But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
She came up behind me and put her hand on my arm. The shock almost launched me clean off the swiveling studio chair. With the headphones on and the studio door closed I didn’t hear her come in, and I always kept the radio station doors locked on Saturday mornings.
I’d just done the top-of-the-hour news recap and the station call sign, and she was wearing a cream-colored skirt, dark blouse, and a matching cream jacket with shoulder pads that Troy Aikman would have been proud of. It took me a solid three count with my jaw hanging open to figure out that church had just ended and she had come in on her way back to the cafeteria for lunch.
“I didn’t mean to startle you, I thought you heard the outside door close when I came in.”
It was a logical assumption, the self-closing mechanism on the heavy steel door caused a crash that sounded like a truck accident rattling the building when left to its own devices. But between the sound-proof studio and the headphones playing back my own broadcast, I probably could have been oblivious to a nuclear strike atomizing the parking lot behind the station.
I smiled with a mix of embarrassment that I’d been so caught off guard and confusion that she was standing in front of me, “Actually, with the headphones, I don’t really hear anything but my voice and the music when I fade in the next track. It’s no big deal, I didn’t scream over the air, that’s probably all that matters.” She smiled at my joke, and my heart lit up as a sparkle touched her deep blue eyes. “You look great, did Church just end?” I asked, trying to sort out why she was standing there.
It was her turn to be slightly embarrassed yet obviously pleased by the compliment, “Yeah, we got out a few minutes early. I saw Jamie carrying a tray here from the caf’ and I thought your shift might be almost over. I followed him in to ask you if you were coming to lunch? My parents came up to see me sing Special Music today…”
My confusion took over. Not only was I surprised that she was thinking about my lunch plans, I couldn’t connect the dots on what she was actually asking. In the just-over-two-years we’d known each other, I don’t think we’d had more than five long conversations. Sure, we were in almost every class together for the last two years, but that was true of dozens of classmates.
Our deepest shared history had been as Freshmen in Home-Economics, I was crap at sewing, and she could’t cook to save her life, so we had made a deal to swap projects on the (unsupervised) final; I mixed and poured her cake (even though I’m a crap baker) and she sewed the elastic trim on the bottom, neck and cuffs of my sweatshirt. “Her” cake got an A, “my” sweatshirt got a C. Admittedly the sweatshirt had started on a bad footing and I was just glad to get a passing grade at all. Combined with my A work in the kitchen I finished the class with a B+ and, based on her surprising turnaround on the final, she escaped with an overall B as well.
We never felt bad about the “cheating” as the most economical way to run a home is to do what you do well and let your partner do the things that they do well…and find a balance in the middle. Which was a better lesson to learn than to prove that I couldn’t make my own clothes or that she couldn’t find the balance between salty goo and a blackened sugar brick.
“I…uh…I still have several spots to produce before I go, and I’m not exactly dressed for lunch.” Which was true, I’d been on air since 6:00 am, I’d just thrown on what I usually wore for my early morning weekend shifts, a pair of jeans and a tee-shirt. Not exactly what you’d wear to join someone’s parent’s for lunch; boarding school cafeteria food or otherwise. “And, I have a…personal…project to finish today too.”
Her eyes followed mine to the stack of CDs with the blank DAT tape and the two Maxell 90 Minute Cassettes still wrapped in plastic sitting on top. The artists and albums made their purpose perfectly clear; Peter Cetera, Richard Marx, Bryon Adams, Whitney Huston, The Police, Aerosmith, Bruce Hornsby and the Range, Howard Jones…it wasn’t a comprehensive collection of love songs, but all together and in the possession of a high school Junior in 1992, it positively screamed mix-tape for a girlfriend.
“Emily heard a rumor that you had a girlfriend who lives in California…”
Being a small boarding school in the middle of nowhere, I already knew that everybody’s business was everybody else’s business about ten seconds BEFORE that business actually happened. As my relationship began almost a month ago and was hardly a secret, in my confusion I assumed that she was bringing up old news for the sake of having a topic of conversation to avoid an uncomfortable silence.
“Yeah, we met at Michelle’s birthday party. They’ve been best friends since grade school. She lives down near Sacramento.”
Her eyes went downcast, and I wondered if she’d been sent by one of our classmates to sound out the truth of the rumor. In our social group (by which I mean the entire student body of our small high school) long-distance relationships were nearly unheard of, bordering on mythical, like unicorns or frogs that turn into princes. We’d all heard stories of couples from different academies finding true love and joining each other at Walla Walla or Andrews, and anything that sounded even remotely like the fairy-tale was scrutinized and rehashed ad nauseum.
I’d already retold this story two dozen times just this week, and only a combination of Michelle’s eye-witness account and the letter’s I’d already received and mailed from the school business office actually satisfied some of the unbelievers. I decided that must be what this was…another validation mission…like someone hoping to find a dancing bear at a circus.
Her eyes came back up to mine, filled with a question that was touched by something near pleading. “Wouldn’t it be easier if you had a girlfriend who was here at Gem State?” The urgent tone of her voice wasn’t that of someone idly asking for a friend, “Someone you could see every day? Someone you could sit next to in the caf’, and walk to classes with?”
My confusion dropped like a rock. Until that instant it had never occurred to me that I could be anything more than just a goofy classmates to her. I’d already had a couple of (relatively brief) girlfriends, and while I was no ladies man, I wasn’t an idiot either; I was well over the “accept or reject” line and I hadn’t seen this train going this direction until it was already at full steam and completely out of control.
This was exactly what Heather had been afraid of, that once she went home some other girl would swoop in and steal me away. It’s very easy to send a break-up letter when letters and phone calls are all you have. I looked at her for a long time, and I thought hard about what she was asking; about what she was offering. In less than a month I had already spent dozens of hours on the phone with Heather, and I was already finding it…unsatisfying. But I also knew it wasn’t Heather I was dissatisfied with.
“It would be a lot easier, and there are a couple of girls here that I’ve always liked,” I smiled and gave a half nod/half shrug in her direction, “but I promised her I’d be faithful while we are apart. I’d love to have a girlfriend I could see every day…but being a boyfriend who keeps his promises is more important.”
Her eyes went back to the floor again, and I was afraid I’d hurt her feelings. She stood there thinking for a long time, and I was terrified that I would be responsible for upsetting her right before she had lunch with her parents.
When she finally looked back up at me her expression was thoughtful instead of upset. “You’re a really decent guy Nick, it’s one of the things I like most about you.”
Relief flowed through me, I felt that somehow I’d found the right answer to the question, that I’d passed a test I didn’t know I was taking.
“Your song is ending,” she said.
I didn’t understand the metaphor. My face was obviously puzzled. She smiled again and gestured past me to the control board, “your song is ending.”
Recognition dawned and I spun back to the microphone and scrambled to get the headphones over my ears. I gave an outro, referenced the time, and then signed off for the day while introducing the next couple of songs. On air for less than sixty seconds.
When I clicked off the microphone and turned around in my chair, I was alone again in the studio.
[Word Count: 1544]
[<- Line 9]|[Line 11 ->]
Such a good description: a matching cream jacket with shoulder pads that Troy Aikman would have been proud of.
It was 1992, shoulder pads were BIG in 1992. And I’m not talking about football. Other popular fashion elements included radar bangs and floral prints in tapestry and cabbage roses.
Come to think of it, I’ll bet radar bangs had a serious impact on the environment…the amount of CFC Hairspray used to get those curls up probably raised sea levels by a solid inch.
I was only 8 in 1992, but I rocked a side ponytail like nobody’s business!
What throws me about that, is that while I was figuring out relationship complications, you were figuring out the basics of multiplication. I would have killed for some flashcards or speed drills to learn what I was learning like you were learning what you were learning.
I killed at multiplication tables! I was the third student in my school to pass the Principal’s times table test!
But if it makes you feel better, I still haven’t worked out the relationship stuff and I probably should have at least ten years ago.
Oh honey, I don’t know anyone that’s worked out the relationship stuff at 25, or 35…or even 75. We’re all just lucky to find someone who wants to work on it with us.
ok, well, then I haven’t found someone who wants to work on it with me- does that help? haha
Patience Grasshopper, you’re time will come. I know that sounds dumb, but I’m 100% sure a relationship co-conspirator will show up soon.
I’m amazed at what you can do with what was most likely a 10 minute or less encounter.
Thank you, I’ve worked this post over multiple times as I try to get the right mix of brevity and detail. Based on the length of the Michael W Smith song playing at the time (which I can still remember 18 years later) the whole episode was less than four minutes. Half of that was thoughtful silence as one of us tried to think of how to say what we were going to say next.
I almost started this post with the entire
Walt WhitmanRobert Frost poem about two paths diverging in a forest…
Life is composed of a few moments where everything hangs in the balance set against long stretches of the outcomes of those moments.
Had I decided differently in that moment, had I decided to listen to CDs with her instead of making a mix tape for Heather, my life would have been profoundly different. I married Heather after three years of dating. We were married for eleven years and had two children together, one who lived for just seven long days and one who is still the delight of my life.
I know I wouldn’t have ultimately married this girl; she wanted a boyfriend, not a mate. She was busy living her life, not longing for a different one. That difference sounds simple, but it would have utterly change my life and who I am today.
I’m not saying I wish I had chosen differently, but identifying those moments can be both terrible and satisfying at the same time.
And I don’t think I could have lived without “To Be With You” by Mr. Big on a mixed tape in 1992.
Ah, Mr. Big. Man does that bring back memories.
The artist/song selection was geared at Heather specifically. I would have added stuff by Bon Jovi, Poison, White Snake, Guns ‘n Roses, Def Leopard, Modern English, Love and Rockets, Enigma, etc…
…but Heather was more of an Amy Grant, Whitney Huston, Peter Cetera/Chicago, Richard Marx, Joshua Kaddison, Bryan Adams kind of girl. And Disney love songs. “Whole New World” from Aladdin, “Something There That Wasn’t There Before” (or whatever it was called) from Beauty and the Beast…that kind of stuff. Actually, it might be meaningful that her favorite movies as a teenager were animated Disney flicks. Oh, who am I kidding, her favorite movies NOW are animated Disney flicks.
Crafting a mix tape for your intended audience was a tricky thing, every song’s lyrics had to be “just right” after all. I shudder to think how many hours I spent doing that. My advantage was that I had access to a state of the art production studio with DAT machines, a multi-line mixing console, Denon Pro CD players, Sennheiser headphones, an awsome microphone, and a soundproof room. I would write out what I was going to say, intro the songs, extol my love between tracks, the whole 9 yards.
It amazes me that the same thing can be accomplished today by a kid with iTunes in about one one-hundredth of the time.
The poem is by Robert Frost, not Walt Whitman. Just fyi.
Oops, my bad. I should have just said “poem by dead New England poet” and played it safe…
Pbbt! It’s one of my favorites. But maybe it stuck with me for so long because it mentions a forest in winter…
OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD..I substituted one dead New England poet for another dead New England poet. Yes I screwed up, yes I named the wrong one, yes I’m embarrassed…mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
My original response was deemed either angry or…well, angry. So I have struck it but not deleted it to illustrate a point. OS was teasing me because she knew I would be horrified that I confused two very well known poets and I took it as good natured teasing. I responded to her textual raspberry (“Pbbt”) with an equally silly response. At no time was I either angry or offended that she called me on my mistake. I make mistakes. Frequently. I have no problem copping to them when they’re pointed out.
Apparently I should have closed my original comment with a smiley face.
Next Line Please! Nudge, Nudge
SURE…you’re just trying to distract me from my NaNoWriMo word count so you can keep your lead…
haha, my lead??? I haven’t written in days much less checked everyone else’s progress!
You’re currently ahead of me, but I haven’t updated my word count in almost a week. I’ll defeat you yet!!! (Wait, what? It’s not a competition? Oh…)
If you’re not nano’ing, you should be writing here. Or, I’ll tell on you and spill all your secrets! 😉
Great writing, Bad Pants Man. Love the ease of your words.
Well, thank you very much! Welcome to my little slice of the inter-webs.
I miss your blog.
That’s what all of my regular readers have been saying…
The comments are as awesome as the posting!
I am profoundly proud of the comments. I really do like to think of this as more of a coffee-house discussion than a collection of dictated musings. Honestly, it’s the readers and the friends I’ve made here that keep me coming back.
I need to check this more often (in all my “copious” spare time – Ha!).
If the last six weeks are any indication, you’re timing is fine.
Anyway, this anecdote is amazing! It reminds me of a moment I had in my life that was kind of similar where if I had gone another way, everything would have been completely different – and I am endlessly grateful that I chose the way I chose because that was the beginning of the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me (namely my husband). Your post was extremely well done and it definitely pulled on the emotions and memories that I had – I can so relate!
It’s one of those memories that I don’t dwell on because it’s rife with potential for self-doubt and second-guessing and regrets…and down that path lies madness. But it’s good to identify those times and places where everything hung in the balance, even when it was just for three-and-a-half minutes. Life is composed of crucial moments, and a lot of filler in between them.
Your writing is awesome!
Thanks! I’ve been having days where I REALLY wasn’t feeling all that hot about the words that were managing to escape into the wild, so a little bit of encouragement goes a LONG way.
It’s december 4th- so NANO cannot be used as an excuse for not posting any more. I’m just saying…
Yeah, yeah…it’s not NaNoWriMo right now…just this sort of writer’s block that’s made out of a combination of crippling self-doubt and way too much “real work” needing my attention.
My NANO was an EPIC FAIL! I just kinda forgot to write. It wasn’t really a determined decision to quit or anything, the words just didn’t seem to want to come.
My NaNoWriMo kind of collapsed like an ugly souffle. It started out GREAT but then just fell in on itself during week two and never really recovered. Oh well, there’s always next year.