By Diane Chamberlain
When I posted about being a quasi-groupie back in the day, it made me want to reconnect with my old friend Marilyn, with whom I'd shared that adventure. Marilyn and I lost touch in our late teens and I don't know her married name, so although I've searched the Internet, I haven't been able to track her down. (Marilyn Butchko from Bayonne, New Jersey: if you're out there, please get in touch!) The experience prompted me to ask my Facebook friends if they'd been able to find people from their past through the 'net and I heard many heartwarming stories, but this is one of my favorites.
In 1964, I was a young teen growing up in Plainfield, New Jersey. Plainfield was a small ethnically diverse city on the cusp of huge upheaval brought about by the civil rights movement. To me, it was an exciting place and an exciting time to be alive. I particularly loved downtown Plainfield on Thursday nights, when the stores stayed open late and (it seemed to me) the teens took over the streets. One of those teens was a guy named Snake. Snake was a few years older than me and he was uber-cool. Well, probably the jocks and cheerleaders didn't even think of him that way, but kids like me--the mostly innocent pre-hippie, pre-folkie, pre-druggie ilk--all knew who Snake was. He was suspended for his long hair before the rest of the boys even thought of growing their locks. He was the quintessential bad boy--the guy you knew deep in your gut was really a lot safer than he looked, even if your parents didn't quite agree.
Anyhow, fast forwarding a few decades: Snake is a now a Facebook friend of mine and when I asked my question about finding old friends via the Internet, he responded with his "reconnection story" with a girl he used to know. I asked him if I could interview the two of them about their relationship, so without further ado, here is their story. Snake's real name is Watson Garman, and even though he'll always be Snake to me, I'll break down and call him Watson here.
Diane: How did you two first meet?
WATSON: Late on a Thursday night in 1964,I was sitting at the Conca-Dorro Pizza Parlor in Plainfield. I had just enough money for one slice and a Coke. Two girls at another table invited me to join them and help them finish their pie. I wasn't used to getting a lot of attention from girls, so I was surprised, but naturallly, I accepted. We talked a bit and then one of them, Sandy, invited me to a party at her house for that Saturday. I never got invited to parties, so again I was surprised and again I accepted.
That Saturday night, I stood outside the house. I was a bit nervous about going in. On Friday night I'd been beaten up by some jocks from North Plainfield for being a "long haired faggotty freak" and I wondered what I was walking into. Plus, a friend's father had recently slammed his door in my face, saying he didn't want his son hanging around with any 'long haired creeps'. I wasn't excited about having another door slammed in my face or running into more guys who wanted to kick my ass. Eventually, though, I got up the nerve to knock on the door.
Sandy answered, gave me a big hug and thanked me for coming. She told me the party was downstairs. I asked to use her bathroom first. I was still nervous and wanted to comb my hair. Then I walked down the stairs real slow, scanning the room, checking everyone out. A guy and a girl sat on one end of a couch. The girl just mesmerized me--dark hair, dark eyes, wow! Suddenly I noticed she was staring back at me and we both looked embarrassed and turned away quickly. I had just gotten my first glimpse of Carole.
CAROLE: Sandy told me she invited this guy she met downtown to her party. He was called Snake and he was really cool and he had long hair. I was definitely intrigued to meet someone called Snake--the first guy to have long hair in Plainfield. I was watching intently as he came down the basement stairs. Halfway down the stairs he stopped to look around the room. Our eyes met briefly and then we both looked away. For me it was out of embarrassment because I didn't want him to think I was interested. But I couldn't keep my eyes off him. I never imagined he might be checking me out too.
WATSON: Sandy led me around the room, introducing me to everyone. I was hoping the guy sitting next to Carole wasn't her boyfriend. When we got to them, Sandy said 'this is my friend Carole.' I took her hand and looked into her eyes and said 'I'm very happy to meet you.' She looked at me and said 'pleased to meet you too'. Reluctantly, I let go of her hand as Sandy introduced me to the guy sitting next to her. I tried to hide my elation when she didn't say he was Carole's boyfriend. Then I had to formulate a plan: How could I get her away from the guy on the couch?
I noticed their sodas were almost gone so I sat on the floor between them and where Sandy had the drinks. I figured if he went for the drinks, I'd go for the couch. If she went for them, I'd intercept her before she got back to the couch. If they went together, I'd have to come up with another plan.
CAROLE: He took a seat on the floor, and I sat there wondering if he would even talk to me. You know the angst of a 15 yr old girl, right? After about 15 minutes when he didn't come over I decided to try something to get him to notice me. So, I got up from the couch and walked close by him to get a soda. I purposely walked back by him and he suddenly reached for my hand and said something like, "Would like to join me on the floor?" Without hesitation I replied "I'd love to".
WATSON: I was stunned when she said yes. Still holding her hand, I guided her down so she sat facing me and with her back to the guy on the couch. VICTORY!
CAROLE: Yes, he wouldn't just let me plop down where I was standing. In a gallant gesture, he led me by the hand, circling him until I was on the opposite side. Then he gestured for me to sit. At that point I was pretty much gone. He tells me now he purposely placed me on the opposite side so that I couldn't see the guy I had been sitting next to on the couch. To this day I can't remember that guy. Once our eyes locked on that staircase, Snake was all I saw.
WATSON: We talked for a long time about music, movies, school. All the topics that seem important when you're young.
CAROLE: We spent the rest of the party talking and having so much fun. I found out we both had passions for great literature and all the new and old rock and folk music which is what really connected us at first. I remember thinking there probably were many people in town that just dismissed him because they thought that with a name like Snake, how intelligent could this guy be? But as we talked and got to know each other more it was clear to me this guy was not only great looking and a charmer, but very smart too. I was having the time of my life. I was still not sure how he felt, but obviously I was hooked.
WATSON: I didn't want to push my luck, so after about an hour I told her, "your friend on the couch is shooting me dirty looks. If you want to go back to the couch, I understand." She looked and me and said, "I'm having a wonderful time right here." WOW! I couldn't believe it. She actually wanted to stay with me. I was flying.
CAROLE: I stayed there the rest of the night, oblivious to anyone else in the room.
WATSON: When I noticed people were starting to leave I leaned over and asked her, "May I kiss you?"
CAROLE: I told him that most guys don't ask. He just said "I'm not like most guys." (such an understatement!). I said yes.
WATSON: We then shared the first truly romantic kiss of my life and then we spent the next few seconds in silence, just looking at each other.
CAROLE: We kissed again, this time a little longer. We kissed a few more times before he left but I never got over that first kiss with him.
WATSON: I asked her if I could walk her home, but she said she was spending the night at Sandy's with another friend.
CAROLE: He took my phone number and said he would call. I wasn't sure if I should believe him but I hoped he would.
WATSON: I left the party and started to walk down the street. After half a block, I turned and walked back. I leaned up against a tree and just looked the house. An upstairs light went on and I knew that must be where the girls were staying. I thought they must be talking about me and wondered what they were saying to Carole. Were they thinking it was cool that we hooked up or were they warning her to watch out for me? After awhile, I headed home singing out loud a song that had been playing on the radio earlier that day: Herman's Hermits I'm Into Something Good.
DIANE: -What was your relationship like back then? Why did it end?
CAROLE; It was a week before he called. I was miserable that week, figuring he never would call. But he did. And we met across from the diner on Saturday. He grabbed my hand and led me to Woolworth's, telling me "Let's go get our picture made!" I thought that was a little strange but exciting too.
WATSON: I thought of her as my girl friend and there was a lot of holding hands and kissing. I liked showing her the places I hung out. It was a sweet and innocent relationship.
CAROLE: It was only 2-3 months before my Dad transferred to Oklahoma City and I had to move. We never told each other how we felt about each other. You know--as kids you just didn't put your heart out there like that.
DIANE: -Did you think about each other over the years?
WATSON: I often thought about Carole and wondered where she was. I even got an Oklahoma City phone book and tried calling all the people with her surname in there. I figured she was probably married and had a new name but I thought I might at least find her family. I just wanted to know that she was happy. Once I was doing a photo shoot on top of one of the largest buidings in Los Angeles. Somehow people started talking about old boyfriends/girlfriends we'd like to see again. Just before we left the building I went over to edge, faced east and yelled out loud, "Carole, where are you?"
CAROLE: I moved on. I married a wonderful guy and had a great life with him for a very long time, but I never forgot about Snake. I just couldn't get rid of his letters and pictures after I married like they say you should, so I kept them hidden away. I'd occasionally get them out and wonder what had happened to him.
DIANE:Who started looking for the other first?
CAROLE: I got amicably divorced in 1996. In 2000 a couple of Plainfield friends I kept in touch with told me they thought Snake was dead, killed in Vietnam. For some weird reason I didn't believe it. Something told me he was still alive somewhere. When I found Classmates.com, I decided to put a message on the Plainfield High School site to see if anyone knew what had happened to him. I got lots of responses. Finally someone said they thought he was living in California with his wife and daughter. I was happy to know he was alive. Eventually I gave up my Classmates membership and never looked at that message string again.
DIANE: How did you find each other again?
WATSON: Eventually, I saw the thread about me on the Classmates.com site and I sent her a message. Two weeks went by without a reply, so I decided to give it one more try.
CAROLE: I had moved to Houston in 2001 and had a new email address with my new Internet access, but I never looked at it. One night I decided to go to that account and delete all the accumulated junk mail, you know? There were about 500-600 emails and I was just quickly checking them for deletion. Suddenly, one of them got my attention. The last name was Garman. I had already checked it for deletion but luckily had not yet deleted it. It took me about 5 minutes to get the nerve up to open it. I don’t know why I was scared but I knew that once I opened that email I would be either very excited or very disappointed. Either way I just knew my life would be forever impacted by it. It read, “I don’t know if you remember me but we dated in Plainfield. I just wanted you to know you were always very special to me and I kept your pictures in my wallet for 20 years.” To this day I think about how close we came to missing each other. I would never have known how much he cared for me all those years ago.
DIANE: When did you know you wanted to make a go of your relationship?
WATSON: After we started e-mailing, our notes got flirtatious in very short order.
CAROLE: Yes, within a couple of emails we were flirting again and we quickly changed from emails to phone calls. He was in the middle of getting a divorce, I was divorced. He happened to be living just a two-hour flight from me. Within a couple of months I knew I was getting hung up on him all over again. I knew we had to see each other at least one time. So 2 months after that first email, he came to Dallas. Of course we were both nervous and scared. Neither one of us looked the same as we did 42 years ago. What would happen when we actually saw each other again? He told me I would know him because he would be the guy wearing a black cowboy hat. I told him "you’re coming to Dallas…that won’t exactly set you apart from the crowd at the airport, you know."
WATSON: I was scared shitless! I was no longer that 17-year-old kid she met at that party. I knew either way it was going to be a life changing event. Either the magic would still be there or she would take one look at me and say "what the hell was I thinking?"
That walk from the plane to the baggage area, where I knew she was waiting, was one of the longest walks of my life.
CAROLE: The airport is called Love Field. Isn’t that crazy?
WATSON: We saw each other and rushed into each other's arms like a scene in some old film on Turner Classic Movies, and I felt that things just might work out. It only took a matter of hours for us to know that something was happening.
CAROLE: We had a wonderful weekend.
WATSON: It really hit me when it came time for me to go back to Albuquerque that I didn't want to get on that plane.
CAROLE: We were both so sad when he had to leave on Sunday. He came back every 2 months for the next year. Within a couple of visits we knew he was going to eventually come here after his divorce was final. Almost 1 year to the day of that email, he moved here and we have been having the time of our lives ever since!
What more is there to say? Thank you, Snake and Carole, for sharing your story and your wonderful pictures. I love it!
So how about the rest of you? Who have you reconnected with on the Internet?