Twenty-four years ago I was sweating through the summer between my last year of junior high and the first year of high school. Having felt like I had finally asserted myself in ninth grade by developing an attitude that I wasn't really going to ever again care about what others thought about me, I now faced the unknown of starting again at the bottom of the totem pole as a high school sophomore. And I had to do it all without my best friend- the only fellow who seemed to speak the same language as me, who was going to a different high school.
If all this wasn't enough to cause a heap of anxiety, (and by gosh don't you think it should have been?) the final quarter of junior high was intense. I had somehow struck up a little romance with the most beautiful girl in my class, the lovely Susan Weiss who told me she enjoyed my bellowing of Beatles songs on a bus ride home from a winter band concert. The next day after school we stood at the end of a hallway, at the main entrance of the school waiting for our parents to pick us up.
Sue was finished with her basketball practice and I was finished with my school newspaper duties and together we stood in awkward silence until she said, "I must look great in my winter coat and dress." Of course I wanted to say I always thought she always looked great but instead I said, "Uh-huh."
Things progressed from there. There was a relay race we ran where she was lined up next to me, the first leg of the opposing team. The go command was given and I took off as fast as my little Mama Cass legs would churn and I quickly left Susan far behind in my dust (metaphorically running away? Who me?). I heard her mutter "OH SHOOOTTT!" As I made my turn looking ahead to the runner I was supposed to hand the baton off to, I noticed that the second runner wasn't there. So I just kept running feeling quite winded and running out of gas. Again from behind I heard Sue laugh her marvelous laugh.
During the last week of school we took a class trip to Valleyfair and Sue asked if she could sit next to me on the bus ride home. Can I mention that I still remember to this day how great she smelled and how much my legs shook all the way home?
Then school ended and I wasn't sure what was going to happen next. So I wrote Sue a letter trying to explain how she made me feel and found myself somehow mustering up the courage to mail it to her.
We never spoke much in high school. And she became the first to break my heart and the only person who has ever filled the roll of being the person I wrote to, for, and about. The intensity of those feelings has echoed through only three more relationships since then.
In October of 1980 my first nephew, Nathan, was born. Prematurely born, he was a tiny kid. He slept his first few weeks in a drawer of my sister and her husband's mobile home. I was equal parts proud and an amazed uncle watching with great love Nathan taking in the freshness of the world around him, all the while learning day by day how he was to fit in.
My sister used to bring him over to my parents' house every Thursday night where I got to help baby-sit and play with him. Believe it or not I didn't quite have the sunny disposition I'm known for today but the pain and agony of being a lost high school teenager was always lessened just from taking in Nathan's youthful enthusiasm. Part of me wanted to be a kid again, the baby of the family that everyone took care of and another part of me wanted to mentor Nathan making sure that the world didn't prematurely jade him.
This past Saturday Nathan got married. I must admit a tear welled up in my eye watching and listening to him recite his vows to his bride Jennifer, as he struggled to keep his own tears in check. It's clear he has found his true love, the one who inspires him, and it is that love that he believes in, and follows.
Twenty-four years in this context can be seen as both such a short and a long long time. It's hard for me to believe that the kid who used to mimic the every week scene shots in the theme of Hill Street Blues is now a married young man. And it's even harder for me to believe that I once upon a long ago used to feel the same sort of inspiration that he wakes up to every day. A 40 year old heart can turn awfully hard awfully fast.