Wednesday, September 29, 2004

FIRST LOVE -- PART TRES

Right after Kurn left for college I had some unfinished business to tend to. That weekend I had a sleepover with a bunch of my girlfriends. The next morning we all got up at the crack of dawn and took a big saw from my Dad’s workbench down to the beach.

These days, the sight of a clutch of girls walking down the street carrying a huge saw at dawn might draw the attention of the local constables. Not then.

The tree-sized piece of driftwood was still there where Kurn had carved his name and the date. Part of me was really worried that it might have been carted away -- always a possibility in a village that had rules for how to wrap your garbage. A piece of driftwood that size could besmirch the quality of someone’s sand experience, so you couldn’t be sure.

With my friends encouraging me, I sawed out the 18" piece of tree, where my One and Only had left his mark. I carried it home like a Yule log, so I could have it forever. Too big for a scrapbook, the driftwood sat in my room like an icon in a shrine. And I worshiped it accordingly.

He was gone. I had a trophy. Now what was I going to do?

At some point I had managed to get Kurn’s address at college. Was it on the ride to the Dairy Queen? When he dropped me off at home?  I don’t remember. I do remember he didn’t write it down, he told it to me. I could send him mail c/o Baker Library at Dartmouth. He had a job there. 

It was weeks before I got up the courage to write him a letter. I don’t remember what I had to say, but the penmanship probably looked like any high school sophomore girl’s best effort, although I wasn’t into big circles over the “i” or making smiley faces and hearts. Who knows what I wrote about. School? The family pets. My friends? What I had for dinner? Did I make spelling mistakes? Did I write “your” instead of “you’re”?  

I must have done something right. A few weeks later a letter arrived addressed to me, postmarked Nov 2, Hanover, N.H. My mother handed it to me with one of those smiles that only mothers can give you when they know you’re going to be really happy to get this mail. 

The first thing I noticed was the nice stationery. A cream colored paper with little flecks in it, like it was handmade. I noticed how masculine and legible his handwriting was, free of flamboyant curly cues or extraneous motion.

More fascinating to me was the ink he chose  – a bright green.  He may have done that because green was a Dartmouth school color. Hanover, where the school is located, is in the Green Mountains of New Hampshire. 

Kurn was pretty rah-rah about where he went to college. Dartmouth was the bastion of the extreme scholar athlete who could drink you under the table. And the model for that John Belushi classic, "Animal
House." An alum tells me the school is almost 51% female now. But I’m sure the women are doing their best to continue Dartmouth’s proud traditions.

We corresponded all through my high school years. But that first letter is the one I remember best.

The next three years, Kurn would make surprise visits to our house during his Christmas vacations, the first time when he showed up unannounced to deliver a package. Imagine my shock. He worked for the village post office during the holidays and continued to ring our doorbell unexpectedly for weeks in December, leaving me speechless and starry-eyed every time. I think my mother was even a little star struck herself. I never saw her with such a big smile.

He couldn't stay long, always sitting on the piano bench with his mailbag next to him, ready to leave. He was probably just checking me out to see if I was getting older and better, because we never made plans. He never called me. I never saw him at the beach during the summers anymore, either. He was doing other things now. The same old story. I was too young.

Sophomore year. Junior year. Senior year. They all came and went.

My impending high school graduation changed everything. Finally we were going to have our first date -- to the graduation night party. My girlfriends couldn’t believe he was actually going out with me. After the ceremony, everybody went home to change. When he came to pick me up, I looked slim, sophisticated, and much older than seventeen. At 6’0", 126 pounds, that wasn’t too hard in a knee length dark blue spaghetti strap dress. 

We went to an after party at a huge house that had a live band. During the evening Kurn tried to kiss me several times. In the living room after a dance. Upstairs on the landing. By the kitchen. Near the bathroom. I kept saying things like “But this is our first date” and ducking when I saw him coming. As the poet, e.e. cummings, so aptly put it, “she was brand new.” I had never kissed a boy before. Well, except for that time I trapped Ralphie Regabuto by the fence in first grade.

Not that I hadn’t practiced kissing my hand hundreds of times. With lots of help from my girlfriends who all had boyfriends and were doing WAY more than I ever thought possible by that time.

Kurn asked me out a few more times after the graduation party, but I still wouldn’t kiss him. Couldn’t, actually. Didn’t have a clue, frankly. Finally, he stopped asking me out. We had been seeing each other almost every night since graduation and he just stopped calling.

I welcomed the break from the anxiety I was experiencing, even though I missed him a lot. He missed me too, apparently. After a few days, he called.

I have no idea what we did or where we went that night. But, sitting in front of my house in his Volkswagon, he finally put an end to my agony. Okay, it was agony for him, too. Trapped in that tiny space, he leaned over and planted his lips on mine. And discovered the problem. 

Fortunately, he realized that this was just a simple repair job. So he showed me what to do. You mean, like this?  That’s good. Try it again. Like this? Hm-m, very good. So we spent the next couple of hours doing what it takes to make my kissing perfect.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Later, he also told me if I hadn’t kissed him he was going to end it because he was really starting to think I was gay. Lesbians everywhere are rolling their eyes.

That summer we were together every night. Practicing. We used to sneak down to one of the private beaches, lie on a blanket and count the shooting stars, along with a lot of other things that college men can teach a new graduate. My 14-year-old schoolgirl fantasies and dreams were coming true. The person I had a childhood crush on really was waiting for me when I grew up. Just like the boys on the beach had said.

Kurn got to know all my friends. I was invited to meet his parents. We went canoeing. He became friendly with one of the current Tower Road lifeguards who played the guitar. At night he would bring his banjo down and we resumed our evening bonfires and folk singing. All together now, Michael Row the Boat Ashore, Allelujah.

At the end of the summer, as I got ready to fly down to Duke for my freshman year, he was preparing to go back to Dartmouth for his senior year. He had taken a year off to work in New York, so he still had one more to finish. 

Before he left, he gave me a silver llama that he had bought on a trip to Peru. He even put it on a chain that he found on the beach during the summer we met, when he worked as a lifeguard. He wanted the llama and chain to be a special memento of that time. And then he was gone. As soon as he walked out the door, I started crying. I cried and cried and cried. 

Until I ran into his sister the day before I left for college. She was two years younger and a junior in high school. Like a lot of graduates, I went back to my high school to say good bye to some friends before leaving. I ran into her in the lunchroom and proudly showed her the silver llama and chain that her brother had presented to ME, his GIRLFRIEND, because I was SO special and we meant so MUCH to each other. 

But she said something that stopped me cold:

“Oh – he’s got a ton of those things.”

“What, these silver llamas?”

“Yeah, he brought back a whole bunch of them when he came back from Peru.” 

She sucked the air out of the room with that news.  How many other llamas was he handing out? And to whom? And what was with this stupid silver chain that he found on the beach? The one he made such a big deal about. A momento of how we met? Hello. It’s tarnished and black. Was he just too cheap to buy me something nice. 

I took it off. And never put it back on.


5 comments:

judithheartsong said...

love the story!!!! judi

djzgirl71 said...

this is turning into a great story....pleeeaaaase hurry and finish I am hanging on the edge of my seat!!!!

Stacy

musenla said...

Sigh, it all sounded so...dreamy.  Until that kerplunk of an entry ending.  I'm sorry, you must've felt so let down.  What a way to get that dream balloon deflated.

ann7inflorida said...

I'm with Stacy on this, I can't wait to hear what happens next!

judithheartsong said...

You Go Girl!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mrs. L is my hero, and YOU know WHY!!!!!!!!! I will grin for the rest of the day! judi