A Once In A Lifetime Feeling

(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.

= = = = =

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.

Seeking Ataraxia

Ataraxia is ancient Greek term meaning “the state of being free from stress or worry”.

Yeah. Who would want that.

Actually, I would.

Among the things that make life stressful are competitions. I am forever finding myself in competitions that I don’t remember entering.

Me:… and then they told me the back spasms were actually caused by my hip. It’s made a world of difference since…

Him: Oh, yeah? You think that hurts? When I was six, my father made me swallow an accordion. If I have to run, it sounds like the Lawrence Welk show.

Me: Umm…

Him: I’ve lived with this pain my WHOLE LIFE and you want to complain about your little feeble back spasms?

Me: I guess not.

It turns out back spasms don’t hurt.

Another friend and I were talking and it turns out I don’t really like music, either…

Her: How many songs do you know all the lyrics to?

Me: I don’t know… maybe 6 thousand?

Her: I know the words to one hundred and forty-seven thousand songs! You see, I REALLY like music…

Me: Sigh.

A stress free life would be one where conversations didn’t feel like competitions.

But for now, I’m merely seeking ataraxia.

 

 

 

 

Stories, and Essays, and Prose (Oh My)

30 Days of writing prose, day 30.

I made it.

{Whew.}

I’ve written both stories and essays during this last 4 weeks and 2 days. I go to the gym many mornings, and while I’m there, ideas for poems start lining up in my head, but I’ve had to push them aside.

Not, now. Be patient. I’m going to need all of you pretty soon.

My favorite essayist, in terms of the amount of time I spent reading his essays, was the famed science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov. In his essays, he wrote mostly on actual scientific subjects, but he also wrote on a wide variety of other topics, and I always found him engaging, informative, and entertaining. He also made writing essays look easy.

It is not easy, for the record.

In the world of short stories, I’m not sure who my favorite practitioner has been; it may very well be Sherwood Anderson, since both the Winesburg, Ohio collection and the short stories in Death In The Woods and Other Stories are among the most memorable ones I ever read. I don’t know that people read Sherwood Anderson much anymore, but he was brilliant, in my view.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was another author whose short stories I really liked; I can’t figure out if people really read him these days (other than Gatsby) or just make up quotes and attribute them to him. “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”, “The Ice Palace”, and “The Diamond as Big As The Ritz” being the most memorable of his stories to me, but several others also standing out in my memory.

My life being what it is, reading time is hard to come by. In recent years, except for reading books written by fellow bloggers*, I am much more likely to use Audiobooks. But I have bought some books of essays and short stories there, so I am continuing to explore new (to me) authors, albeit slowly.

I have thought, now that I am going back to poetry, about doing some spoken word poetry, but I despise the sound of my own voice.

Truly. Despise.

But, starting tomorrow, it’s back to poetry for me.

Thank heaven.


* Like this one, and this one, and this one, and this one, and this one

Listen

Listen.

Hear the ocean breathing.

Sync your own breathing up to it.

This is what it is to be alive. What comes, goes; what comes into being, passes away. Life is ebb, then flow, then ebb again.

All life. Yours and mine, and everyone else’s.

Time is the ocean we all live in, and time, too, breathes. It’s only our constant scurrying and clamor that keeps us from hearing it. Like crowds on the beach on a summer day, focused on suntan lotion and bodies in swimsuits, we miss out on what we could be hearing, or seeing.

But when you get the chance…

Listen.

Hear time’s breathing, and sync your own breathing up to it, because this is what it is to be alive. There’s ebb, there’s flow, and the quiet person has access to a wisdom that the noisy person never has.

So, listen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three and A Half A Strawberries Should Do It

I recently was adding up the number of things I know about food, arriving eventually at the figure “zero”. I am, therefore, a stranger in a strange land when it comes to why cooks do the things they do.

For instance, garnishes mystify me. Why parsley is ever on a plate is beyond my ability to comprehend. I’m also not sure why the chef at the B&B that served us the breakfast pictured above ever ended his internal monologue with, “… and, three and a half a strawberries should do it. Perfect.”

I don’t get it.

I mean, If like I strawberries at all, I want a whole number of them. Using fractional strawberries is just baffling.

Now, SOME of you (and you know who you are) are thinking, “I’ve seen photos of you, Owen. One thing you obviously know about food is WHERE CONSUMABLE FORMS OF IT ARE LOCATED. So, that’s more than zero things.”

That would be fair. I do eat. However, more than one person has told me in real life that I seem to frequently prefer “bad” to “good” food, indicating some sort of negative knowledge on my part. For instance, I might prefer a prepackaged, preservative-laden apple turnover to a freshly baked one. Or the local brand factory-produced potato chips to store-cooked ones that are made onsite.

I am assured, therefore, that while I obviously miss very few meals (and seem to have a few extra ones thrown in there) that my knowledge of the difference in good and bad when it comes to cooking is so faulty as to count against me.

(Notice that I am not even talking about the health-conducive properties of food here, which I also know nothing about, but which the Beautiful One knows a great deal about, as she attempts to steer me around things like apple turnovers and potato chips.)

One of my best and oldest friends has spent his whole life in the food business, as a waiter, chef, manager, general manager, and even restaurant owner, starting all of that in his mid-teens. He loves feeding people, loves the artistry of it. I have enjoyed meals that he has prepared or overseen for 40 years, but I haven’t really learned anything about it.

But I’m glad that there are people, like him, who do know about it. Everything good in this world is kept alive by those who love it enough to learn everything about it they can. Whether it is cooking or music, carpentry or sign painting, the world is a better place for people who DO care.

And who understand that extra half of a strawberry.

 

 

 

 

 

Complimentary Medicine

I read in a book that words of affirmation are a way of showing love. So now I walk around all day aggressively shouting, “OK, SURE, RIGHT!”

People don’t seem to find it all that affectionate.

I think “words of affirmation” are what used to be called compliments. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with compliments. It reminds me of a cheer my old high school cheerleading squad used to do:

WHAT DO YOU WANT?
COMPLIMENTS!
BUT WHO DOESN’T WANT ‘EM?
INTROVERTS!

In the dating world, boys will often attempt to impress girls using either compliments or flattery. Compliments and flattery are similar, as they involve employing the exact same words to convey the exact same praise — only with flattery, the person who said the words didn’t actually mean them, which turns out to be problematic.

In short, compliments are good, flattery is bad, and good luck, girls (or boys), in telling them apart.

I remember when I first tried using a carefully prepared compliment as part of the dating ritual. It was homecoming dance my senior year in high school.

Me (standing at door while beautiful girl in elegant gown comes into view): I… wow. I totally forgot what I had prepared to say.

Her: Now, that’s a compliment.

Sometimes, incompetence works in your favor.

I briefly dated a professional actress while I was in college. She liked compliments, particularly (in defiance of stereotype) giving them. This was an interesting type of role reversal, as I was the one trying to figure out if she really liked me or was just feeding me lines…

… then I suddenly remembered I was shallow and was fine with it either way.

I did eventually get over being shallow. Mostly.

Compliments are often things people wish they’d heard from one or more of their parents. My parents were from the generation that didn’t believe in using compliments. They believed in stockpiling them, you know, in case of nuclear war. There’s a whole collection of unspoken, unused compliments in a cellar somewhere in Florida, I’m pretty sure.

I’m always interested in what people choose to compliment others on. Like, I’ll see kids playing, and four people will tell one of the little girls how pretty she is, and I’ll be thinking, “have you seen how fast her reflexes are? She should be in MMA…”

And so I’ll say so.

Much to her parents horror.

I complimented my nephew recently on how good he was at making everyone feel welcome, right after about fifteen people had complimented him on losing weight. His wife complimented me on what a good job I did making sure kids didn’t get too close to the pool.

Now, THAT’s my kind of compliment. I am basically a sheepdog.

Me, keeping toddlers from falling in a pool.

Compliments are fine when used in moderation, but if you experience dizziness or lack of vision after receiving one, see a doctor immediately.  As you can see above, I frequently have lack of vision, but that’s because of the hair in my eyes.

Oh, and by the way, you are by far my favorite reader. And I’m not just saying that.

 

 

 

 

Pretty Much Impossible

It’s pretty much impossible not to love her.


Ok, sure, she comes behind me and opens blinds I’ve been closing. “There’s still light,” she says.

“That’s starlight.”

“Well. Even so.”

“Dear, that’s — kinda crazy.”

“I am a creature of the light.”

“Ok, then, just… close ‘em before you come to bed.”

“How ‘bout I close YOU before I come to bed.”

“I’m not… I don’t even know what that means…”


“Hey, I’m wearing your glasses. Do I look like you?”

“I don’t know. I can’t see.”

“You know, I read on Thought Catalog that men stop really seeing their wives after six years.”

“Only when their wives steal their glasses. And I didn’t know you read Thought Catalog.”

“Well, I am female. Here, get a picture of me, I look exactly like you…”


“Where in Greece exactly is Pelloponesia?”

“Southwestern, I believe.”

“So, from what I gather, Sparta murdered their infants, and Athens molested their male children. But at least those boys could be philosophical about it.”


What are you watching?”

“It’s a Japanese remake of ‘Gone With The Wind’, I believe.”

“A Japanese remake … wait, what?”

“I mean, I think. I don’t actually have the subtitles on, so I’m not sure.”

“How long have you been watching?”

“Oh, about two hours. There’s a girl who bought a dress. And she keeps dreaming about her grandfather, who used to bring her flowers when she was little. And something about a chess board, and some koi.”

“How is that in any way like ‘Gone With The Wind’?”

“Because I slept through half of that, too.”


It’s pretty much impossible not to love her.

So I do.