practiced this drill the day before, one by one we were to walk quickly across the stage to shake hands with the principal and receive the diploma. At that time any awards would be announced.

The loudspeaker called, “Charlie Costigan,” and I had taken my place up and almost running across the stage, heard the announcment. “Highest SAT scores in our school history.” I slowed down, reveling in the moment. Words I said when I got off the bus after that terrible night came back. “Chicago, do you here me?” Applause broke out from the audience. I shook hands and thanked Mr. Adams, then waved my diploma in the received air. When Thomas received his diploma, the loudspeaker announced he had a full scholarship to Northwestern. Across the sea of friends and relatives, his blue eyes met mine. He grinned. For the first time in my life, I felt a small tingle low in my belly.I pinned a red ribbon on the underside of my cap watched it take off . Unaware the crowd broke up, drifting back to family. my focus stayed in the sky. A shadow blocked my sightline. Patric Donnely

Reconstructing Charlie

March 1998. After a difficult cross country race where we jumped over rocks, broken fences and at one point, a narrow stream, both teams gathered to shake hands. Coach called me aside. “The new cross country coach from Northwestern wants to meet you. My heart did a wild dance. Just what I’d hoped for. As my team watched from a distance, they always kept their distance from me, I blotted sweat from my face and hands and hoped for the best. The powerful woman had the authority of bringing a sport new to NY and she strode toward me, a grin on her face. No wasted motion, her body fine-tuned like the runner she was known to be. Coach always talked about prominent runners and Lynne Riley rated at the top. Well, hello Charlie Costigan. I’m Lynne Riley. I’ve heard a lot about you and now I’ve watched you in action. Your something. Where did you learn to dodge obstacles and regroup so quickly? You must have had a terrific coach early in your training.” What training? You’d run like me if you had dear old Dad for a coach. I jumped over garbage cans, dodged handsgrabing for me, drunks… I just grinned right back like ‘aw shucks and thanks.’ We’d like you to join our cross country team. Practice begins in August bt make sure you keep fit all summer.” She looked me right in the eyes, “and I mean in the best shape.”In one hand she held a list of exercises for me to folloe. I read. A specific strength and conditioning program, focus on hill and speed plus threshhold running. As if she heard my thoughts, Coach Rile said. “Summer is all about preparing your body for the more intense workouts in September. Coach Garrison said she’d work with you. Welcome to our team, Charlie. I watched her disappear in a cloud of dust over the hill.

Reconstruting Charlie

“Thanks to Edgar, I ran a good race today,” I said as dinner came to a close. This end of the day special time gave me a chance to get a feel of what love between a couple should be. I listened to conversation between Aunt and Uncle and knew I wanted it for myself. I woudn’t settle for anything less. If I even got close enough to anyone to find out.They looked up from vanilla pudding with raspberries. “What do you mean, dear.” Aunt Eleanor said. I had decided to tell the whole track story to them. Too many secrets for me to handle and word might get around. Uncle Stuart frowned after I finished, brows forming a deep crease. “And you didn’t report the vandalism to the coach?” I shook my head. “I dealt with it my own way. They won’t bother me again.” He smiled. “You might consider law as a profession, my dear.” After Lord and Lady snuggled in their bed next to mine at nine o’clock, already too tired to think or read, I turned out the light. Sleep came fast. The nightmare returned. cold filthy hand reached for me and Iran calling for help through the alleys of garbage and rats. Hands tearing to my clothes and I ran faster.The stink of whiskey and cigar smoke from Dad’s clothes making me choke. Air. I needed air.

Reconstructing Charlie

Let me guess. You and Uncle Stuart are going out and I am going to eat…”The kitchen with the staff and won’t that be fun?” I washed up and headed to the kitchen. I sat next to Edgar, happy to be with the staff, my kind of people. Granny Apple looked around and said, “Something is missing Sean.” Suddenly I said Sit, Stay that brought Lord and Lady in. I said, “I’m an experieced waitress so I volunteer to serve.” “OK. Granny said.” I ladled and served, sat and ate and became part of the whole household. After dinner, I decided to ask for advice. About dating. All heads turned my way. “I have a plan and I’m asking you all to listen and tell me what you think. Okay, I’m not really into dating because back home, I had some unpleasant experiences. But I’m starting new here and if a girl does’nt go out after guys keep asking, there might be gossip. And kids can be mean. So here’s my plan. I accept a date to the movies because I don’t have to talk too much to the guy and a movie is a safe place.And after the movies, he takes me for a snack someplace and then it’s time to go home. And maybe he thinks because he spent money on me, now he can, uh, expect something in return but when he drives me home, Edgar opens the door and does his Edgar thing and the guy knows he better leave. So I say thanks and good night. And I’m home. Safe. I took a deep breath and waited. “What exactly is my Edgar thing,” Edgar said. “Oh, you know. You wear a black suit looking serious like you’re in charge of the house.”I believe your plan will work, Miss Charlie. “Dessert time” Sean said. Apple pie. Delicious.

Reconsructing Charlie

Charlie called her mother. “Mom, is he really dead?”My darling girl. Yes, its our secret to keep forever. Make sure you never tell anyone. I could get in a whole lot of trouble for lying.” In my thoughts, I pictured Mom’s next words. “Max Calhoun wants to marry me and move farawy. Soon we are going to a good place in Utah so I should not call. She will call me. Little pieces of my heart fell off and I didn’t know how to put them back together. After changing into a clean tee shirt and panties, I climbed between the silky sheets to find Lord and Lady still there, tails wagging. Against my better judgement , did I have any at fifteen? I let them curl against me, theit warm furry bodies a comfort. My last waking thout: tell Aunt and Uncle about the long distance call and offer to pay the charge.Heavy rain pounded the windows matched my wake-up mood. I showerd off my grief and realized I had a new life, now Mom had one. And I made a plan for a little independence. With two hundred frty dollars in my money belt, I’d buy bike to solve the immediate limousine embarrastment. Lots to talk about over dinner tonight.No time to waste, mind in a spin, I dressed in the short skirt outfit, scooted two reluctant pups out to the covered run in the back and hurried to slap a pb and j sandwich together for lunch.”Good mornin’ to you, Charlie. It’s time we met. “I’m Ms. Appleton but call me Granny Apple. Now have some pancakes and be on your way. Do you know who does laundrey here? I want to thank her for washing my clothes.” “tiz Sean, me nephew. Sean, A guyis washing my personal stuff, touching my underwear. My blood doiled. What to do? I left for school.

Reconstructing Charlie

Classes over, I headed to the locker room with a sense of excitment. I stopped, chilled by the sight of my locker. The big room empty with no witness to the vandalism; broken door, lock open, gym bag unzipped, team uniform torn . Fury rose inside me ready to explode. One hour before the meet. I called home. “Edgar, is my aunt there? “She has gone. What may I do for you?” Holding back tears, I said, This is an emergency, Edger. Please go to my room, tp dresser drawer and take out a sports bra. pair At the back of the closet is a backpack. Grab an old pair of blue jeans and a tee shirt and hurry. Meet me at the main entrance to the high school. And Edgar, bring a sharp scissors. Thank you.” “Roger.” The line went dead. “Did he say Roger?”Ten minutes later, a police motorcycle, red lights flashing, led the way for the limousine_ Robert at the wheel_ to pull up to the main entrance. Edgar made his elegant way; case in hand as I sprinted over and reached way up to kiss him on the cheek. “Thanks. I owe you one.”In a toilet stall, I struggled into the bra top. Next came the hardest part, cutting the legs off my fave jeans from long ago. “Sorry, kids, I said and slashed right through the threadbare fabric. Funky but it would have to do. Hair up in a ponytail, I prepared to run my ass off. Something rattled around in the case. I found a cold bottle Almost giddy, I guzzled the juice drink Edgar packed, one of Aunt Eleanor’s specials. I caught my reflection in the mirror and said,” Charlie Costigan_no loser here. At the track, eyebrows taised to the max, Betty Garrison said,: What the hell are you wearing?” I felt the team grow quiet waiting for my answer. “Sorry Coach, the team uniform is ruined. Lucky someone from homebrought somthing for me to wear. ” She didn’t buy it but just then a bus pulled up with the opposition. If we won, she’d bend a little. If we lost, well maybe she’d blame it on my clothes. I took the time to look in every one of my team member’s eyes. I said, “We’re going to win today and put this crap behind us. Got it? But I want you all to remember one thing. I won’t ever forget or forgive what you’ve done.” Slowly one by one, they nodded. I added a little boost. “Go Team all the way.”