The year was 1991. I was 16 years old. My family moved to Alabama in the summer between my sophmore and junior years of high school, my third high school in as many years. My parents were worried about me going from a suburban rich kid school in California to what was essentially an inner city public high school in Montgomery, Alabama and so I was forced by my dad to submit to an IQ test that would allow me to get into a special high school for
So, I settled into my new environment. I started getting a ride every morning with a girl in my class whose dad worked with my dad. Her brother drove. I had a big crush on him, but he was a senior, played baseball, and wanted nothing to do with me. He ended up getting a girl pregnant, dropping out of college, and working at a home improvement store. Heh. As an aside, this girl's father was the first person who ever played Jimmy Buffett for me. I had heard all the usual songs, but her dad played the guitar and would often sit in front of their fireplace and play Jimmy songs and sing, and I've been a fan ever since.
Anyway, back to the story. Into an innocent young girl's life a little evil must creep. And, in a harbringer of basically every relationship I would have until...well...now, that evil was in the form of a man. And, he was a man. He had failed 12th grade and so was 18 or 19, from a prominent Montgomery family (his dad was a lawyer of the "picture on the back of the phone book" variety), and his name was Donnie. He smoked, drank, sold acid to the other kids, and wrote me lascivious notes that were both grammatically incorrect and incoherent. But, of course, he was devastatingly handsome. He asked me to the mall. I snuck out and went. We held hands and walked around and around and around.
At some point, on a balmy Alabama evening that smelled like cut-grass and night blooming jasmine with bright stars just on the verge of being right there with us, he was hanging around outside my house, smoking and hiding from my dad and he told me he could do a backflip. I stated my absolute belief that he could do no such thing, so he got up and demonstrated, doing not just one, but several backflips. And then he flopped down beside me in the grass and said he was dizzy and laid his head on my shoulder and kissed me. He tasted like beer and cigarettes and all things male and handsome. He smelled a little bit like smoke, and leather from the jacket he wore all the time even though it was too hot for it, and that sort of singularly delicious smell of "boy" when it's a boy you like, sweat and cologne and probably mystical teenage pheromones.
In my mind he was a character of the Jimmy Buffett variety...all bay rum and beachy rebellion. In that moment I pictured how he would change because of my love and devotion. I could tutor him into passing 12th grade. I could show him what being a part of a family meant. He could learn that with someone who loved him it was possible to rise above the expectations that have been set for you by people who don't understand what is in your heart and in your mind just waiting to be discovered (by me of course!). In that exact moment, with goosebumps and a chill up my spine, I felt an electricity that seemed special and fleeting and unique, but that I've since felt with the two or three other men I've really been in love with the first time they kissed me. A sense of awareness but detachment. Knowing what's about to happen but still not knowing what to expect, only that it's going to be exciting and it will make your tummy flip over every time you think about it for the next three weeks.
I really remember that first kiss I think because it was a long time coming, I had moved a lot and had never had an opportunity to really be a part of my school community and date and go to dances and such. But, I also remember that kiss, and the days following it, when Donnie took up with a girl named Kellie in my Algebra II class and he wouldn't make eye-contact me with me even when I confronted him in the hallway after lunch one day and asked point blank why she was wearing his class ring, as being the first time in my life, my adult life of womanhood and sexual almost-maturity, that I felt less-than. Unworthy of his attentions because he was handsome and popular and I was, in my mind, chubby and brainy and a goody-two-shoes. I had been an adolescent whose hair was never quite exactly in fashion, whose pants were not quite pegged right, whose band shirts were just a little out of date, and finally a boy liked me who I NEVER thought would because I just wasn't "that girl"...or even "one of those girls." You know the ones, they eat whatever they want and stay thin, their jeans always fit perfectly and are never too short, they glide and never stomp, their hair hangs in tendrils instead of unruly strands. Those girls. It seems stupid because of course he was a prototypical loser, and I was taking AP classes and already on a path to college and certain academic success, which in my family is and was equivalent to life success. But it's strange how one day, as a woman, you realize that one boy, one man, can determine the path of your sort of "female identity" for years to come.
Postscript: Donnie called me years later out of the blue while I was home visiting my parents on Christmas vacation from college. He had joined the Marines, was getting married, and wanted to tell me that he still had all the notes I had written him in high school and that he had turned his life around. All these years later he thought I should know that he appreciated who I had been in his life. He said that he was sorry for what he had done because he knew my intentions and feelings had been pure and that when he had read the notes again he was shocked by my unwaivering support of him and my certain knowledge that deep inside, where only hopelessly romantic girls who read too many sappy novels and watch too many happily-ever-after movies dwell, where they moon over bad boys and other unsavory but strangely magnetic characters, I had somehow known he was a good person. Only he was hiding it, cleverly, like a lot of people do. Because he needed the right girl, who was of course, ME! Just kidding...technically I guess it was the girl he was marrying. Or maybe he just needed the Marines. Anyway, it was great to hear, although I'm not sure it helped me change my idealistic and hopelessly romantic ways. It seems to be an incurable affliction. But still, those halcyon days of pure love are a memory that I still mentally peruse sometimes when I think of where my life has come and gone. I hope that feeling is like the cliche about always being able to go home, because it seems idealistic perhaps, but ideal at the same time, to go back to there.