“Hey Dave – what did that new guy have to say about moving to the Peninsula?”
“New guy? Hey Pat – I wasn’t talking to a guy – I was talking to Rhonda the girl who just moved up from somewhere in Texas.”
“You need to clean the wax out of your ears – and maybe get some glasses too. The name is Ron and he’s most definitely a guy. I’m pretty sure because he’s in my gym class and unlike you I don’t need glasses”
“Hey – it was probably his long hair that threw you off. Well, gotta run!”
I stood at my locker long enough to jump when the tardy bell rang. Well this was a first – I had notoriously bad luck with girls, but never had I been desperate enough to mistake a slim long-haired guy for a chick.
“I ought to have my head examined…”
…a sentiment that came up again when I walked into the pep rally later that afternoon to see Pat Malone sitting up at the top row of the bleachers, arm-in-arm with the new girl Rhonda whose tailored blouse firmly established her gender once she’d removed her parka.
He’d done it again. Not only was Patrick light years ahead of me in drawing skills, he was ahead of me in fox-hunting as well. It didn’t matter if I’d set my sights on Joan, Jeanne, Joni or Pam – Pat Malone was always one step ahead of me with one arm around the young lady in question. I couldn’t fault him for taste, but just once …
“Pretty slick, isn’t he?”
I jumped just a bit at the unexpected comment – I hadn’t noticed anyone behind me. Doing my best to channel all the class of Sean Connery I turned and replied
(better make that George Lazenby)
Sitting next to the exit was the merriest pair of brown eyes ever. Attached to those brown eyes was Jeanne Little, one of those near-miss-to-Pat-Malone young ladies that I had been just thinking about. I had a weakness for brown-eyed blondes and had noticed her during registration the previous fall, but then Pat magically appeared next to her sitting in the bleachers that day as well, her hand in his while they compared class schedules.
“What is it about Malone and the bleachers in the gym? I thought “The guy can do magic in here. I cannot believe his luck! It’s like he drew a perpetual cow tag during moose season and dropped one in his back yard on opening day!” Nevertheless, I had to admit he was good. I walked out of the gym murmuring “…since day one of our freshman year he’s never failed to shoot me out of the saddle…”
“Shoot you out of the saddle?” Jeanne had overheard my murmuring….
“It’s just an expression. When another guy manages to hustle-away a girl just before you get a chance to ask her out.”
She sat up and interrupted “You mean you -? Did you know that Pat and I…?”
I looked away blushing, my face as scarlet as the KCHS Kardinal mascot and casually changed the subject “Hey – why do you th>INK< its spelled with a “K” instead of a “C?” my voice cracking with sheer terror mid-dodge.
“The ‘K’ in Kardinals. Kenai Kardinals. Why isn’t it a C? Oops – gotta go now!”.
I narrowly avoided running over my friend Jim on the way out and he smirked in my general direction, launching a “I’ve-seen-you-do-better-Rave!” rocket at me as I shot past to a blush-free sanctuary outside the gymnasium door. My goal for the 1968-69 academic year had nothing to do with grade point averages; my goal was to be able to stand near a girl I liked and not become terminally twitter-pated. To be able to carry on an intelligent conversation with someone I was interested in, to somehow escape the nerd boy inside that could dissolve into “homina-homina-homina -duuuhhhh – drool. Me like pretty girl”. Judging from my trip-hammer pulse I wasn’t quite there yet – so it was no wonder it took an exit from the gymnasium at a dead run to achieve some semblance of cool.
I was semi-surprised the next day to see Jeanne sitting in the same set of bleachers during lunch, but the surprise became total when she looked over, made eye-contact and smiled. I walked over and sat down, and when I managed to not spontaneously burst into flames we were able to have a nice conversation. At that point we started to became friends, which slowly began to morph into a pattern of stealth-dating which was the only way for me to see someone given my age and situation.1 Something like a “Boy’s Night Out” with Jim and Jesse would be the plan presented when getting permission to go to the show or a dance but in reality, once I was dropped off I’d link up with Jeanne who’d pursued much the same tactics in getting out of her own home for the evening.
The relationship was very low-key, but spring2 was in the air and I was quite taken with the novelty, the magic of a girl who ACTUALLY LIKED ME AT THE SAME TIME I LIKED HER!. Signs of serious twitter-pation began to appear:
- Absently mindedly writing her name over and over on my notebook.
- Saving pencils she’d chewed on.
- My heart skipping a beat whenever I’d hear “I Can Hear Music” by the Beach Boys.
Most importantly I was learning to relax, enjoy her company and be myself.
It was all developing nicely until our abnormally spring weather turned chilly and the high school’s water pipes broke one early morning just before the busses started dropping off students. Citing health hazard brought about by the lack of water fountains, showers and toilets, the administration (eventually) decided to cancel classes for the day. Unfortunately, at that point every bus was either back in the garage or moving elementary school students, so we were all left to mill about for a couple of hours…or in my case cruise around Kenai with my friend Gary. Given the state of the Kenai Peninsula’s infrastructure in 1969 we quickly ran out of road for cruising and that’s when I got the bright idea to go find where Jeanne lived and pay a visit.
I knew that she lived somewhere in Woodland Subdivision, so we drove over, parked the truck and started walking up and down the streets looking for her home. We been afoot for just five minutes when we noticed residents of the subdivision watching us carefully out of their windows, understandably concerned to see teenage boys wandering around during the middle of a school day. By the time I found Jeanne’s house, word of our presence had preceded us, and she was not happy to see me. For the first time those brown eyes were definitely not merry and when my every effort to draw out a laugh from her failed, I elbowed Gary and we left. On the long drive home, I kept telling myself that everything would work out OK, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something major had happened that I just wasn’t getting.
Again, there was no “happy” in her eyes when we met up the next morning at school. She quietly told me that she was disappointed and felt I had been too forward in showing up at her house the day before. While she didn’t specifically hand me my walking papers I took the hint and from then on avoided our spot on the bleachers during lunchtime. We spoke only intermittently during the rest of the school year as I assumed any relationship that may have existed between us was rapidly fading away if not already gone.
There have been times in life when I have been lost to epic proportions, but whether we’re talking about flying to a stage field at FT Rucker, running an orienteering course at FT Lewis or searching for bogus referrals in Rhode Island, I have never been as lost as I was at that point. I was feeling some pretty complex emotions and could not figure out what was going on.
- I could tell when someone disliked me.
- I could tell when someone was angry with me.
- I could tell when someone thought I was a total dork.
…but the idea of simple conflict resolution in a relationship was utterly foreign. I had no previous experience with the situation due to the dynamics of a bi-polar family, especially a bi-polar family of Celtic extraction, which did not foster belief in happy endings. All I could tell was that there was a new kind of hurt going on. I didn’t feel like hitting anything, I didn’t feel like crying, but I did have a kind of sick, hollow feeling that had all the indications of sticking around the long haul.
That all-or-nothing mindset persisted, and I missed several shots at resolution:
- My best friend Jim ran into Jeanne at the mall and later reported that the conversation was basically “please tell David to call me!”
- During my own mall run-in her next-door neighbor said the same thing and pointedly told me several times in the conversation that Jeanne still liked me.
- When her father was transferred to Kansas a third friend passed on Jeanne’s new address, urging me to write.
…all of which I failed to act on.
In retrospect the experience was a bit more than just six lost weeks during the spring of 1969. I really did learn some important lessons.
- I discovered that there was a depth and complexity to relationships that I hadn’t realized before. Love wasn’t just a matter of people liking each other.
- I got a brief look at how truly functional families interacted – caring, responsible parents and responsible teenagers. The day I showed up at Jeanne’s house her mom had been present in the background doing some nondescript chore and while she didn’t actively participate in the conversation it was plain she was aware of what was going on. I was more accustomed to kids just being yelled at or totally ignored.
Because the whole thing covered such a brief time span and happened so long ago I hesitate to say I was in love with Jeanne Little, but I do know that it was the first time that my attraction for a young lady had any measure of complexity… so the odds are she was in fact my first love.
… and my heart still skips a beat when I hear “I Can Hear Music” by the Beach Boys.
- See 1971: “…then Dave discovered girls…:
- More like the musty smell of Break-up