At long last the day has arrived. The out of office messages have been set, the dogs have been dropped at the dog sitter’s, the car is packed and we are headed North. Like the photo in the header, we will be at the lake. Unlike the photo, there will not be mountains.
About that banner picture; it’s the original Mr. 20 Prospect diving into a Lake near Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany during his Air Force days in the 50’s. I love the form of his dive. He should have been a competitive swimmer, or diver. He just loved the water. Most of the photos and home movies we have of him from his days before the family show him swimming, or horsing around with his buddies at one swimming hole or another. I think he would have loved our little “Adirondack Great Camp” here in the U.P., nothing but lakes and woods for miles around. If all goes well we might even see the Aurora, or hear the howl of the wolves from the nearby Sylvania Wilderness area. Not quite the vacation the Go-Go’s had in mind.
Sorry, I’m sure that song will be stuck in your head all day now. I know I have been humming it since I got up this morning. It’s funny, but that song is one of the ones that transports me back to those awkward teenage years. It was the fall of 1983, and I was in my Sophomore year at N.D. still waiting for that elusive first high school romance. I never would have suspected where it would be found.
By now you must know that I never do anything the easy way. Sure, I could have met a girl from Notre Dame, but that would have required planning and actually talking with a girl. Instead, the way it unfolded was shear dumb luck. It was the last Saturday in October, and I was getting together with my good friends Chris and Dan, and some other guys to go out on the town. Being Halloween weekend, there were bars of soap involved, and much macho talk about causing mischief. Looking back though, I think we would have run screaming if anything even remotely dangerous, or mischievous were to occur. Our cohort had yet to discover the wonders of alcohol, or the opposite sex for that matter. Hard to believe there ever was a time of such innocence.
We were meeting up at Chris’ house on Ross Street to begin our evening of aimless wandering. I forget what alibi we used. Probably Pizza at Pontillo’s or a movie, the only 2 things there were to do for 15 year olds in Batavia. As I arrived I was surprised, and a bit flummoxed by the presence of girls in Chris’ house. Now I am not referring to Chris’ sisters, who by this point in life were like extended family to me. They were always around. No, this eventful evening his sister Kate was having a slumber party with some of her freshman friends from BHS. So the presence of 4-5 freshman girls, dressed up like the Go-Go’s for Halloween was a pleasant surprise. If I’d have known that they would be there, I am sure I would have been nervous and shy, but for whatever reason, perhaps the thrill of Halloween, I felt comfortable enough to actually talk with them as we waited for the other guys to show up.
By the time we left to wander the streets of Batavia like the droogs of “Clockwork Orange”, (minus the fake eyelashes and derbies) soaping windows, and throwing eggs were the farthest thing from my mind. All I knew was that I wanted our evening to end quickly so we could get back to Chris’ and talk with the girls. In fact, looking back now, I cannot remember what we even did that evening, other than scaring ourselves half to death by walking down Harvester Ave. towards the cemetery, and scribbling with soap on the filthy windows of the old Massey-Harris factory. Butler’s Rangers we were not.
When we did return to Chris’ afterward, we started chatting and talking with the Go-Go’s. It wasn’t long before my attention was devoted to one in particular. A blonde girl with a cherubic face, and two of the cutest dimples I ever saw in my life. Her name was Jennifer, and she was one of the “quiet” ones, so naturally we had that in common. The evening progressed, and as 11 o’clock approached, Chris’ Mom left for her night shift at the hospital, and his Dad turned in to bed. Since we didn’t want to stop talking, Chris invited me to stay over, which was what I did about roughly 50% of the Saturday nights between 4th and 11th grade anyway.
Looking back now, it seems like a very obvious no-no, but at that young innocent stage in our lives we couldn’t for the life of us see that “this wouldn’t look good when Mom found out.” No, our intentions were as pure as the driven snow, and I can swear to you that all we did was sit around, listen to cheesy 80’s music (back before we knew it was cheesy) and engage in “bogus rap” (as we called flirting at the time). It was the night of daylight savings time, and we were even blessed to have an extra hour of internecine conversation before we finally went to sleep.
Well, it doesn’t take an advanced degree in psychology to see that when Chris’ Mom came home the next morning, and found us all asleep in sleeping bags on the living room floor, the S-H-!-T hit the F-A-N. I think Chris and Kate both ended up grounded. I know their Mom made a point of calling the Moms of all the girls to tell them what had happened, so that they knew. For whatever reason, she never called my Mom, probably surmising (correctly) that the 20 Prospect clan was barely above trailer trash on the social scale, and pretty much irredeemable. 😉
But the night was not a total loss, because before I left that morning, as we stood in the hallway gazing longingly into each other’s eyes, Jennifer pressed a folded up piece of paper in my hand with her phone number. For all the world I felt like Rick and Ilsa on the tarmac in Casablanca. I was lost in a reverie for the next few days, as I floated around the house swooning over those big brown eyes, and those cherubic dimpled cheeks. Suddenly all those sappy love songs on the radio made sense. Why, they almost seemed as if they were written specifically for me! How could Journey know what was written in my heart?
It was the last week of the football season, and after a full season of practicing with the varsity, and playing in the JV games, my body was in pretty rough shape. Each night I came home from practice limping on sprained ankles, with the cuts and bruises of the last 3 months up and down my arms, but I was so deeply smitten I hardly felt the pain. On Tuesday, I mustered up enough courage to call her. We talked in one of those awkward teen conversations that we had back when our only phones were attached to a long cord in the kitchen. In the background I could hear her older brother and sister teasing her about getting a call from “some Notre Dame boy”. (What we wouldn’t have given for a cell phone or text messaging in those days!) Our conversation was short, and stilted, but I chalked it up to her shyness, and obvious embarrassment about her siblings teasing her. I asked her out for Friday night, and told her I would call her back on Thursday to arrange the time and place. (This was before I was old enough to drive a car, and she lived 5 miles outside of town.)
The next day we played our last JV game at Barker, and I scored a touchdown late in our victory. In my mind I dedicated it to her, and I spent the whole bus ride home talking about her to my good friend Jimmy. Later that night, still beaming with pride over my touchdown, I gave her a call to arrange our date. My palms were sweaty, and my heart was pounding as I waited for her to answer. When she did I was relieved to hear it was quiet in the background. I tried to start out with some small talk, asking her about her day, hoping she would ask me about my game so that I could impress her with my touchdown. But her responses were short, and cold. I changed the subject and tried to get to the point, but when I asked her what time I should pick her up, she answered with a long silence. I felt a chill run down my back, and then she said it. “I changed my mind. I don’t want to go out with you.”
It wasn’t the first time I had been dumped by a girl, nor would it be the last, but it sure was one of the most unexpected. I felt the wind rush out of me as if someone had just put their helmet down and speared me in the gut. I stammered, and asked her for an explanation. Surely she didn’t mean she wouldn’t go out with me. Maybe it was just a poor choice of words for explaining that she had the flu or something. My questions were met with nothing but silence. Finally, she said, it would be a good idea if I didn’t call her anymore.
I don’t think a knife in the heart would have hurt me as much as those words did that night. Adolescence truly is a horrible thing, God’s punishment for crimes we have yet to commit. After we had hung up, I went up to my room, turned off the lights, and turned on the radio. I lay there for hours in the dark listening to all those same songs about love, that only days earlier had seemed to be written about us. Only now they were heart rending odes to breakups, and heart ache. I still don’t think I can hear “Total Eclipse of the Heart” today without wincing.
Oh love is a funny, funny thing. In the grand scheme of life this was just a little momentary blip. But it taught me some important lessons, and made me even doubly cautious about ever telling a girl that I liked her. From that day forward my approach would be to befriend girls, and wait… and wait… and wait… before asking them out. Until by that point I had long ceased to be a source of mystery but had become one of those comfortable old sweatshirts that were nice to have, but not anything you wanted to wear out in public. By then the response was always the same, to the point at which I could almost recite it before they did.
Well, for a teenage boy there may be no crueler words in the English language. No girl ever wanted to be James Dean’s friend, or Rudolph Valentino’s. No girl ever threw their underpants onstage at a rock concert hoping to be friends with the lead singer. No, I was cursed to be the one thing that may as well have been the mark of leprosy for a teenage boy. I was a nice guy.
The funny part is that we would eventually date each other. Years later, when I was in college, we ran into each other out of the blue and we struck up a relationship. We went out a few times over break, and sent each other a few letters, but by then the moment was long since passed. It fizzled before it ever started, and no breakup phone call was ever needed, which was fine by me. The only thing a nice guy fears more than being dumped, is having to dump someone else.