In the summer of 1998, I wrote a short story about a man, his best friend, and a woman who died.
Because I wrote the story around the same time that South Miami High’s Class of 1983 held its 15th reunion – an affair that I did not attend because I could not afford the $300 that it cost – I gave the story the title Reunion. It was supposed to be a working title until I came up with a better title. I tried different ideas; at one point I used Love Unspoken, Love Unbroken (a tip of the hat to Franz Lehár’s operetta The Merry Widow), but when I self-published the story in July of 2018, I reverted to the original title – Reunion.
Since its publication on Amazon’s CreateSpace Independent Publishing platform, a few readers have asked me if Reunion is a true story wrapped up as fiction (a roman a clef) or if it is a made-up story. Was Marty – the woman who died – a real person? If not, who was she based on?
Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. – Ernest Hemingway
The Premise: It is February 1998. 33-year-old Jim Garraty is a respected history professor and bestselling author who lives in New York City. Popular with both students and readers, Jim seems to have it all. Fame, a nice apartment in Manhattan, and a reputation as one of the best World War II historians in the U.S. But when he gets a cryptic email from his best friend from high school, Jim is forced to relive his past – and a trip to his hometown of Miami reopens old wounds he thought had healed long ago.
Q.: Is Reunion: A Story based on real people and situations or is it just something from your imagination?
A.: It’s a combination of both. When I started the long process of writing this story in the mid-1980s, the setting for the central story was always South Miami Senior High, my alma mater in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Even when Reunion was just a three-page scene written as an assignment for a college creative writing class, South Miami High was the proscenium stage for my protagonist, Jim Garraty. So the story is set in a real-life location that was – and still is – important to me for many reasons.
The other locations in the story are based on real places located in New York City and South Florida, as well.
The characters in Reunion are, by design and storytelling necessities, imaginary but based on real people that I knew either at South Miami High or at other times in my pre-college days. Let’s talk about the story’s Big Three – Jim Garraty, Mark Prieto, and Martina (Marty) Reynaud.
1. Jim Garraty was, from the first version of the story to the final published work, my literary alter ego. Like most first-time creative writers, I put a lot of myself in Reunion’s protagonist, even though Jim is an idealized, non-disabled, and far more accomplished version of Alex Diaz-Granados. We both attended South Miami High from August 1980 to June of 1983; we both sang in the school chorus, we both had bad breakups in our early teens, we both had unrequited crushes on girls on campus; and we both have a love for military history and the written word. I also like to think that we share the same sense of humor and intelligence.
That said, Jim doesn’t have cerebral palsy like I do, and he is a far more successful man in the fictional version of 1998 than I was when I wrote the current version of Reunion. I didn’t earn my associate in arts degree at Miami-Dade Community College because I couldn’t complete the math requirement for graduation. To compensate for that, I made Jim a whiz-kid at SMSH who is accepted at Harvard University and goes on to become a younger version of the late historian and author, Stephen E. Ambrose.
2. Mark Prieto: Mark is the only character in the story whose name and personality traits are borrowed from someone I knew in real life. Mark was my best friend from my old neighborhood in Westchester (a Miami suburb). I met him in 1975 when he moved, along with his recently-divorced mother and younger sister, into a house not too far from mine.
At the time, Mark was 10 and I was 12, but we had more or less the same tastes as far as movies and TV shows went, and our personalities complemented each other. I was the introverted nerd; Mark was the comical extrovert. We hung out together on a regular basis until the fall of 1977; that’s when my mother decided to sell our home and buy a newly-built townhouse in the Fountainbleau Park area.
Now, Mark had a bike and was brave enough to visit me at the new place a few times; back then there wasn’t a bridge that allowed north-south traffic to cross the Tamiami Canal at SW Eighth Street (Calle Ocho) and 97th Avenue.
So to get to my house, Mark either had to ask his mom for a ride or make the dangerous bike trip from SW 102 to mine – which entailed a longer and more dangerous trip from SW 10th Street and 102nd Avenue to Calle Ocho, then a 10-block-long westward leg to 107th Avenue, then crossing West Flagler Street before turning east and riding 10 blocks down to 97th Avenue, then a five block northward leg until he reached my house.
This was dangerous even back in 1978, and Mark only attempted it three or four times before he, too, left Miami with his newly-remarried mom and his sister Leslie to Huntington Woods, Michigan.
I missed him a lot then, and I still miss him now. So when my alter ego Jim needed a best friend in Reunion, I gave him my best friend from real life. Didn’t bother to change the name, either.
3. Martina (Marty) Reynaud: In contrast to Mark, Marty is a figment of my imagination, albeit a figment who has a wide array of physical traits from several young women I knew both in high school and college. There was no shortage of attractive young ladies at South Miami High, and I liked several of them.
In most cases, though, I kept my feelings to myself; the one time that I did tell a girl that I had “more than just friends” feelings for her, she gently but firmly gave me the I Like You But Only As a Friend speech that most people hate to hear. Marty is, in literary terms, a combination of all the girls I liked during my three years at South Miami High…but was afraid to say anything to beyond “Hi, how are you doing today?” in the halls.
And, to drive this point home, I gave Marty certain unique traits, like making her a girl from England (with what I assume is a “posh” British accent), rather than portraying her as a Latina, Anglo, Vietnamese, or African-American girl, since those ethnic groups – and more – really were part of our student body.
Thus, any resemblance between Marty and any of the Class of ’83’s Cobra ladies is purely coincidental,