When I was the ironically-named “sweet 16,” I had an ill-conceived crush on a pretty read-headed girl. In October of 1979, she moved away, and for reasons that weren’t clear then and aren’t clear now, I was devastated.
Part of it was almost certainly that I romanticized everything. In my mind, and to some degree in my journal, I constantly imagined “if only.” If only we could be together she would see how nice I am. If only she wasn’t moving away I’d have a chance with her. If only I write these emotional letters to her she’ll fall in love with me. If only (and this is the best one) I suffer enough for her, she’ll understand how much I care for her.
On two occasions just before she moved away, I photographed her, once with her hair long, then after she got it cut. She looked great with both haircuts.
There was a going-away party for her on October 27. The party itself wasn’t all that memorable (even though I wrote about it), but I drove her home afterwards. I remember she had on a super-hot pair of high heels. It was an awkward ten minutes, a combination of trying to say the right things while simultaneously concealing my physical attraction.
I drove like an idiot, thinking it would impress her.
Barry Manilow’s Ships came on the radio, and when I tried to change the station, she asked me to leave it on, then sang along with it.
When it was time to let her out at her house, I wanted to say something that would make her stay and talk for a few, but I had nothing.
A couple of nights before she moved away, I called her on the phone. To my surprise, she talked to me. I’d love to forget what was said, but some of it is with me forever. In summary, it was mostly me being broken hearted by her leaving, not, as it should have been, me consoling her.
I called her the next night, too, and again I was self-absorbed and dramatic.
Then she moved away. I began a letter-writing campaign to her that unintentionally alienated and humiliated me. Like the in-person relationship before it, it verged on stalking. Lots of “I miss you.” Really, I barely knew her, so “I miss you” was utter fiction.
A couple of weeks after she moved away, she wrote to me, saying, “The tears are beginning to sting my face.” It was a rare moment of intimacy from her.
She was into about a hundred other guys than me.
Autumn arrived in earnest. Anyone who has ever known a sensitive teen knows that autumn is enough reason on its own to be miserable, depressed, sad, dark. Throw in to that mix the fact that my imaginary girlfriend moved 500 miles away, and I was primed for all the excellent drama you can imagine.
Then came that song. Forever Autumn by Jeff Wayne.
On the surface, it’s kind of a smarmy song, but its lyrics tell the story of lost love and autumn…
“A gentle rain falls softly on my weary eyes
As if to hide a lonely tear
My life will be forever Autumn
Cause you’re not here…”
Then, winter. My journal has less to say about this season, since, as my writing teacher at the time Ruth Dishman said, “Writers often use comedy to conceal pain.” My journal is full of insincerities, all aimed at getting a laugh and whistling past my emotional graveyard.
The girl who moved away was in my thoughts the entire time, and I kept writing her. In her defense, she wrote back, but her letters were shallow and emotionally empty.
I met my first real girlfriend, Tina, that winter. When she missed class for a week, I visited her to discover she’d been in a car crash. I picked windshield glass out of her hair and started to get to know her. The first part of our relationship hinged on my missing the girl who moved away.
I can remember the scene as if it were yesterday. I was wearing a tan winter coat with fake fur lapels, and gloves with a special thin suede for the index fingers. As I was leaving Tina’s house, I put my head on her shoulder for a long time. Finally I said, “What if I never see her again?”
Remembering that winter now, it seems like every day was cloudy and cold. Snow flurries filled the air.
One afternoon Tina and I parted company at the traffic light next to the high school. I held her for a long time in blowing, bone-chilling swirl of snow flurries, then finally turned into the north wind and walked the mile to my house.
I named it The Winter of White Rain.
At home those days I must certainly have seemed like the archetypal sullen teen. I stayed in my room, resisting my parents’ efforts to get me to watch television with them.
There were certainly tears. Genuine. Private.
I survived The Winter of White Rain. Despite my affections for the girl who moved away, Tina remained by my side, and by March 1979, we were an item.
By spring, I heard that the girl who moved away was in town. I couldn’t wait to see her, put my arms around her, tell her how much I missed her and was thinking about her all the time. She didn’t make any time to see me at all, and I did not lay eyes on her then.
There would be other chances to see her and her awkward, non-verbal way of keeping me at a physical and emotional distance.
A year later, at the end of our senior year, I saw her again. Her life had changed quite profoundly, and as we sat together on her mom’s couch, we had nothing to say to each other. She wouldn’t even make eye contact with me.
I thought of all this recently because of the weather, with a cold north wind, and a trace of sleet and snow falling. Nothing in my heart in 1979 dug deeper into my soul than those snow flurries falling on my lonely shoulders.