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Sunspheres and Wishing Stars

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In 1984, my parents were on the road and I stayed the summer and six weeks of school with a friend and her family. One afternoon we were cleaning her room listening to Air Supply and I happened to pick up a photo album. As I glanced through the pages, I stopped on a photograph of a young man in a red polo shirt, mirrored Ray Ban sunglasses, leaning against a railing in front of the Sunsphere in Knoxville, TN. After taking it all in I asked, “Who is this?”

My friend gave his name in her southern drawl.

“Is he in our class?” I pursued.

“No. He’s a year ahead.”

“I should meet him.”

That picture was part of my memory and I recall it so many times still to this day.

The rule at our house was girls didn’t call boys.

High School was starting and I had no idea what time I was supposed to meet my bus. My mom said to call my friend who was a year ahead. She only knew who was driving the bus–she uttered the same name my friend mentioned a few months before. I got the bus driver’s number and reported back to my mom.

I told my mom, who said I should probably call the bus driver and find out what time I was to be at the bus stop.

I called and after getting the time to meet at my stop, he and I talked far longer than my ten minutes time limit. While I dreaded the hour and twenty-minute ride to school, the bus driver had me looking forward to it.

I remember watching him in the mirror as we drove the bus over the mountain on the winding roads. His blue eyes sometimes looked up and I wanted to believe they were looking at me. If, instead, a teacher was driving, I would wish on every star in that morning sky all the way to his house that he would be riding the bus. If he was, he would sit in the front section and I could still catch a glimpse of him in the mirror.

If he wasn’t on the bus, disappointment would set in because it was going to be a long bus ride. I’d day-dream, hoping I would see him at school–but our schedules seldom had us passing one another or eating lunch at the same time.

The following year, tenth grade, I discovered school breakfast and I loved the mornings that started with him sitting at my table. Sausage biscuits still make my heart remember those mornings in the cafeteria, overlooking the football field and the scenic rolling hills in the background.

It was also the year that he drover a girl a year younger than me home from school and I came to know jealousy! I so wanted him to ask to take me home. I had even predetermined that I would take my chances with getting into trouble with my parents, who said, “absolutely NO riding to or from school with anyone”–but if he were to ask, I was saying YES!

I had nothing to worry about. It didn’t happen.

One day, while at my locker, between classes, he came up, with his class ring, unwinding pink yarn from it. The purple stone in its center matched his purple polo shirt that complemented his Member’s Only jacket. He said, “I think she likes pink!” My heart raced. I wanted that ring with the purple stone to wear.

I was crazy about him.

I got caught in math class with a “love is….reaching out to someone” picture he drew and gave me. Naked cartoon characters didn’t go over so well with the teacher and I lost the only note he’d given me.

He came up to my house…he’d hike the driveway and as soon as he was visible at the curve in our front yard, my sister would holler, “Here comes Lard Bucket”. I know he heard. I was mortified, but he said nothing.  I was content just sitting next to him.  During one visit Billy Ocean’s Loverboy played in the background and he sang it to me.

That winter was harsh. The snow just kept falling, the temperature dipping and my parents out-of-town. We had responsibilities of animals–horses, goats and chickens. Being a “City Girl”, my siblings and I had no idea how to get off the foot bridge and over the barn to feed the animals–our horses were cold and hungry and would rear up and act like they were going to trample us. I called this boy and asked for help by the third day of a stand-off between kids and beasts.

He came up with his cousin. By now we were walking through snow up to our waists. I tried to stay in his footsteps as we traversed along the trail–his feed larger than mine kept my feet drier, but his stride was longer than mine.

He’d come up several times–enough that his dad commented he was suspicious when the boy would leave and go towards town and a few moments later, be headed up the creek!

Then my life turned upside down.  It was March 1985. My parents had fought all weekend.

I wore a neon green sweatshirt, and my friend Melissa, commented on my eye shadow matching. I think it was more a reflection than a true match, but it was the 1980s and I took the compliment.

I remember riding the bus home that day. It was somber because I knew when I got home I was going to leave for the airport with my mom to live with my dad. This life, here, was coming to an end. In a rare moment, he rode the bus home too. He sat next to me for the first time. We sat on the right side, second seat back. There were no words exchanged. He just reached over and held my hand all the way to his stop.

My mom drove me to the airport that evening and as we passed his house, he was getting into his 1968 Super Sport Chevy Chevelle. I cried and screamed at my mom, “I hate you! I don’t want to leave him!”

She tried to bribe me by saying she would stop.  She said I didn’t have to go to the airport; we could stop if I wanted to tell you good-bye. I told her, “He’s going to 4-H, that’s important to him.” and I had a plane to catch.

Looking back, I wish I would have stopped.

I wrote him often. I called him on weekends I remember his dad said I was like clockwork because if I said I was calling at 7pm, it was 7pm! It was a time when phone calls were billed by the minute and there were many months, my paychecks went to pay that phone bill.

Eight weeks later, it was my birthday and timed perfectly, I opened my mailbox to find an envelope to me from him. He had sent me a birthday card his printed handwriting it read, “Is this what you wanted?” referring to the reply that I am confident I relentlessly begged him to send me.

A summer between that March and my graduating I went back home. I stopped by his house. He took me to his room. My heart was racing–my feelings seemed only to have intensified with the distance.  I remember his room being so orderly. He stood in front of the closet, where he took down an orange shoe box that contained every letter I had written him. There was a silly book of poems I wrote him–complete with illustrations. It was perhaps the most romantic gesture I’ve ever encountered. A teenage boy who kept hoards of letter from an infatuated girl.

By chance, while driving around, I stopped on the bypass at the burger doodle and he was there. We played some arcade game–I don’t recall the name because I was so focused on him…being with him.

I loved that summer.

I went back to Utah and he stayed in the Carolinas. It was difficult all over again, saying goodbye.

My dad had left me in Utah to live in North Carolina and in a conversation that I have no idea how it came to be, he said he had met this boy at the Starlight. I remember blushing and telling my dad, “I am so infatuated with that boy!” He smiled and said, “I thought he was a fine young man.”

I graduated and I moved to Florida…the letters and phone calls from me to him continued.

That Christmas I flew home and he picked me up at the airport in his dad’s little Ford truck–the one with the side dented and scuffed from a trip to my house one evening when we both were in High School. I was so nervous on the plane, but seeing him waiting for me, was comforting. I told my mom I loved him. That when I was around him my tummy had butterflies and I felt safe, peaceful, and my soul filled with joy. I listened to her and regret that I believed her–that you hadn’t really ever told me you liked me so you weren’t interested.

Somewhere in the next year, I gave up writing letters to him and finding my own mailbox echoing in emptiness. I gave up on waiting on the weekends for the time difference to catch up with his being awake so I could call him and hear his voice, knowing my phone would never ring and be  him.

We lost touch…

I got married…

Three months after my wedding, I opened my mailbox and there was a letter from him. When I opened the envelope and saw it was more than half a page, I put it down. My hands were trembling. He had even enclosed a photo–tears flowed down my cheeks. I remember reading that letter–My heart was heavy and I felt the world should end. He was in the Air Force in Germany. The letter spews all the words I had waited so long to hear from him. How he loved me, that he regretted not doing more. I cried for days. I called my mom just sobbing telling her I had made a huge mistake.

In 1994, my boys and I were in town and I saw him sitting on the front porch in front of his house. I pulled into his driveway. I shared my beautiful boys with him and he told me he was getting married in December. I smiled and congratulated him. I was happy for him, but it didn’t stop the tears from coming and continuing all the way home.

Through the years, we talked in email, sending each other pictures of our children. We each had two boys. Our lives were different and still there was a friendship that ran deep.

My mom would tell me when she saw him. I had so many questions for her when this came to be the topic of our conversation.

Decades later, his sister found me on Facebook. We connected and then on my birthday, she shared pictures of him dressed up with his wife. His life looked good; he looked happy.

It’s been 30 years since I left home. He’s popped up in a few of my dreams. My life has been filled with joy and many celebrations. Sometimes, I find myself pausing to think about him. When sadness has consumed me, I often find myself looking back to that day in March on the bus ride home and find peace and comfort.

I should have taken chances. I should have followed my heart. I should have challenged perhaps the rules of my home where girls were to be pursued by the boy, that we didn’t share feelings. Even wishing on all the stars through these years, I know I can never have a “do-over”.

First loves are those we carry with us. The one we never forget. They set the bar for the feelings that we seek.

This post is dedicated to my children–some who have experienced the break up of a first love and some who are still too young to know about it. Life takes us on many paths, and I am grateful for those who have loved me, in their own way, along the way.

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