The sweet things in life stay in memory forever, long after injustices, obstacles and hardships have all fallen away. I heard the first movement of Charles Ives’ Symphony #3 playing on my car radio, and with the speed of thought I went back over 40 years to when I had first heard it.
I fell in love for the first time at age 14. I had experienced crushes before that, and a variety of sloppy attempts at kissing and handholding and being best friends with girls. This was different. I thought she was a goddess. She had long, dark hair and ample curves. She was intelligent and had a lovely deep voice. We sat next to each other in 9th grade classes.
She was dating a friend of mine. I helped him make a birthday present for her, a mixtape of songs they liked. I must have looked at her the same way my dog looks at me. She noticed, and was flattered. My friend was athletic and not as smart as she was, and he wanted to move on. He gave me his blessing to try and get closer to her. She and I co-authored a dramatic scene for English class. It was terrible. We got an A, and became friends.
I began riding my bike to her house over on the nicer side of town. I would bring records for us to play and talk about. I told her an enormous lie. I spun a tale from my imagination about the styles of kissing practiced in different countries, just so we could try them. I called my favorite way of kissing “the American Method”. Not entirely dry, but not too wet either, with just a hint of tongue play. We kissed for hours. We talked on the phone for hours. Neither of us wanted to hang up.
We would have continued the relationship, but her family moved to the East Coast the next year. We wrote letters to each other. Immediately after graduating from High School I bought the most expensive vehicle I could afford, a Honda 175cc motorcycle, and drove it halfway across the continent to where she lived. The police in Pennsylvania stopped me. I thought I had done something wrong, but they only wanted to ask “Did you really drive that dinky little bike all the way from Iowa?” I wore out three chains going there and back, and I had to stop every hundred miles or so because my legs went numb from the vibration.
I carried a folk guitar in an oversized case, so I could also put clothes in it. I wore a backpack with more clothes and whatever else I needed. When I reached New York City, I was wearing a white shirt with purple paisley patterns. I stopped for gas and asked for directions. The burly attendant sneered and pointed, “It’s that way…Sarge.” Graffiti on the overpass greeted me. It said, “Welcome to Hell.”
I was green and 18, but I got along with New Yorkers because I had grown up loving Warner Brothers cartoons and knew how to speak their language. I played in the Village for change. I stayed with the goddess at her parents’ house on Long Island. We made secret appointments for the middle of the night to sneak out of the house and have sex in the back yard. It was furtive, quiet, intense.
We kept in touch by letter through the next couple of years. She came to my wedding. A few years later, she invited me to visit her in Chicago. I knew she was living with her boyfriend, but I knew nothing about him. When I arrived, they were dressed completely in white. She said she had become a Sufi, and wanted me to address her by another name. She droned on and on about purity, and other expressions of exclusivity. Though I had planned to stay for several days, I told her I needed to leave. We rode part of the way back to the airport on the Elevated Train. I told her I was happy she had found a philosophy that sustained her, but that I was most interested in equal compassion toward all without regard to rank. She sighed and said, “You knew I was a snob.” We kissed chastely. I never saw her again.