We had no reason to be friends, this boy Chris and I. He was a jock, a class clown, a guy who drank beer and got Bs, maybe Cs. His friends sat somewhere else in the cafeteria, who knows where. He lived in a modest house with his big family. He could balance a spinning basketball on his finger for forever; the toe of one of his Cons was worn from dragging it every time he made a jumpshot. I was a freak, a smart girl. My family was coming apart. I had been suspended from school twice: once for wearing overalls, once for refusing to salute the flag. For some reason, we started talking on the playground at lunch.
It was springtime, 1971, maybe. I had just turned fifteen, and day after day, this unlikely boy and I would drift towards each other from across the field. He was tall and skinny and wore button-down shirts and jeans. He had wavy hair with bangs that swooped. We were in the ninth grade, and he was the star player on all teams. It was ridiculous: I had no pom-poms; I didn’t even want to wear a skirt. We would talk, I don’t remember about what. All I remember is the sudden, daily slow drift towards him. He was a nice person; he had a rare charm.
Anyway, on this one day, we were standing at the edge of the playground, right by the small school parking lot. I know this because I remember stepping up and down on the curb a few times. It was a Friday, and there were two or three other kids around. They were talking about a party that was happening that night, at someone’s house near the beach. Somehow Chris was standing behind me, his arms around my shoulders. How did that happen? I was not easy with boys. He was funny, though, always kidding everyone about one thing or another, and that kind of boy can touch you and it’s O.K. So he had his arms around my shoulders, and maybe he was swinging me a little, back and forth. He asked me if I wanted to come to the party. I had my own friends, my own things to do on a Friday night. Yes, I said, sure.
I had never before had a powerful experience of karma and attraction like this one, swooping down, or however it works, and just dropping in my hands the person I most needed. I don’t know if I’ve ever quite had such an experience again. This was not someone sent to hurt me. This was not someone sent to teach me what love wasn’t. This was not that; this was a gift. I went to the party. I remember this vividly:
A bunch of kids had walked together to the beach. It was through a small wooded area, and there were still crackly leaves on the ground from winter. Somehow Chris and I got separated from the pack, and we were there, alone. It was night, maybe there was a moon. I had never been in love. I was sad and shy. I was angry. I was looking towards the future like a thirsty person looking towards a well. Chris stood in front of me and took my hand. Then he kissed me. I had kissed two or three boys before, but no one I liked, or who liked me. This is very different: this was about him and me. I felt the tiny patch of stubble on his chin. I hadn’t known it was there, it was so new. And I was surprised by his braces. That was it: one kiss. We walked back to the party in the dark, holding hands. Everything was different, good.
I broke up with him after a few extraordinarily sweet months. I had had to let him go: we were close, sex was inevitable, I was too young, emotionally—I would have been unable to handle it, whatever it was that sex brought with it. He was the real thing, a real person. He was not an experiment.
The time I keep as a jewel in my fading memory, to remind myself of how such great goodness comes when you don’t expect it, is this: I had been away on a weeklong trip with my biology class. On the last day, we were driven back to the school in a big bus. We had suitcases, and sweaters, we were tired, and glad to be free again. I climbed down off the bus and people were being greeted by their parents, their suitcases hoisted into the trunks and backseats of cars. There was no one to meet me. My mom worked; she was busy. And then I saw him, Chris, standing with his bicycle, off to the side. He waved, and smiled. I bumped my suitcase past the others and over to him. Somehow we managed to balance my things on that bike, and me, too, and he rode me home.