This is a follow-up article to LAKE OF LOVE. |
In the summer of my seventeenth year, I borrowed my father's Buick and drove with three friends to Lake Hamilton for the day. The trip took a little less than an hour. It was a glorious day, and we looked forward to canoeing and swimming; and there was also the off-chance we might run into some girls. What I mean is: quite a few people from our hometown owned summer cottages at Lake Hamilton; and it was possible we'd come across some young ladies we knew from school--or more accurately, young ladies we'd like to know. Not probable, but possible. Seemed like our fantasies never worked out, but we were always fueled by youthful, optimistic hope.
We rented two canoes and paddled all over the lake taking care to stay clear of the powerful speedboats, some of which towed skiers. Still, we found ample opportunity to capsize each other, and entertain ourselves with typical teenaged boys-will-be-boys hi-jinks. After we returned the canoes, hunger got the better of us, and a small lakeside cafe emitting a Siren's Song odor of hamburgers (teen's best friend) lured us toward it. As we hypnotically advanced toward the source of the aroma, darned if the most amazing and improbable occurrence didn't come to pass!
Four attractive, popular girls we barely knew from our school intersected our path heading for the same destination. Now, had we crossed paths with them in our hometown, only a simple, pleasant "hi" would have been exchanged. At best! My friends and I were not exactly of the same social pecking order as the girls, so at home there was no way we would have ever engaged in any kind of meaningful conversation. Not that they were snobs. Quite the contrary! We just had little in common within the caste system of high school society. We had different outlooks, different dialects, and different interests.
Instead, after an initial double-take of recognition by both groups, we warmly and excitedly greeted each other.
(All my life I've been amazed by the fact that people act differently when they're away from home. I experienced the same phenomenon when running into other Americans overseas. I surmise that meeting someone from home kicks up the old comfort level--familiarity also perhaps replacing a small lonely feeling--and you often become good friends with one you would otherwise pass by. Human nature I suppose.)
"Oh, hi," beamed the one I most admired. "What are you guys doing here?" She seemed genuinely interested, and was obviously the leader of the group. The other girls followed her lead.
"We just came up for the day--just got done canoeing," I said.
"Sounds like fun!" She gave me a smile that was encouraging. She also gave a little fake pout and mimed a paddling motion that suggested she would have enjoyed participating.
"It was," I said, surprised we were actually having a REAL conversation. I noticed the others were also chatting each other up with animation. "We're just going for a burger--Say! Would you like to join us, maybe go back out in canoes afterward?" This could be assuming a bit much, but I thought I read her correctly.
She looked at her friends. "Yeah!" they said as a chorus practically jumping up-and-down.
Between bites of burgers, she said quietly to me, "Last year I asked you to dance during a ladies' choice at the Skylark and you turned me down. I always wondered why. Were you that shy, or was it me?"
Rats! I hoped she hadn't remembered. I'd kicked myself for weeks afterward. The Skylark was the local youth center. "No, no, I was really flattered that you asked me. It's just that another girl, that I didn't want to dance with, asked me just before you did--and, well, she was still standing there. I didn't want to hurt her feelings."
"Awww, that was nice. Why didn't you tell me or ask me to dance later?"
"I sorta figured I blew it."
And so it began. She was at the lake with her fraternal twin sister and two classmates, each of whom was either a cheerleader, majorette, or student council big cheese. I played on the basketball team, but mostly my friends and I were simply typical high school schleps noted for doing nothing--part of the anonymous crowd.
The afternoon was truncated since I had to get back in time to pick up my dad from work, but it was also an afternoon that neither my friends nor I experienced before. Hanging out with attractive, popular girls? Get outa town! (Which it apparently what it takes.) After what seemed like an eternity of trolling for girls--hanging out at the swimming pool, cruising the main drag, and attending after-game dances--we finally met, talked, and actually spent social time with girls! Popular girls! What a breakthrough! Of course, my friends and I expected when we returned to school in the fall, everything would return to normal, and we would again be virtual strangers--as much our doing as theirs'. But...maybe not.
The girls had arrived a day previously, and were staying at the lake for two weeks living in a cottage with one of the girl's parents. I quickly jumped on that opportunity by suggesting we return the following Saturday and hang out with them--maybe go canoeing again. I could tell from their back-and-forth glances that they were, at best, lukewarm to the idea probably (accurately) thinking they might score a better deal than us by then. And why not? Strangers from another town were always more exotic. One of my friends picked up on the hesitation and mentioned his father owned a speedboat, which we could bring up for an afternoon of water skiing. That closed the deal. We knew our relationship with the girls was most likely temporary, but having at least an opportunity is what dreams are made of, right? Besides, the locker room bragging rights at home were worth pimping ourselves out.
That Saturday we took turns skiing all over the lake, and simply having fun. It was no more than we would have done alone, except we had the company of females in bikinis (always a good thing to my way of thinking). A wonderful day is what we had--and all we asked for. That was about it. Besides, none of us had the nerve to ask for a date. We were willing to settle for one of the best days we'd experienced in our young lives. Conversation was great, unhurried, and flowed naturally. I provided the only noteworthy event when I fell as the boat slowed ending my turn at slaloming over the water. It was crotch on ski. Fortunately, my testicles broke the fall, which everyone but me thought was funny. On the other hand, it loosened things up--I took one for the team.
A month later, driving through town, I happened to see the one I most admired--the cheerleader--walking home. I gave her a ride. We talked. She remembered the lake. She even remembered me. A month later, I worked up the nerve to ask her for a date. I thought about asking her the day she rode with me, but it took me the month to get up the nerve, always fearing rejection or looking like an idiot. THAT'S WHAT YOU DO TO US, LADIES! I probably posed the question negatively, assuming I'd be rejected. Did I say, "Would you like to go to the movies with me?" or ""You probably wouldn't want to go to the movies with me, would you?" That's right, I was a real smoothy.
Whatever, she surprised and delighted me by accepting. From that first date, we evolved into friends then "dates" then "steadies" that lasted through senior year although I knew in my heart the relationship would not endure much beyond that. Still, I attempted to substitute illusion for reality. We each had different objectives for life, near and long term, different passions, but I aggressively and cruelly attempted to coerce her to accept my worldview and adapt herself to my plan for life. Recipe for disaster? You bet! Even while doing so, I knew it was futile and wrong, but when you're seventeen with raging hormones, and have a girlfriend who you think is beyond you in almost every way, including maturity, you try desperately to hang on believing life will never, ever be that good again. I defined my very worth by being her boyfriend. How infantile! How shortsighted! How totally lacking in self-esteem!
Thinking back, for me to try to hold on to her against her will was like trying to nail gelatin to a wall. All such behavior accomplished was to push her away, and hasten the coming of the end. Predictably, I was crushed, but really did understand, and in some way knew she did me a favor. (As my life turned out, she really did!) The final break-up was very mellow and civilized. We remained good friends. It was returning to that empty space of lost love that I feared most of all. Whenever imprisoned there, it's a fate that seems escape proof.
I'll never forget her. I always wished her the best in life and love. Once we were poetry. Even now she is in my dreams, and in my dreams she will always be. For there I am ever young, ever hopeful.
Copyright by Gene Myers Read more in AFTER HOURS: Adventures of an International Businessman at www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/AfterHours.html Also available at www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com and www.borders.com
New from Gene Myers - SONGS FROM LATTYS GROVE, PublishAmerica (August 2010)
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