May is graduation month at many schools and alums often return to renew old ties and memories.
What Ever Happened To….?
“Did you ever wonder what happened to someone you used to know and lost track of?” asked Wendall. Wendall had recently attended his twenty-fifth college class reunion and had renewed acquaintances with many classmates whom he hadn’t seen since graduation. The reunion newsletter also had listed a surprising number of names asking for information about their whereabouts. “I mean I actually didn’t know any of them well, but I still wondered about where their lives had taken them.”
“Sounds like your school needs to do a better job of tracking their alums to be able to hit them up for donations,” answered Mike. “But to answer your question, yes I have.”
“You graduated fifteen years before me so I would guess that in the years since graduation and with job changes and moves and all, you would have had more people lost to followup,” said Wendall.
“Actually my school does a surprisingly good job of keeping tabs. They send me reminders every year to donate.”
“But did you ever personally know a lost classmate who you wondered about?”
“Yes, I read the obits in every alumni bulletin, so I found out that someone I knew fairly well died, but I’ve always wondered what led up to his death.”
“Okay, so what was the mystery?”
“I don’t want to bore you, so stop me if I do. In school, Raymond and I were in the same dorm, and I knew him well enough to sit and talk with him in the cafeteria. He was pre-law, a gov major, and I was a chem major, so we didn’t share any classes or extracurricular interests or go to the same parties, but he was a friendly guy and interesting to talk to. Especially since I didn’t know much about politics and he had some definite ideas. Kind of liberal. After graduation, he went on to law school and I went to grad school, and we didn’t see each other again until our twenty-fifth reunion.”
“Just like me and my classmates,” said Wendall. “But no mystery so far.”
“Wait. So at the reunion, I was about to sit down with some guys I had known well, and up walked Raymond with a big smile. ‘Hey Mike,’ he said. I didn’t recognize him at first because he’d had this big shock of blond hair in college and now he was totally bald. But I recognized his voice since he had a thick Boston accent. He sat with us and I introduced him to Joanie, and we got caught up.
He’d gone on to practice law in Florida, and did a lot of public defender and pro-bono work. Like I said, he was kind of liberal and socially conscious. Anyway, we exchanged our contact information and said we’d stay in touch after the reunion. Did that with others too, but he was one of the few who actually wrote at Christmas. So we began to exchange Christmas messages regularly.”
“Still no mystery,” Wendall said.
“No, the mystery began about twelve years later. During that time, I left the company I was with and joined ours. And in that time, Raymond had semi-retired from practicing law since he had to move back to Massachusetts from Florida to take care of his mother, and he began to try his hand at writing to keep from being bored. He said that he hated the New England winters and really missed Florida and his friends there and that he hoped to go back when he could.”
“Weren’t there any other sibs that could help take care of his mother?”
“Had a younger sister but she lived in Vermont and had a young family. And since he had no family of his own, it fell to him.”
“So what did he write about? Was he any good?”
“Funniest thing, he wrote, as he put it, ‘exotic erotica,’ and he even managed to get a couple novels published.
“You mean porn!” Wendall laughed. “ You ever read them?”
“Yeah, I picked one up and it was pretty kinky. I let Joanie read it and she was shocked. ‘But he seemed so nice at the reunion,’ she said. Anyway he wrote one Christmas that his mother had died, and that he was able to at last move back to Florida. She left him a small inheritance and he had contacted some friends in Florida, and said that by the next time he wrote, he would be in the Keys. And this is where the mystery begins.”
“Told you to stop me if you got bored. Anyway, the phone rang about seven on a Saturday morning and Joanie picked it up, then handed it to me. “He said he was Raymond,” she said.
It was. He sounded very agitated, “Mike, I’m in real, deep trouble. Please, could you possibly send me a hundred and fifty dollars by Western Union right now.* Here’s their number. Please, I’m scared.”
“Wait, wait. What’s this all about,” I asked.
“I just trusted the wrong people and now I’ve got to get away from here. I just hope you can help me out because I don’t know what will happen to me if you don’t.”
“I’ve got to think.” I had him on speaker phone and Joanie could hear the whole thing. I could tell by the look on her face that she was concerned. “Let me talk it over with Joanie first. What’s your number”
“Call me right back if you can do it. Please hurry. I’m at a pay phone. This is the number.”
I hung up and turned to Joanie.
“He sounded like he is really scared,” she said. “I think we should do it.”
“But we don’t know what kind of a mess he’s in. It could be something really illegal.”
“He’s your old classmate and friend. I think you’ve got to help him.”
I called back and Raymond picked it right up. “Okay Raymond, I’ll send it by Western Union as soon as the one here opens. But later you’ve got to tell me what’s going on.”
“Thank you. You’re really being a life saver, literally.”
Our nearest Western Union office—actually it was in the local supermarket—didn’t open till nine.
In the meantime, Raymond called back again to ask whether I was going to send the money and I told him I would as soon as the office opened which would be at two PM his time. He thanked me again.
And that was the last time I ever heard from him until I read his obit which didn’t say much.
“He never called or wrote to thank you or to tell you what trouble he was in?” asked Wendall.
“No,” Mike said. “But he made it out of Florida all right because his obit in the alum bulletin five years later said that he’d died in Vermont and not much else. I’d guess that he was living near or with his sister.”
“So you never found out.”
“No. Joanie and I speculated. But whatever trouble he was in, I think he was just too ashamed to contact me again.”
“Do you think it was all a scam?”
“No. Back then there weren’t the scams that are going on now. I think it was for real. I later talked to a mutual acquaintance and asked him if Raymond had phoned him around that time, and he said no. So it’ll stay a mystery.”
“I guess he trusted you to help him out,” Wendall said.
* Note: Western Union closed up for good in 2006, but before then it was common to send money by telegraph.