Tuesday, November 15, 2016
One of the signs that you've gotten old, besides the guy behind you beeping his horn and yelling, "Get outta the way, ya old bastard!" is finding yourself taking inventory of your life and experiences, weighing good memories vs. regrets and thinking to yourself if I only knew then what I know now.
Yeah, I've been finding myself doing that more frequently. But age also brings with it the wisdom to realize that, like leopards, our spots don't change. We'd likely do things over just the way we did before. There's no such thing as going back to do it right. There is no right and wrong, what happens just happens, and so reincarnation would be a waste of time. And if you're left with a mystery, best to leave it a mystery.
One of the unsolved mysteries of my life had to do with the first girl I fell in love with. In fact, it started with a mystery and ended with another.
I was sixteen and as awkward and unsure of myself as any kid that age, particularly when it came to girls. I'd had weight issues in my preteens that resolved themselves dramatically when I reached my teens ... the proverbial nick of time. Still, I couldn't imagine girls actually liking me. My hero and role model was Paladin of "Have Gun, Will Travel." Here was a guy who quoted Shakespeare, Byron and the Bible as easily as he dispatched a bad guy with his quick draw, and that made the ladies swoon. I aspired to be cool and classy. Still, girls weren't throwing themselves at my feet.
I met her at sea – sort of – during an excursion on what used to be called the Nantasket boat, which traveled from Boston Harbor to Hull, the site of Nantasket Beach and a lovely little amusement park called Paragon.
A bunch of friends picked one summer day to make the trip. She was a friend of a friend and I noticed her right away, me pining from a distance. She was so pretty. Skinny – not just-got-liberated-from-Dachau skinny, but I could have fed her a half dozen double cheeseburgers and it wouldn't have hurt. I suppose you could say she was willowy, enhanced by long, dark chestnut hair that reached the small of her back. She had big brown eyes and a slight Irish overbite, the sort of flaw that amplifies beauty.
Anyway, my friends and I enjoyed the day on the rides and at the beach. And while my eyes tracked her, there was no indication that she had taken any particular notice of me.
We took the sunset boat back to Boston. I was seated on one of the benches that accommodated the passengers, when I felt the pressure of another body molding to mine. It was her. She had sat next to me and was quite obviously making physical contact. Scientists will tell you under certain circumstances the brain releases chemicals quite suddenly that render us euphoric. Well, I can tell you at that moment it was as if someone had tapped me with a magic wand. I didn't question it at the time. My arm, seemingly of its own accord curved around her shoulders and I pulled her closer to me.
We remained that way for the rest of the cruise. She began to rise as the boat was being moored, but ever so gently I pulled her back into my embrace and she did not resist.
I didn't even know her name. Of course, I thought: What is happening? But I was too taken over by the sheer magic of it all that a rejoinder instantly followed: I don't care; I'm going with it.
It was evening now. The gang gathered at a neighborhood beach where I and this magical girl continued to hold hands and snuggle. Nothing more, but it was all new and wonderful to me. Others had noticed and a friend suggested we do a double date – dinner and a movie.
That date happened, I even remember the calendar date, September 21. It was the day of the Autumn equinox and it was one of the more magical nights of my life. We kissed – it was my very first romantic kiss.
What did this amazing, pretty girl see in me? I sure wasn't Paladin. It was all pure magic.
Magic evaporates. After that night I made numerous efforts to follow it up with a second single date. It never happened. She would make excuses, but never told me she didn't want to continue what began on that sunset boat ride. I suppose she didn't want to hurt my feelings, but at the time I'd have preferred an honest, quick stab to the heart. After several weeks I sadly accepted the fact that she wasn't going to be my girlfriend.
I felt I was owed an explanation, but I never pressed for one. I couldn't have put her on the spot like that, but a reason would have been helpful. Was it something I said or did? Did she get wind of the fact that I was a year younger than she, and that made some sort of difference to her?
Our friends could offer no reasons, or perhaps they just declined. As time went on we became very good friends and I never stopped caring for her as a friend. Still, she never, ever revealed why she snuggled up to me on that boat, or just let our brief romance wither like it had. But, I think there's a certain romantic cachet to heartbreak with swirls of mystery about it. (It still F'ing hurts).
In hindsight I can pick out a few details, a few clues. I recall another guy who was persistently interested in her. Perhaps she clung to me to dissuade him from further pursuit.
And as I came to know her better I realized she was not satisfied with her life, brought up in a blue-collar Irish home. Perhaps she thought I, a product of the old triple-decker neighborhood, was by circumstance benighted by my environment. If she only gave me a chance; I wanted to flee and be rid of it myself.
I give myself credit for not demanding an explanation, or acting out against her rejection, as I've known knuckleheads much older than a 16-year-old kid to do. Nope, I just let it go, mystery unsolved. I handled it like Paladin would have. I was classy.
When I last saw her, she was a single mother. Who was the dad? Another mystery with no explanation given, nor asked. She had cut her beautiful dark hair short by then and her face had the patina that comes with care and grief and just having lived.
I still cherish her memory, and the mystery ... but especially the magic she brought into my life. Yes, the hurt was definitely worth it.