Her name was Geralyn, a contraction of her Grandmother’s name Geraldine and her mother’s name Lynn. Everyone simply called her Gerry. Gerry and I were born in the same year, 1975, and the same month, September, and in the same town, Commack, on Long Island. Our mothers shared the same room in the hospital.
My parents named me September, perhaps to make it easier for them to remember my birthday. One could say that Gerry and I shared the same astrological sign; therefore we would behave like identical twins.
Gerry was so hyperactive as a baby that people would look at her, tickle her stomach, talk baby talk, and she would respond with a big smile and kick her arms and legs as if she was kickboxing.
“Oh! Look at the baby. Yes, Yes – She is going to grow up to be an athlete or a ballerina,” they would say.
I, on the other hand, would respond with a calm stare, cute smile, and barely any movement.
“This baby is growing up to be a professor or a philosopher,” they would say.
Gerry and I attended the same schools, took part in the same organized sports.
“This is a nice town to grow your family,” I heard my dad say to one of our neighbors. “Nice” because kids were kept busy in sports and other endeavors to keep them away from bad influences.
So, it was when Gerry and I were eight years old that we were enrolled in the local youth softball team, the soccer team, and ballet classes. Our parents took turns in shuttling us back and forth from practices and lessons. I followed the coach’s instructions 100%. I would don my uniform and be ready for games ahead of time. Not so with Gerry. When it was my mom’s turn to pick up Gerry, we invariably waited a while in our car outside her home for her to come out. On the soccer field Gerry would be more interested in looking pretty for the boys on the sidelines than kicking the ball. Sometimes after the game she would tell my mom that she would take a ride back home with one of the boys with whom she had struck up conversation.
Win or lose we always stopped at the Friendly’s on Commack Road for a scoop of ice cream after the games. This was the time I liked best. The euphoria of winning was heightened and the frustration of a loss was softened as soon as the cold sweet flavors touched our tongues.
“I’m going over to Grandma’s this Friday. Want to come along? It’ll be fun,” Gerry said to me one day as we were savoring our treat. It was our fourth year in the Commack Youth League.
Gerry’s Grandma Geraldine and Grandpa Joseph owned a small farm in Cutchogue on eastern Long Island where they grew apples and peaches. They called it Joe’s Orchard. Grandpa Joseph was a World War II veteran. After retiring from military service he obtained a loan and bought the small farm. “I’m a country boy, always have been and always will be,” he loved saying.
I liked going to Joe’s Orchard. I made several trips to there each summer. Here was a place where we had total freedom to do whatever we wanted. There was a pond behind Grandpa Joseph’s farmhouse. Sometimes we would walk around it; other times we would just sit on the bank and talk about movies, who was going out with whom, and other stuff.
One day I was shocked to see Gerry nonchalantly take a Marlboro from her pocket and light up as we talked.
“Gerry, where’d you get that?” I asked.
Gerry said she stole it from her Grandpa’s carton when nobody was looking.
“He’s not gonna miss it,” she said.
“I don’t know,” I said, not knowing what else to say.
“Young ladies! Wanna help an old man sell them apples?” Grandpa Joe said when we returned from the pond. He wanted us to greet the people visiting the roadside stand.
People, mostly out of towners on their way to or returning from Riverhead or the Hamptons would stop by. We could spot the people from New York City because they behaved as if they had never seen the fresh produce from the countryside. Mothers with babies and children would struggle to keep them from touching the heaps of fruit for fear that they would topple the pyramid.
Gerry was adept at answering questions from the shoppers about the apple crop that year. She responded quickly and authoritatively. What she did not know she made it up without any hesitation. Perhaps, later on, if they found out that she did not tell them the truth they blamed it on her youth.
I admired Gerry. She was fun to be with. She did the unexpected. I liked her because she could get away with things I could not dare to try. Gerry took delight in going against the grain.
By the year 1991 Gerry and I were in our early teens. Gerry’s hormones were in overdrive. At five feet eight inches she was a good four inches taller than me and full bodied too. With a full head of shoulder length dark brown hair she looked great in whatever she wore. Not that she spent a lot of money on expensive clothes. She was frugal but stylish. Sometimes she would wear her hair in a ponytail; other times she just let them hang loose or part them from left to right. Her quick smile and easy going nature drew people to her.
The days of softball and soccer and ballet were over as we entered our junior year at Commack High School. Gerry was not visiting Joe’s Orchard very often. Preparing for college entrance and graduating from high school were on the horizon. I remember the summer after we finished our sophomore year in high school when Mrs. Fletcher, our English teacher, recommended that we make good use of our summer holidays by reading classic English literature. I read The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare, A Catcher in Rye by J. D. Salinger and Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. It was the end of summer when I found out that Gerry had read A Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, and the The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. That was Gerry — always showing off her independence. I never knew if Mrs. Fletcher had any comments on Gerry’s selections.
After graduation I went to the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. I considered myself lucky to be accepted in this extremely competitive school. It was a good school for people aspiring to be writers or lawyers. Gerry decided to stay closer to home. She joined the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Gerry’s father, Adam, was not in good health. The family decided to be conservative in their spending for Gerry’s college education.
Gerry and I would call each other every weekend and exchange gossip about our high school friends and boys we met at college. On spring break we would meet in Commack and have a party with friends — old and newly acquired. Our parents would not allow us to go on a spring break to places such as Cancun or Bermuda. Perhaps they had heard of the wild behavior at these locations, some with dire consequences.
When we were in our junior year we decided to be a little adventurous. It was time to show our independence, our maturity. Why did we have to depend on our parents? Weren’t we old enough to go away on the spring break on our own?
I had saved money by working part-time in the college bookshop. Gerry had told me that her father had retired due to his health and could not afford to support her education. She had learned to do ladies hair styling and skin care and was working as an assistant in a local beauty salon, Sally’s Salon, in Smithtown. She did not tell me whether she was still a full-time student or whether she was studying at all.
Gerry recommended that we go to the Grand Palladium all-inclusive resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica. It was a safe and fabulous resort, she said. The cost was affordable at $150/day all-inclusive. She even made the reservations for all of us on a travel web site.
I invited Jason, my then steady boyfriend, and he agreed to come. Gerry said she would meet us at the Sunset Cove at the Palladium.
Jason and I flew in from Washington, DC via Miami to arrive at the resort mid-morning. The shuttle ride from the Montego Bay airport took about forty minutes.
The Grand Palladium was situated along the ocean in the town of Lucia sandwiched between Montego Bay and Negril. The resort was huge. I was brimming with excitement at the good time we were going to have.
The Sunset Cove was at the far end of the resort. It had a nice sandy beach — not very large but still cozy, and it offered a pretty view of the ocean. There was a small restaurant in one corner serving Jerk Chicken. We thought Gerry would be waiting for us there but there was no sign of her.
I was used to Gerry coming late for appointments. Jason and I had our lunch at the restaurant and decided to go for a swim. A group of other college kids had descended on the scene. Some were swimming. Some were just treading the water. I heard one of the girls proclaim loudly that she was having the best vacation ever. All the girls were wearing bathing suits that displayed the latest in fashion.
I saw a young man in long blue swimming trunks come in with a tray full of drinks. He let the tray float in the water. It bobbed up and down with the waves but stayed afloat with the drinks intact. Another young man came running and landed on his stomach, making a big splash of water as he landed.
“Raaj, Don’t come in here to pee, OK…..” I heard one of the girls say. Everyone laughed.
There was still no sign of Gerry. I was getting a little worried. Did she cancel her plans at the last moment? I hoped nothing had happened to her father. Jason and I stretched on two recliners on the beach. I closed my eyes to soak in the sun.
“September, September, is that you?” I heard someone say. It was Gerry.
I opened my eyes and noticed Gerry coming toward me. She was dressed in dark blue shorts and a light blue tank top. A tall, heavy man in red shorts and white polo shirt with a Texas-style cowboy hat was accompanying her.
“Gerry? Where you been? I was thinking you were never going to show up,” I said, trying to get up from my recliner.
Gerry leaned toward me and whispered in my ears.
“Are you serious? You’re kidding, aren’t you?” I said, shaking my head.
“No, I’m not,” Gerry replied.
Gerry introduced the man accompanying her as Drew. He was a big man, tall with rugged features. I introduced Jason to both of them.
I forgave Gerry for coming late and causing me anxiety. We ordered a round of draft beer and talked about what we were going to do on our vacation at the resort.
We planned to kick start our vacation by dining at the only Jamaican restaurant at the facility. On the way to our room to get ready for dinner Jason asked me what Gerry had whispered in my ears.
Gerry had met Drew on the flight from New York. She thought Drew was a wonderful guy. I had my own doubts. Something about him made me uncomfortable. Drew had insisted that they visit Rick’s Café, about an hour’s drive from our resort. Drew had paid for a cab and they smoked pot at the café.
Later in the evening when we arrived at the restaurant Gerry and Drew were already sitting at a table. There is always a first time for everything I thought. They waved at us to join them. I did not like Gerry’s cozying up with Drew, a man she had just met, but hey, she was technically an adult.
During dinner Gerry told me that she had decided to drop out of college. She had worked at Sally’s Salon on a fulltime basis for two years. Her father had retired from work due to his poor health. She had decided to start her own hair-styling business from her home.
“There is a science behind matching the style and make-up with a personality.” Gerry said with a serious tone. “It is not trivial. You better know the beauty products, their reaction on certain types of skins. A real nice haircut enhances the natural profile of a person.”
“Besides,” she continued, “I don’t have to leave my home. I have a good clientele.” Gerry said that sometimes they came in with a bottle of wine and talked as she styled their hair.
“You will be surprised what problems people go through in their lives and they spill them out to me.” Gerry added.
It was becoming clear to me that Gerry had an easy way of bonding with people. We continued talking about other friends we knew back in Commack. Jason and Drew argued whether Kobe Bryant was a better player than Michael Jordan.
After dinner we walked over to the veranda off the main building. A band was playing reggae music. The singer appeared drunk and was not making sense of what he was singing. Nobody cared. A small wedding party arrived and started dancing in front of the singer. We joined them too.
As the evening was coming to a close Gerry recommended that we meet at the adult pool the next day.
“The bar is not crowded there and it is much quieter,” Gerry said.
The next day was bright and sunny. The weatherman had predicted scattered thunderstorms, but there was no sign of any clouds on the horizon. I learned later that in Jamaica rains come with a splash for a few minutes and then it is clear.
On our way to the pool we noticed a commotion and police activity near the main entrance.
Once again, there was no sign of Gerry or Drew at the pool.
“What’s with your friend? Is she ever on time?” Jason asked.
Before I could answer, the clouds had gathered. There was thunder and it started to rain. We got hold of a couple of lounge chairs under an umbrella. That’s when I noticed Gerry walking toward us, closely followed by Drew in black swimming trunks and his trademark sombrero.
“I’m really sorry to keep you guys waiting Sept,” Gerry said
I was curious to know her story.
Gerry and Drew had got up early to do some snorkeling by the Sunrise Cove before joining us. As Drew went in to the shop that rented the gear, Gerry decided to take a swim.
“These two young guys in a boat came toward me,” Gerry continued. “They wanted to know if I was interested in taking a ride and smoke pot with them in the ocean.”
I couldn’t understand why Gerry kept attracting these unsavory characters. Why did they think she would be the person interested in such activities?
“Anyways, Drew had finished paying for his stuff and was standing right behind me when these men propositioned. Without any warning he punched one of them in the face. That’s how the fight started. Resort management called the police.”
“We noticed some activity on our way here,” I said, “was anyone arrested?”
“No. They filed a report and let everyone go their way.” Gerry said.
“You should be careful Gerry,” I said. I had a queasy feeling in my stomach about my friend. Minor indiscretions like smoking pot were tolerable, in my mind, but keeping bad company was disturbing.
I graduated from the college in 1996 with a degree in English Literature. Jason graduated with a degree in Political Science. Washington DC metropolitan area was fertile ground for fresh graduates. It wasn’t long before both of us found work. I became a public relations writer with a government contractor in Fairfax, Virginia, and Jason started as an intern in the office of Senator Chuck Robb.
I met Gerry during Christmas vacation that year when I visited my parents on Long Island. She showed me the salon set up in her house. I was quiet impressed. Gerry’s father had deteriorated in his health and was told by the doctors that he had only a few months to live. I felt really sorry for the family. Gerry was in a considerably good spirits despite the situation. She was earning enough money to support her parents who were living with her. I asked Gerry if her clients still brought bottles of wine when they visited her. She said yes, that was the case and the word of mouth had gotten so good that she was even getting professional men to visit her salon. Rich lawyers, accountants and Wall Street types were on her client list. They all poured her soul out at her. She was their outlet for stress relief.
Jason and I got engaged in the spring 1997 with a wedding planned during Labor Day weekend the following year. We rented a small apartment in the Ballston area in Northern Virginia to stay near the goings on in the nation’s capital. Jason decided that he would pursue a Master’s degree program at George Mason University on a part time basis. That left a lot of free hours in a week for me to be by myself – to pursue my hobby to read contemporary novels. When Megan, my friend from the office, suggested that we start a book club, I immediately said “yesss”. In the beginning it was only Megan and I. A month later Susan and Rebecca (“Becky”) joined our club. We would select an author, read his books, and discuss the characters, writing style and the reason the story was worth reading. We read books by David Sedaris, Paul Auster, and Don DeLillo. Books with humor, unusual characters, and simple language were our favorites.
Becky was the most resourceful person in our group to find new authors. She was the one who recommended that we read Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. We were discussing how well Murakami had intertwined two stories in parallel when Becky interjected that she had just come across a new author from the eastern shore named Garry Lyons. Garry’s book, A Garden Full of Roses –White, Yellow and Pink, was on the New York Times Best Seller list. It was a collection of real life stories told by clients visiting his boutique hair cuttery. Each story had an inspirational message about how people overcome the obstacles when they take matters into their own hands.
When Becky mentioned that Garry was going to visit the Borders Book Store in the Tyson’s Corner Mall for book signing, we decided to go meet him.
On Friday evening, the day of the book signing, all four of us joined the line of book lovers – fashionably dressed like the characters from Sex and the City. We all had a copy of the book to be autographed by Garry.
The book signing was at a far right hand corner of the store. A temporary partition was placed behind the author’s table and the line extended from behind the partition to the front of the store. We were not able to see the author’s face from our position in the line. There was also a security detail to obstruct our view. As we inched closer we could see through the gaps in the partition that Garry was wearing a dark blue blazer and a cap.
We were so busy talking that we did not realize that we had arrived in front of Garry’s table. I was behind Megan and Becky. Garry had his face tilted toward the table as he was signing the books at one at a time. There were blinding lights focused on the table. I handed the book to Garry.
“The name is September, please.”
Garry looked up at me. Lo and behold! Garry was not a man. There was a woman looking at me.
“What in the world? What are you doing here?”
“Hi September,” Gerry said softly as she got up from her chair and came forward to hug me. Tears started flowing down my cheeks. I was shaking all over. Gerry scribbled something on a note pad, tore the paper and handed it to me.
“Call me at this number,” she said.
I walked out of the bookstore in a daze. I could not believe what I had just seen. Gerry, my buddy, was a famous author?
I called her that night. She said that one of her clients from a publishing company in Manhattan had suggested that the stories Gerry had heard at her salon were a good source for a book. He put Gerry in touch with an agent who recommended that Gerry keep a diary to document her stories. The book took about two years to finish. She wrote it under a pseudonym to keep the confidentiality of her clients. I was so glad for her. She had kept this career a secret when we met during the Christmas holidays. We decided to meet again the next day, a Saturday, at 6.00 PM at The Vinoteca wine bar and bistro on U Street in Washington DC.
Vinoteca’s coziness offered a perfect setting to catch up with Gerry. Jason was also looking forward to meet Gerry again after the meeting at Montego Bay.
We requested a corner table. We were not sure whether she was going to come alone or accompanied by her agent or somebody else. It did not matter. I wanted to hear all the details of her new life. I was so proud of her accomplishment.
We waited for half an hour and ordered a bottle of Malbec when Gerry did not show up. It was not a big deal as long as she showed up and we had a good time. An hour went by and still there was no sign of Gerry. The waiter wanted to know whether we were ready to place our order for the dinner. We waited for another half an hour. It was not like Gerry not to show up at all. She was always late but she had never completely skipped her appointments. Perhaps, now that she was famous, she probably had other important people to meet. I called the number she had given me, but there was no answer.
We had finished the bottle of Malbec. It was 8’o clock. We ordered dinner, ate and left without meeting Gerry – disappointed that the evening had to take an unexpected turn like this. I was sure Gerry had a legitimate reason.
The next day being a Sunday, I got up late, made a cup of coffee and flipped my laptop to scan the headlines. I clicked on the Washington Post web site and had to sit down as I saw a picture of Gerry being escorted by DC police. The story began as follows:
The police in Washington, DC arrested the up-and-coming author Geralyn Leonie a.k.a. Garry Lyon on an anonymous tip. Illegal drug possession with the intent to distribute is suspected. The noted author was in town on a book signing tour. Authorities would not give details, but said that investigation is continuing.
I woke up Jason. I thought he could call the Senator’s office to see if he could use his influence. Unfortunately the Senator was out of town. I got dressed without knowing what I was going to do next. I did not know where the police had taken Gerry. I entertained the idea of calling the Mayor of Washington DC. But who was I to get any response from the City Hall? I felt completely helpless. I turned on the TV to watch CNN to see if there was any breaking news. There was none. The incidents at Montego Bay flashed in front of me. My worst fears had come true – my best friend was in the hands of drug lords.
It was close to noon and I had not even eaten breakfast. I was getting hungry. My phone started ringing. I didn’t want to answer it. I was sure it was Megan, Susan or Becky. By now they had read or heard about Gerry. What was I going to say to them? My best friend, a famous author, was now a drugee?
It was Gerry on the phone.
“Gerry. I read the story in the Post. Are you OK? Where are you?” I said in rapid fire succession, unable to control my emotion.
“Calm down September,” She said. “The police are letting me go. I’ll tell you everything. Come over to the hotel in an hour.”
Gerry apologized for not making it to the dinner. The police had searched her room in the hotel and found no evidence of drugs. They traced the call to a Drew Smite in Warrenton, Virginia. They were holding him for interrogation. No formal charges were filed. It was the same Drew who was with Gerry in Montego Bay.
“We were in touch on and off,” Gerry said. “I may have told him about my book.”
Drew was in love with Gerry and wanted her to marry him. He was upset when she did not respond. He had stalked her at book signing events. I remembered how he had fought with the boats men in Montego Bay.
“I owe you one. I have to be in New York tonight. Come to Commack on your next long weekend. We will make up the lost time. I promise.” Gerry said as we departed.
“I will,” I said, relieved that my friend was safe and on the way to resume her life of glory.