Well, this is a tough one.
Yesterday, I had to go to the attic to tend to the a.c. drain line. While I was up there, I looked around for a bit. I saw some of the things I used to have in the house that I hadn't realized were gone. I guess Ili decided to put them up here at some point. Then I looked at the pile of old computers and VCRs that I've accumulated and decided that it was time to get rid of them. Several dangerous trips with my hands full up and down the steep ladder later, I looked in some old boxes. What's in here? I brought them down to have a look, pushed the ladder up, and closed the attic door.
The first was a metal box full of my father's papers. I guess I never looked through them carefully if at all. It was crammed full of paperwork surrounding the war, his draft card and military forms, and of his training as a tool and dye maker. There were payroll stubs from the 1940's and his union book with the stamps he bought to keep his dues current. There were a few letters and a postcard addressed to my mother. There were several packs of photos. And there were a few things of mine as well. All my Perfect Attendance Awards from elementary school. A certificate from my little league baseball organization. And there were all my old report cards. I sat for awhile going through things, a little disturbed, but I will get to that another time.
Then I turned to the other box. Holy shit! It was full of letters and a few pictures of my First True Love, Emily. She was my girlfriend in the 8th grade.
Now I need to go back a bit. After going to school with the same kids for six years, we were suddenly being split apart, half of us going to the big high school that housed the 7th-12th grades, and half of us were going to a brand new junior high school, 7th-9th grades. I was in the latter group.
It was in the 6th grade that I first learned about girls and romance. There were parties. I learned about kissing, French kissing, and petting. It was scary and thrilling at the same time. This was the first year I was in a rock and roll band. I had a Beatles haircut and was beginning to lean that way. I was a good kid athlete, an all-star in my baseball and basketball leagues, but one night there was a party and my band was asked to play. It was on a Saturday night, and I had a baseball game under the lights which was a big deal. I had to make a decision.
I went to the party. It may have been a mistake. It was definitely a turning point.
The summer before I went to the new school, just before classes began, I heard from a fellow that a girl named Violet liked me. I didn't know who she was. She hadn't gone to my elementary school. Her house was close to the school the other kids went to. He said she wanted to meet me. When we got to her house, I was stunned. She looked like a grown woman, and she was beautiful. She was as tall as I with big eyes and long dark hair. I didn't know what to do. It was obvious that she was far more experienced than I. As we "made out" as kids used to say, I felt very far away from home. This was a new country, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to go. The sun was brighter, harsher, the landscape barren. How did she even know who I was? Oh, she said, she'd heard about me.
That night, I was happy to be home, safe and alone in my bedroom. I was getting really nervous about going to this new school.
Seventh grade began. The school was bigger, of course, and brand new. The routine was decidedly different as we changed classes every hour. At lunch time, we were just set loose. We were on our own. There was a big cafeteria where you could take your meals. That is where I went at first. After meeting some kids and making new friends, though, I started going to the snack counter and getting b-b-q potato chips and an ice cream sandwich. Then we'd all sneak out and smoke cigarettes. That's the kind of new friends I had.
Somehow, I got invited to play with a new band. They were older boys, but I had a full drum kit now which made me a commodity. The band was popular and tough. We all bought Beatle boots and collarless jackets for our gigs.
Carol Dann was an "it" girl. She was an 8th grader and on the cheerleading squad. Someone told me she liked me. She was in the same class as the bass player. I asked him if he knew her. Sure, he said. Why? Somebody told me she liked me, I said. For some reason, this really pissed him off. He began ranting and deriding me. She wouldn't like you, he said viciously. I thought he was going to punch me. I couldn't understand why.
It turned out Carol did like me. She got my phone number and began calling me at night. We were in different grades, so I didn't see her much at school. Not only was she older, but she was of a different social order than I. I lived in a poorer part of the sprawling neighborhoods that had sprung up to house the newly arriving workforce at the aeronautical and defense contracting plants. The kids from my elementary school had all lived close by. We were all equally poor, I'd guess, but at the new school, some of the kids parents were white collar workers, engineers and managers and the like. Their houses were bigger, newer. They were not like our parents at all, and the difference was easily felt. Not only were we poorer, but trouble had begun in my own home. My parents were fighting and the marriage was breaking down, but again, that is another story to be written at another time. For now, I'll just say that I wasn't bringing any of those kids over to my house.
Carol and I would walk home together after school some days. I saw her at parties. She was pretty and popular and I couldn't figure out why she liked me. I was shy, but one night at a basketball game, sitting in a corner of the stands together, I slipped my arm around her back and under her sweater. She didn't jump.
It was reported at school. It was a scandal, and that was the end of that.
In the 8th grade, I heard that a girl named Emily liked me. She sent me a note. We met. I was stunned. She looked like a movie star. She had beautiful, dark hair cut like a model in a magazine. She wore mod clothing, little patterned miniskirts, and the most fashion forward accoutrements of the time. Later I would find out that her mother wouldn't let her wear those to school, so she would hide them in her bag and change at her friends house.
She, too, was of the higher social order. We began talking on the phone. I walked her home from school and would sit on the front porch with her for as long as I was allowed. I met her parents. They were not pleased. They didn't like her talking to me on the phone. When her grades dipped, they used it as an excuse to cut her phone privileges. Sometimes, when they would go out for the night, she would call me. One night, she asked me to come over. No one was home. We went into her bedroom and began to kiss. She would let me do anything I wanted, anything at all. She told me that when she took baths, as the warm water rose up along her skin, she would get all tingly and think of me. I kissed her and felt her and touched her in ways I didn't know or understand. I could have done anything, anything at all.
Later, when her parent's car pulled into the garage, she told me to leave by the back door. I ran down her sloping backyard that led down to a lake and lay in the darkness for awhile to watch through the lighted windows. She spoke to her parents. There seemed to be no trouble. I lay there not wanting to leave, but eventually I made my way through some other backyards and out into the street.
Walking home, I had the most terrible cramps. By the time I got home, I could barely stand. It was my first and only case of what is commonly called "blue balls," or as it is known medically, epididymal hypertension. I went into the bathroom and doubled over so my parents wouldn't see. I was scared that I would have to go to a doctor.
No matter what her parents did to her, she would not quit seeing me. We were in love. We said so. At night in my bed, I would think about us living together, of having our own house. My parents laughed at my first love. "Puppy love," they called it. I couldn't understand their amusement.
Eventually, Emily told me that her parents wanted to meet mine. They wanted to talk to them and arrange a time. I was horrified. She had never been to my house. It was nothing like hers. I was sick with anguish, but what could I do. I told my parents. They talked on the phone and made a date.
I wanted to die.
I don't want to talk about how it went, but her parents were more against her seeing me than ever.
Emily told me they wee moving. They were going to a town an hour away. I have always thought it was to get her away from me, but I know that is silly. Her father had taken another job.
Yesterday, sitting in my living room, I opened the box of notes and letters she had sent to me. Where did they come from? I had kept them all, all this time, somewhere. I was confounded. I couldn't comprehend how these existed after all these years, after my leaving home after my parents divorced, after living with my father in a ramshackle duplex, after going away to college, after getting a job and moving and moving and moving again. After all these years.
I read some of the letters. They were beautiful, naive letters of broken hearted love. She wrote like a kid, but like a smart kid, letters of pages and pages. She sent cards and got her own stationary.
And there were the pictures. Jesus, she was beautiful.
I scanned them and sent some around to my friends. One wrote back.
"Look her up. Call her."
I went to my mother's house as I always do late in the afternoon and took the box full of my father's papers to show her. There were things I asked her about that I couldn't know. Some of the things she knew and others she didn't. My mother married my father in 1949 at the age of 17. Some of the papers were dated 1941.
"Hell," she said, "I was just a kid then."
I showed her the pictures of Emily. She remembered her well. "Your first love," she said. I didn't say anything to her about the meeting of the families. I'm sure she thought it went fine.
Back home, I began making dinner. Once everything was cooking, I sat down at my computer and Googled Emily out of curiosity. Surely I wouldn't find anything. Her last name would have changed, maybe many times. I remembered that when I was doing graduate work in anthropology, I took a photo course with a young, hip prof. I haven't a memory of how we got on the topic. Maybe he mentioned the town to which she moved. Surely. I would have said I had a girlfriend who moved there in high school. I've never driven past that turnoff on the interstate without yelling out her name like Brando yells Stella. I must have said her name. He looked stunned. His girlfriend was best friends with her, he said.
I never followed up.
I hit "return." And cruelly, there she was. It was her obituary. She died in 2016. All the breath left my body. There was her picture. She hadn't seemed to have aged. She lived in a town on the coast. She hadn't changed her name, and hadn't had children. Eventually, it appears, she married and added a hyphen. Her mother and father were dead. I went through several pages. I watched her tribute video. She had stayed beautiful all her life.
I want to know more.
After dinner, I sat down with the letters, letters from a ghost. There she was again, all beauty and love. She had been calling me and charging the calls to another number. Of course, the phone company found out. In the letters she was telling me that she was in trouble and that I would have to lie and say that she had never called. She wrote me about the things she did at school, who her new friends were. She told me of the records she bought and which songs she liked best because they made her think of me.
I couldn't read them all. I let them drop from my hand.
The last time I saw her was very, very strange. The bass player in the band was fifteen, but he got his alcoholic step-father to co-sign for him to buy a car. Not a car. An old ambulance or Hearse. He bought house paint and painted it black and white. He said we should drive over to see Emily. He didn't have a drivers license yet, but he had a car. We got dressed up in our best hip clothing, Nehru jackets, little round Lennon sun glasses, and headed for the interstate. An hour later, we pulled up in her driveway. Her mother came out to greet us. Emily wasn't there but she would be home soon. She took us into the kitchen and gave us something to drink. The phone rang. It was a neighbor calling to see if everything was o.k. They had seen the old Hearse in the driveway.
Emily came home. I don't remember much. She showed us around her house, her mother peering like a hawk. We sat in the kitchen and made small talk. Her mother was not about to leave us alone. We were there maybe half an hour. Even then, I realized the folly of my actions, how ridiculous we looked. There is no upside to being poor.
I barely ate my dinner. I cleaned up, called my mother, and told her what I had found out. After that, I didn't know what to do. How could such a thing effect me so much? She had only lived an hour and a half away. Always. I wondered if she had ever thought of me. I was haunted by the images I had seen of her as an adult. She had kept the same smile. Things I hadn't thought of in decades came pouring back.
I decided to put on some music. I needed to do something. I decided to restring my electric guitar which I hadn't played for years. I tuned it, played along with the songs. After midnight, I decided to go to bed.
I woke at five. I didn't care about the news. I just wanted to write this.