This Is Where I Leave You
Because of/For S.N.L.
(Not the show)
I’d like to tell you a story.
It began in middle school. I can remember it more clearly now than before. It’s funny how memories fade away then become clear again. But every once in a while, like once in a blue moon (which happens, you should look into that), the recovered memory eclipses all hopes of what it actually entails. It presents a perfect point in time, one that makes its mark forever entrenched in the pantheon of what makes life worth it, if only because of the knowledge of what comes after.
I’m talking here about love. In fact, my first, and if you’ll believe it, my last love.
Picture it: a small town, kinda sleepy, not too much excitement going on. This is the late 80’s, and we’d all (even here at Madison Middle School) grown a little tired of the NKOTB/acid wash jeans phase. Thank God it’s going the way of the dinosaur. I can remember the first time that something was in the air for me, I barely noticed it. We shared a few classes together, but one in particular stands out. It was my best friend David who saw it, and being the type to be really subtle, quipped “you can pick Gabby up on your bicycle for your date.” What a dick move. He knew I didn’t have a two-seater. See, before then, I was blissfully ignorant to what was taking shape. I was cool. Calm. Collected. My prepubescent self. Not after that. Things got awkward, at least for me, for a short while. Gabs was one to never get rattled about anything. In fact, I think she thought it funny me blushing and shrinking down to the size of a gnome right there in Mr. Smith’s Earth Science class that day.
Gabby. Short for Gabrielle. I don’t have to tell you that she was a vision, but I’m gonna anyway.
She was a vision.
The first thing you notice about her is how well her natural beauty flowed with unique ambiance. Her petite frame was matched by the sweetness of her demeanor. Even back then, when we were yet teenagers, she was observant and reserved. The type of girl who is quiet, but not because of shyness. Not at all. Rather, Gabby watches the room. People. She gets a good grasp of who the person is, and quickly. Don’t get me wrong here, she’s not one to judge. Quite the opposite. In her eyes – and what eyes – brown and soft with a calming kindness – people get a fair shake to show who they are, which especially back then in eighth grade, was always in flux. We all were beginning to forge our identities. But I think – and I doubt she’d disagree here – Gabby arrived there before most. Her voice was as soft and kind as her eyes, but with a little pitch to it. It was a tone that I loved. And her laugh, when she would laugh it was contagious. In was in Gab that I first saw smiling eyes. That what got me. Still does.
And now, Dear Reader, we’re moving the story forward.
Madison had once been the high school, but as the town grew, a bigger high school was built, and the old high school became the junior high. This meant there was a gym there. And in the spring of the year, near the end of the school year, that meant a dance. It was in the fall of the year when I began to notice Gabby more. Being slow to recognize this attraction, it wasn’t until David mentioned to me in the early part of that spring if I’d asked Gabby to the dance that I got into gear. Now, at this point, I’d not even asked for her phone number yet. Yeah, I know. Like I said, slow. So, an entire week passes since David’s suggestion (keep in mind that in this semester Gab and I only have homeroom together, so my time is cut drastically short), and I’m stalling. I need a catalyst here. Here comes another new thing for me, jealousy. Or rather, the potential for jealousy. It occurs to me that if I don’t ask her to the dance, somebody else is sure to. I can’t have that. So, one Friday morning in homeroom (because if she says “yes” or “no” I’ll have the weekend coming up to take it in), I ask. She stares at me – those eyes again – and trying not to laugh at me nearly sweating over here, says “ok.” I can tell you now that I could have scrambled to the rooftop right then and there, and, chest out, shouted my victory for all mankind.
Now comes the hard part.
I haven’t been to her house, met her parents, and vice versa. I suddenly fight a bout of the Doubting Thomas that I might not be as cool at home as I perceive myself to be at school. But, like most insignificant thoughts like these, it doesn’t matter. Her parents, who are divorced like mine, are nice and welcoming when my mom takes me over so they can meet. Turns out she has an older sister who was away at college, and her parents and my mom got along fine. There’s only a couple weeks left until the dance, and they fly by. Then comes the evening of the dance. I’m dressed up in a polo and slacks, Gabby’s got on a light blue dress (she later tells me she picked out that one because it matched my eyes). Her parents drop us off at the gym, and the dance begins. Now, being a teenager, I’ve had a whole lot of time on my hands to never learn how to dance. I’m feeling the pressure of it, which rapidly goes away due to the fact that absolutely no one in the gym learned either. In fact, it’s almost like recess in there, the way everyone is doing. One group over here talking under the raised basketball goal, a click over there laughing and looking around after each laugh. In walks me and Gabs. And right then I feel it. A tiny boom of confidence. She and I are here. She picked me. I picked her. In retrospect, if the entire gym suddenly emptied out right then and there with only us I wouldn’t have noticed. Her warmth sends a good chill over me as she takes my hand at the gym’s entrance and leans in a little closer as we cross the threshold.
The dance goes on without a hitch. We talk to our friends, some of whom seem really surprised to see Gab and I together. I sense a little bit of envy from some of the other couples, and that makes me feel even better. Hey, at least I’m honest here. Sue me. David’s not there, I think his family had something to do that weekend. His dad was a Baptist preacher and had a revival somewhere out of town. The entire time I have this….you know the sense you get before something big happens? Like the top of the Scream Machine at Six Flags? It was a lot like that. The dance goes on. We talk. Look around. Watched the few brave couples who (might) have learned to dance take the floor. Then,, here comes the last few songs of the dance, says the DJ (Mr. Jones who teaches seventh grade math). Now everyone who hasn’t been on the dance floor, which is almost everyone, has to go. It’s mandatory. Gab and I take the floor. On comes Journey’s Faithfully. Right away she places her cheek on my shoulder and pulls me tight to her. This she does for almost the entirety of the song, until right before Steve Perry ooooh-ooooh-oooooooh-ooooh’s the ending of the song. Gab suddenly lifts up her head and stares right into me. I’ll never forget that look. I think we spoke entire tomes in that moment. Or at least what fourteen year olds going on twenty can do. And then, right as time itself stopped, she leaned closer to me and kissed me. Her lips were trembling just a little. I can still remember the sweet taste of the strawberry lip gloss she was wearing. God, I love strawberries. And it was also at that exact moment that I felt a surge go through me. It was electric. I felt like I had woken up from a dream where I never even knew I was asleep.
I felt alive.
See, I told you that was the hard part.
The dance ended and her parents were waiting outside shortly after the lights came on, signaling that it was time to go. The ride home for me is hard to remember anymore. All I can recall is a theme. A feeling of contentment. I had begun. We had begun.
The school year ended and Gab and I spent the entire summer in one another’s company as often as our parents would allow. If we weren’t pestering our parents to let us go to each other’s house (she lived several miles away and across a highway so biking it was out of the question), the movies or the mall, we were talking on the phone. David and I began to drift a little, mainly due to his dad getting a great preaching opportunity in South Florida and them moving there that summer.
Then began high school and nearly everything changed.
I didn’t see Gab very much during our freshman year, though we spent a lot of time talking on the phone those first few weeks. That Christmas of our first year in high school brought a
I’ve got to interject something here.
Dear Reader, I must confess.
I have not been totally forthcoming with you.
In fact, nearly all the events you have just read has happened but in one place: my mind. Matter of fact, every actual event – save David’s input that day – never happened. I don’t know if Gab’s parents are divorced, there was never a spring dance, yet, truth be told (if you’re not thinking “bull” at this point and I still have your attention), Gab was just as wonderful as I described. And there was something there, however small, that I didn’t catch, but David did.
So, what’s the point here? Why would I spend so much time on something that didn’t happen?
I’m writing a history. Or rather, a revisionist history, based upon a moment in time that, when extrapolated, has a great propensity to lead to something wonderful. And therein lies the point. For a whole lotta things. The good things that happen to us in this gift we call life have an endless and limitless positive potential. They are the springboard that we can use to bring about the exact type of content and fulfilling existence that all desire and few find. The key word there is find. You don’t find it. You make it. There’s a lot more to it but at the heart of the matter it is just that simple.
I would feel amiss if I didn’t provide you with something. A modicum of truth to show my solidarity. Plus you’re still with me here, It’d be wrong if I didn’t.
So, here’s the truth.
Hand on the Bible, God’s honest truth.
I didn’t see Gab again for many years. I really didn’t date anybody or chase after anyone. I lived a simple life. Worked hard. Played hard. Laughed probably a lot more than I should. I’ve traveled. Internationally. After high school I earned a few degrees, even tried my hand at medical school. It wasn’t for me. I’ve met loss. Agony. My parents are gone. I never got to say goodbye to either of them. What’s more, things I once thought that were important are slipping away. Note that I said things. Like status. Possessions. Not people. Not memories. Not love. And not the will and determination to be a light. To laugh. To love unconditionally. To be dependable. Loyal.
Those are growing and gaining in strength.
Those last forever.
The tidal wave of social media caused Gab and I to wash up onto one another’s shores. She’s just as lovely as she ever was, if not more so. And those eyes. I’m telling you, those eyes. Her son favors her quite a lot. I’m not sure about before – it’s, as they say, nunya – but she’s not married. At least not anymore. Seeing her does the heart good. It always has. And for no other reason other than just because I choose it as a universal constant, it always will.
I think I’ll write her a note. Reconnect. Perhaps this one you’re reading now. See how that does. Maybe those eyes will smile. And for once, smile for me.
Some people are just worth it.
They’re worth it even if they have yet to have their peace. Laughter. Contentment.
And they’re worth it if they have them, even if it doesn’t include you.
The poet Duran Duran said it best: “I don’t cry for yesterday, there’s an ordinary world. Somehow I have to find.”
So what happens next here?
I’m going to take a chance on forever.
And this, Dear Reader, is where I
A simple re-telling of the age-old tale of young love.