Wednesday, February 02, 2005


Love's Labour Lost and Found (A Random Anecdote)

I had known Gina since 8th grade. Our moms were good friends; both volunteered at the library and worked on costumes for school plays. Gina was vivacious and quick-witted, and a shameless tease (being well constructed for her age didn't hurt either). So it was only a matter of time--in this case, right around spring of junior year--before I developed the most hopeless crush on her. Hopeless because she was dating an older guy, a senior who would soon be graduating and would therefore be a college guy, which at the time conferred on him a certain kind of elan and sophistication that I didn't think I could match (although now it occurs to me the guy was a bigger doof than I was, and who would have thought that possible?).

Instead of pining for the girl, though, I found myself flirting with her, or at least trying to bend my smartass snappy patter to the task of charming her, something I had never consciously attempted before. It wasn't a level of verbal interplay on par with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, to be sure, but it felt like it.

And then the year ended and I had to go away for the summer, first to this dumb-ass camp for high-school leaders, and then on to New England, where my family had taken to spending every summer since we moved back from the Midwest. I remember thinking: What lousy timing. Just when things were getting interesting.

So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I arrived in New England after my leadership camp and learned that my mom had invited Gina and her mom to come for a visit.

They arrived in the middle of summer with their camper and stayed for almost a month. I was working for my uncle at the time, who was the town land baron--and trash collector. "Mistah Man, we are gonna work your skinny ass off," he remarked--with a certain unnecessary glee--when I first began working for him. "But by gorry," he continued, "before summer is over, you're gonna be able to crack a walnut on that ass!"

No, I never tried to, but I must admit that working for my uncle put me in the best shape of my life, and my long hours in the sun had burned the acne off my face and shoulders. I'm sure time and a general tendency towards self-mythologizing have skewed my memory of the figure I cut summer I was 16, but hey, it's my memory, and if Gina had found me that hard on the eyes, what happened wouldn't have happened.

And what happened at first was...well, a lot of nothing.

Because for most of her first week there, all she did was talk about her boyfriend, the guy who was starting college in the fall. The guy she'd been dating for most of high school. The guy who wanted to have a long-distance relationship with her, see her on weekends and holidays. I was a little nonplussed. When this guy graduated, I had thought that Gina might now be turning her attention to some new contenders and that I might be one of them. I thought her coming to visit might present me with an opportunity for making, move-wise.

But hearing her moan on and on about her boyfriend threw me. Suddenly, I was 12 again, nailed to my seat at the 8th grade dance, slowly letting my moment slip away.

It didn't help that my uncle was ribbing me mercilessly about my comely visitor. Like my dad, my uncle was a true rustic, a son of northern New England and gifted with equal powers of plain-speaking and ribald humor at the expense of others.

Which is why every morning of Gina's visit, I'd hop in the cab of the dump truck, he'd wave pleasantly to Gina (who often as not woke up to see me off) and then turn to me and ask, "So, ol' fella, you puttin' the wood to her yet? By Gorry, I wish you'd come out of it already and get your leg over."

Most mornings I just sat silently, my face turning red. But one morning I just laid it out for him, telling him how she never shut up about her boyfriend and how mixed my signals were. And he just looked at me with a mixture of pity and wry amusement.

"I dunno why in hell you're so het up. She's here, ain't she? Seems to me the only reason she's yammerin' on about the other fella is she's looking to you to stop her mouth for her," he remarked, then added as a helpful after-thought. "And by Gorry, if you ain't fit to do it, I'd be most glad to trade places with you. Holy-o Christ, ol' fella, what do you think's gonna happen if you muckle onto her anyway?"

"What if I'm wrong?" I asked. "What if she pushes me away? I'm not up for that rejection."

"Oh hell!" said my uncle. "So what? At least you tried. And if she kicks you in the balls for it, well, then it all becomes part of a really good story, don't it?"

It was an absurd moment, me getting romantic advice from the garbageman. But he had a point...

That day, like all the others, my uncle worked from dawn til about 2 in the afternoon, and after that I was free. My mom and Gina's mom spent nearly every day off at antique stores and flea markets, (my dad was working out of state at this point and my brother worked 12-hour days at some restaurant) so when I came back to our lakeside "camp" (which was a pretty nice vintage Airstream trailer up on blocks) to get cleaned up, the only person waiting for me was Gina.

That day, I washed up and changed and we went down to the lake. It was one of those perfect mild New England summer days. The sun was bright and hot, but a breeze coming in off the lake made the weather perfect. We took off our shoes and socks and stood on the sandy shore, soaking up the moment. And then Gina started talking about her boyfriend again.

My heart was beating in my throat. She was never going to give me the opening I had been waiting for, although exactly what I thought that opening would be, I'm not sure. I probably just wanted her to say "Kiss me, you fool!" and take the pressure off me. Was I ever going to get over this moment, the paralyzing moment of indecision that had caused me to miss other opportunities?

She was still going on about College Guy and how she wasn't sure how this would work out. I put my hand on her supple, bronze arm.

"You have to stop talking for a minute. There's something I have to say."

She turned and looked at me, the breeze riffling her raven-black hair, her dark eyes reflecting two pinpoints of sunlight. Somewhere in the distance I could hear the laughter of children. Beneath me, waves rolled in, then washed back out, drawing sand out from under our feet each time. As the sand and the water rushed away, it felt like some great and subtle force was tugging at the soles of our feet, drawing us in.

"Do you feel that under your feet? Like something's pulling you in?" I asked, my mouth bone-dry. She nodded. "Well that's how I always feel around you. That's what it feels like to be attracted to you. That's--" and then I ran out of words. So I kissed her.

As moments go, it was a pretty good one. One of the best.

I remember thinking one thing: It all becomes part of a really good story.

And then I lost my balance, grabbed her arm and fell into the lake...

Damn! Great story! I was rooting for you the whole time.
The New England speak is so dead on I was laughing my 'arse' off, by Gorry. What a great line too! Ever think about writing a good ole bodice ripper?

Quite the romantic, you are.

Anxiously awaiting the conclusion,
That was great!!
I can jst see this 16 year old passion, the mood, the pillow talk, the kiss... and then the huge splash of the lake as you fall in... That was great.
Now we wait to find out---what happens after you fall into the lake with the girl of your adolescent dreams? Fall in love, or go to the laundry-mat?

Great blog.
I'll be back to read more.
This story is terrific. I'm looking forward to going through the rest of your blog!

Your comment on my little dictionary certainly brightened my day, and I'm even more psyched to see your work. Thanks for getting in touch, MM.
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