Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Love in the Letters in the Attic

First Glimmer - Paul Westerberg (mp3)
She's So High - Tal Bachman (mp3)

Having stumbled by chance into my mother's attic, I immersed myself into a box of letters I'd received while in high school and college.

By far the largest portion of letters, 50 or so, were from my first girlfriend. Cue the fuzzy flashback camera... (Faces blurred and name changed to protect the innocent and/or those who would s#it bricks if they were ever to discover I'd depicted her with me.)

I met Karla in the first month of my junior year of high school. My mother taught English and journalism at Red Bank at the time, and I had gone over there to help her move some things and help with the computers in her newspaper office. Her editor, a brilliant girl now working in D.C., took a shine to me and invited me to go out with her and some pals. I first met the group of four girls and three guys at Subway, back when that was a newfangled joint. Subway Before Jared.

I had been invited in order to be the romantic foil for a lovelorn pal of hers, but subtle set-ups never work the way they should, and I immediately found myself smitten by a different awkward goddess in my midst. She was in line to be the school salutatorian, was all-state in soccer as a junior, and had won all these awards for being a generally nice and giving person, not to mention that my mother spoke of her as if she dropped straight from the Care Bear clouds.

Barely a few days passed before I sent her my first note. My mother became our pony express. That we entrusted these notes to the care of my frikkin' mother shows just how innocent and clueless I was, even at 17. I got a response that very night. It's amazing how many times you can read the same brief note over and over, parsing every sentence, every phrase, the way a word is written out. If you stare long enough, you can imagine the hand that wrote that letter and start wondering why it jittered here or elongated there. Did she write it during a single class, or did she carefully consider it, one sentence at a time, over the course of an entire school day?

It began what would be a routine of note-writing and -reading, virtually every school day. My specialty was redrawing and rewording Calvin & Hobbes or Bloom County cartoons or spinning semi-fictional yarns; Karla's responses were generally shorter and simpler, but every response meant validation, and validation meant hope.

I went and watched her last two soccer games, and the already-faltering "group" would go out and celebrate afterward. I then went and watched every one of her basketball games. By then the "group" had faded, and it was just me, sitting on a bench watching her.

In spite of all the notes and my following her like a puppy whenever possible, it took until mid-December before I had the nerve to ask her out on a date (dinner and "Rain Man," if you must know). It took another month, maybe a little longer, before we shared our first kiss. Our courting methods would have tested the patience of tree sloths.

Is it weird that I don't remember our first kiss? Shouldn't everyone be able to remember that first kiss, my first romantic kiss ever? Do you, dear reader?

Here's what I remember. I remember Carol (the newspaper editor) confiding in me later on that for months Karla would come to her in mock hysteria, pulling on her hair and wondering when the hell I was going to make the slightest physical advance. And I felt awful, 'cuz I thought I was being polite and respectful. I then remember Carol saying, "And she's still wondering when you're going to move past the kissing part."

I never gave the response that to this day I can remember thinking: What's "past the kissing part?" Seriously, I thought kissing was the end-all be-all of dating. Not that I didn't know about sex, because I did. I knew about sex like I knew about the moon. I knew they were important and out there, but I had no reason to believe I would be visiting either one anytime soon. I'm not sure I understood that there was anything in-between kissing and sex. In my mind, physical relationships went in three stages: (1) You kissed. (2) When you really loved someone, you French kissed. (3) When you got married or loved someone enough that marriage was inevitable, you had sex.

That it took us three months of note-writing and almost a month of actual dating before we kissed, and another couple of weeks before we French kissed, seemed to me like we were moving at blinding speed. We had gone two-thirds of the way to marriage in only a couple of months! Or, as those Toyota commercials put it, Who could ask for anything more?

I can remember hanging out in her family's small secondary living room, popping in a rented movie, and making out for hours. And by "making out" I mean kissing. My hands never went anywhere they shouldn't. They merely roamed around the safe, non-erogenous zones. My lips never dipped more than an inch or two below the jaw line. Four, five, sometimes six hours of kissing would only pause to refill a glass or grab a cookie or for a bathroom break. Then we'd both settle back on the couch and stare at whatever the hell was on the TV screen for all of 10 seconds before we tried reinventing the kiss one more time.

Did Karla ever get bored on those nights, just kissing and kissing and kissing? The thought never even crossed my mind, to be honest, since I was more worried about her knowing, uh, just how excited I was. Each new night of kissing was like an entire weekend at DisneyWorld. Her mouth was this ocean of possibility, and my lips and tongue were a merry crew, sailing merrily into the unknown and in no hurry to get anywhere else in particular.
Yet, somehow, less than six months after that first kiss I can't remember, it was all over.

To be continued...
(For those of you who are bored to tears with my reminiscing, I'll get my ass out of this attic after one and a half more attempts...)

"First Glimmer" is from 14 Songs, a terrifically underrated pop album. "She's So High" is from Tal's self-titled debut, a modest record with a few decent songs. Both are available at iTunes and Amazon.com.


Anonymous said...

Keep writing. Your not alone

Billy Bob said...

Who are these bastards underrating the first Paul Westerberg? "First Glimmer" is one of my absolute favorite songs.

Billy said...

14 Songs, coming on the heels of his "Dyslexic Heart" semi-hit from the Singles soundtrack, didn't do nearly as well, popularity-wise, as I thought/hoped it deserved.

I came late to the 'Mats fan party (1987ish), so I was still pretty insane about them (and Paul especially) in 1993.

Billy Bob said...

Throw out the song about the hood ornament and it's one of the greatest cds ever. Who else has jammed a record full of songs like "Knockin'On Mine" and "Black-Eyed Susan" and "World Class Fad" and "Even Here We Are" and all the rest. Whew! I'm going to go put it on. It's also one of my favorite cd's on road trips.