(First published August, 2015).
We are still in the process of clearing (i.e., giving away) possessions out of the house we moved out of last year. It got me thinking: memory is like a house – you fill it up with so much stuff, eventually, you have to start throwing stuff out. However, with memory, your brain throws stuff out for you, and doesn’t really ask you if you think you might still need those memories.
I want to write today about a specific memory I do actually still have about a “second date” and the once-in-a-lifetime feeling that went with it. Since this is an obvious subject for poetry, I’m going to write about it here – in prose.
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I had my first real date and first real girlfriend at age 17. Both of the girls involved (I dated my “first real date” girl again after my “first real girlfriend”) were women I count among those I dated who I truly loved. I’ve written about both of them repeatedly on my poetry blogs, and on this blog most notably when one of them came through town here and we had lunch about five years ago.
The other girl, who was my first real girlfriend and first real love, was a complete surprise to me and everyone else who knew me. I went, within a few months, from a boy who had never been on a date to dating one of the five most popular girls in my school, which had, in those days, around 1,600 students. On top of her being beautiful and well-liked, she was both extremely smart and a state champion athlete.
I, arguably, had never had been any of those things, except, possibly smart. But I was trying to change my ways; to be nicer (although less nice in some ways), take more care of my appearance, and so on. Having quit piano lessons (which used up most of spare time) the summer before my senior year helped a lot. I had decided not to pursue music as a life work (I played professionally for decades, nonetheless) so I had more time; nevertheless, neither I nor anyone else was expecting me to end up with this girl, who I’ll call Gala for purposes of this article.
We had a class together the previous year, and I had seen her at the hospital during the summer; her foot was in a cast, which, considering she was a Florida ranked cross-country runner was a problem. Since I was waiting for my mom at the military hospital and we were going to be there for hours, I stopped to inquire as to her injury and chat to a familiar face. We talked for about an hour. I didn’t think much about it after the fact – but she did.
When senior year started, we were both in Calculus, and, somehow, we got to talking after class outside in the hallway. That morphed over a period of weeks into me walking with her down to her locker every day.
Understand, I had never been to a school dance, or any other social function, in my life, and only been on a real date for the first time a few months before. When she started talking about the Homecoming Dance, and who was going, and wondering if she was going to go, I was slow to get the hint. Excruciatingly slow; but somehow, one day, a small crack of light broke through my benumbed brain (we were halfway between her class and the locker) and I asked her if she wanted to go to the dance with me.
She said yes.
When I told my buddies that I was going with her, none of them believed me. To be honest, they didn’t believe I’d ever go to a school dance, period, let alone with her. However, within a day, it was all over school. Because I was (a) not one of the cool people; and (b) she was, this was considered a serious breach of high school etiquette; being the type of guy I was (am) I dismissed this as irrelevant. I asked her, she said yes, so, all was well. Except…
Except that I had never danced, in my life, period. Not once. Not in my bedroom when no one was looking, not ever, never. So I went to my cool best friend, who had been going to high school dances since he was twelve, to appeal for emergency assistance.
In the movies, I would have had friend who was a girl who would have (while secretly in love with me) showed me how to fast dance, and then we would awkwardly slow dance, and we would look into each other’s eyes, and I would start wondering why I wasn’t with this girl instead — but this, decidedly, was not the movies. Instead, my friend Andy told me to just watch what other people do and do that. He didn’t volunteer to show me, although he had a few tips on improving my jump shot.
If girls ever knew what boys really talked about, they’d die of boredom. But I digress.
We had the homecoming game on a Friday night, the dance was the next night. We didn’t go to the game, so the dance was whole thing. We went to it, it had its highs and lows, but it ended with highs, and that was abiding memory of the night. Even so, I was already in a place with a girl I had never been — which was someplace like reciprocated “love”.
I called her the next afternoon to talk. We talked for three hours, as I recall. The next weekend, she had a cross-country meet, so I was going to come watch the race (it was a Saturday morning event), then we would go have a picnic lunch afterwards. This post is about the experience we had that day.
Friday night (the night before) – she had a pre-race ritual to go through, so we said goodnight (on the phone) early. The nerves had already started with me. I tried (unsuccessfully) to go to bed early to make the morning come faster. I looked several times at the t-shirt I’d chosen to wear the next day. I wasn’t able to fall asleep until late.
Saturday morning (before the race) – I sprung out of bed and ate breakfast. I got in the shower. While in the shower, I started observing how happy I was. I decided, “remember this feeling”. No matter how long you live, remember it. I was so excited for the day. The thought of being with her made me somewhere well past happy.
When I got outside to get in my car, it was an absolutely, flawless, cool autumn morning in Florida. The sky was absolutely clear; the breeze was very slight. I kept thinking “this just can’t keep getting better,” but it did.
Saturday morning (the race) – I sat with her parents at the race (I had met them before the homecoming dance). She won, of course, the real challenge for her was how many guys she could beat. However, for spectators of cross-country, you spend most of your time sitting there, waiting for them to come back. On that particular day, that was no problem. The anticipation was delicious. When she rounded the corner into view (she beat all but about eight guys in a field of about a hundred) my heart had filled up pretty much my entire body. She of course stayed to cheer on her teammates, and they had duties to perform after the race. So, it was still a couple of hours before we left. The day had gotten even more beautiful.
Saturday afternoon (the park) – the image that accompanies this article is a photo I took of the park we went to that day. I had the picnic lunch planned. The park was virtually deserted; the two of us sat under one of the tall pines and ate the lunch. She jokingly said I should have brought wine; with the drinking age in Florida at 18 at that time, we weren’t too far from being able to do that legally.
For those of you who read the range of things I write: I know I write a lot about female beauty. One of the things I learned from the eighteen months she and I spent together as a couple (there were occasional ruptures) was the connection between beauty outside and inside. She was absolutely lovely, but it was her mind, her sense of humor, and the generosity of her spirit that captivated me. The physical side was important, but, truth be told, we were a physical mismatch, as I was nowhere near the male equivalent of what she was, physically. That obvious fact, as it happened, contained the seeds of much of what our eventual problems turned out to be, as I grew jealous and suspicious over time – but that was much, much later.
I learned from my time with her what it is to treasure time with someone – the anticipation, the prologues, the time spent supporting someone else’s passions, getting to know their family. She learned from me – I found out later – that she had a right to expect guys she was with (a) to support her and care about her; (b) to actually talk to her and listen to her; and (c) that frequent shared laughter can at least partially make up for other deficiencies in a relationship.
I also had to begin to re-examine my image of myself, as being with this girl in the closed world of a high school society took me out of the “loser” class and placed me with the “winners” — whether I wanted to be there or not. Eventually, of course, we realize that all these classifications contain no content whatsoever of a substantive nature, they’re just behavioral cues we were all expected to follow, only — some of us didn’t.
I have remembered that day many times, including the day last year I was back down there and took photos of the park. We never know when the last time will be that we do some thing that we love to do. It seems good, then, to remember fondly and with gratitude the good times, even more the great times, and most of all, the unrepeatably great times.