An old friend and dear memory found me online the other day through one of them fancy networking sites the kids are so crazy about these days. Actually, older folks are kind of fond of them too and I would be one of those, with the emphasis on ‘older’ as the finding of me by this friend from years gone did age me a touch.
I’ve been contacted by a lot of past friends and school pals over the last number of months this way and I have to say it is nice to catch up and find out where people are at in their lives and how they’ve achieved or weathered over the years, whatever the case may be. A lot that have found me have just wanted to “check in” after a short recess. Others have used the finding to actually try and do whatever networking is while a good number have expressed relief that I’m still breathing, a feeling that I share by the way.
Most of these are expected and usually come in a flurry after you first succumb to the latest site and get yourself a user name, a password and a few requisite photos to start your “profile.” I’m sure a better word could be found than “profile” as that just inspires images of the authorities poring over your files to see if you fit the crime, but I guess that word is the given jargon and who am I to argue with the semantics of fad?
Occasionally though, in the midst of all the contacting, replying, requesting, silly to moronic in site games and trivia quiz’s, someone does reach you that you’re not prepared for. That’s what happened to me with this old friend and memory I mentioned earlier. My first love. Now we all have our memories of that one, some fond, some not, some indifferent. For some it may not even be the actual first one that is considered to be the beginning of that wonderful, difficult road. Whatever the case, almost 30 years later, my first wanted to know “is this the Steve Frankenberry I knew when I was in 8th grade and he was in 9th?”
The melancholy kicked in almost immediately as I remembered church. Now I don’t usually have melancholic moments recalling being at church. It’s often more in the vein of standing, sitting, kneeling, standing, kneeling, sitting and then nodding while hoping we were going to Rodak’s afterwards for roast beef subs. It’s also remembering priests I wasn’t a fan of or discovering hypocrisy and being taught how to be judgemental and decidedly un-christian far too young.
This though was indeed different as I remembered, instead, the really pretty girl from another school sitting with her big family across the way in the pews to the right of the altar and she had me transfixed. Now keep in mind that at this point in my life, noticing that girls were pretty at all was something that didn’t happen very often. I know it was 9th grade but I guess I was blooming a little late, next Saturdays pitching start was always a bigger concern. But I did notice her and looking at some of the older photos in her “profile” reminded me of that and I was transported back to the butterflies and the first real concerns about how I looked.
She was “The” girl, I thought, and somehow we were able to meet eventually in the flowing out of parishioners to the parking lot where my dad always said you would find the true Christians once they got behind the wheel. That one still makes me smile.
The phone calls followed, lots of them and long ones. I would sit on the stairs to the upstairs of the house, choking the chord on the door that closed them hoping for some privacy. It wasn’t an easy task, as mom, dad and my brother lived up there. For her it was tougher, as there were brothers and sisters everywhere including older ones who wanted the phone for exactly the same reason. But, around that, talking happened, and so much of it. The pressures of the beginning of high school, the trying to fit in, the mundane things we did that day, sharing the things we thought were profound and, of course, the liking of each other. We discussed family and feelings and future. We talked of the differences in our two schools and how much we really wished we were in the same one and didn’t live on opposite sides of the world, as it seemed at times. We set appointments for the next call or even better, a possible meeting depending on whose mom or dad would drive. Of course there was music, always the universal, and what meant something to us or what was just crap. Knowing me, she even once chose to do a report for school on my favorite band at the time, Styx, so she would have a good excuse to come over to my house to “work” on it. Mom’s and dad’s were always very amenable if school work was the “intention.” We took ages to end our phone calls in the silly way we all make fun of now but was hugely meaningful then.
I’m not quite sure if there was any other time for me that was so innocent and revealing. There were inklings of the things we wanted to do but they were kept at bay by just the plain liking and, I guess, at the time, lack of proximity. But the two of us reveled in the simple joy of liking someone that liked us back at the same time. The want to do? It was part of the frightening, frustrating, fantastic, wonderful and painful part of why that time was so special. It was also our only concern. It was a time that is dearly missed because of what we didn’t yet know and that’s the main reason to not want to go back. All you would do is corrupt the memory with the baggage you still lug around whether you want to or not. I was still young enough to believe in the magic in my Terry Brook’s Shannara books and my Mary Stewart Merlin tales. The Pirates would have another world series in them and I still thought I could be a ballplayer on my own merit, never even fathoming that there could be any other way to do it except through hard work. My father hadn’t yet been completely beaten down by his government job for having a heart or been diagnosed with cancer. My marriage hadn’t yet collapsed, collapsing me at the same time. I didn’t have crippling credit card debt or a draconian student loan. I wasn’t yet made to be as cynical and jaded as I am now courtesy of religion and politics, mostly religion. No, all there was at that time were dreams of a limitless future and the anticipation of the next time I would see her, even if it was just in silence across the pews.
We eventually drifted as the distance and the separate schools taught us how life can be unfair. She dated in her school and me in mine and it always seemed that when one of us got back to liking the other, the other was taken. But, as we also learned, unfair doesn’t care.
There were more girls to come, too many to tell you the truth, and some loonier than me, but she was always in the back of my head. I wondered if she had made it and survived because part of me remembers that I worried about her back then. Well she’s done even better than just survive as she’s prospered in 23 years of marriage and motherhood, with an obviously loving guy and 2 teenage daughters that are positively beautiful. Her? She still looks great in the pics I see now, though I’ll always see her face in that halo of pretty feathered hair.
As to the melancholy I mentioned earlier? Don’t let any of this give you the impression of suddenly pining again after 30 years. It’s just melancholy over a very special time in both of our lives that we were able to share, learn and grow from but whose innocence has sadly passed. I’ve always credited my mother and her with my appreciation, respect for and understanding of women (as best as I can ladies, but I’ve always tried sincerely so). I’m also fully aware, like I said earlier, that no time like that can be returned to, nor should be, even if it were possible. She said she remembers the pain that can come with that time as she watches her younger daughter experience it and I’ll get there eventually myself with my Maria’s son I’m sure.
I’m hoping instead that when she first got a chance to see me on the other side of the computer that she felt the same way as I did looking at her. That she felt satisfied to know after all these years that I too had survived and, yes, prospered as well. That she was happy I was able to feel that tingle in the stomach again when I met my Maria because how could I not have with the obvious love that’s spread all over our pictures? That she was pleased that I finally had my own house replete with four-legged furballs and a really cool small human in it?
No, I’m happier than I’ve ever been, just older, and she seems to be in the same boat. Even though some of the aging has come jaded and with a price, a lot of it has been rewarding for just the getting there and using what we’ve learned from our loves to keep going and get stronger. I left a lot of my baggage behind once I met my Maria and she was able to do so as well after meeting me. It makes us lighter and offers comfort, and that, sometimes, is all you need.
I’ve carried the joy and hurt I learned from that special, unique time in my life with me for 30 years and am reminded now that if I hadn’t taken that first welcome step I wouldn’t be able to be as happy as I am now.