They’d been invisible before. Girls, I mean. Then something out of this world happened.
I began to notice them.
Aliens from another planet, yes, but charming ones previously distinguished only by dress and laughable athletic ability.
Now — not until now — did we all see each other for the first time, them and us.
We’d been told this might happen and viewed TV programs in which the strange awareness descended, like fairy dust, upon fictional young men. The event itself, however, existed somewhere in an absurd and distant future beyond contemplation.
All the pedestrian maidens became beguiling at once. They possessed an unfamiliar, magnetic quality absent the day before. Their presence mattered.
I can pinpoint the moment the world changed for me. It occurred in fifth grade at Minnie Mars Jamieson School, a bizarre name even in the ’50s.
Many of our teachers, antique past imagining and unmarried, betrayed no hint of sexuality. Curious, I asked my father how I came to be.
I planted the seed.
That’s a quote.
My brain buzzed. Dad’s farming background must have been a family secret.
The beginning of a real answer arrived in class when I discovered my eyes drawn to legs. Not any pair of lower limbs, but the appendages of Sharon M.
A day earlier I held an attitude of indifference to their attachment to a female body. They helped those creatures move, nothing more. The skirt-covered supports propped them up and hung down under their chairs as a necessary accessory for their feet, I supposed, if I considered the question at all.
Legs now sent other signals. Moreover, to my astonishment, I managed to decode the message without a magical incantation or a foreign language translator.
Sharon presented me with other fresh features if you count a cheeky gleam to which I was now awake. Nature endowed her with wavy, thick brown hair, an all-season, creamy almond complexion, and symmetrical, softly pleasing facial turns and twinkles that distinguished her from her friends.
When I looked (and I spent more time looking), my eyes perceived colors not present in the muddy, gray, khaki world of boys.
Sherry, a nickname she preferred, brought me turquoise, baby blue, and bisque. The angular, rectangled, straight-lined male domain remained arid, sandpapered, and dusty in contrast.
How did I come to understand she also fancied me? Were notes passed in the classroom? Did one of her buddies whisper, “Sharon likes you?” In any case, we recognized we wanted to connect.
My girlfriend told jokes, too. She delivered the first at a party thrown by Mary Lynn D. Soon enough we began a kissing game called “Spin the Bottle.”
I’m told this entertainment has lost favor since the ’80s, so here are a few details. All the players sat around in a circle. When your turn came, a soft drink bottle placed in the middle of the ring was spun until it pointed to a lass.
The two of you went into something approximating an oversized closet or spare room to kiss. Sherry tried to create the mood once we got there:
Gerry, do you know the most beautiful girl in the world is deaf?
What did you say?
I believe Sherry took the lead in much of our time “going steady.”
One afternoon we went to a movie together, chaperoned by my mother, who sat a small distance away. Friendly fingers soon encroached upon my head and ran themselves through my hair. Yes, I once own hair rated first-class, may each strand rest in peace.
After the date ended, mom made some comment to me about Sharon and her “aggressiveness.”
Another time I went to my girlfriend’s house to receive dancing instructions from her and, rather more, from her older sister.
I’d guess Sherry soaked up whatever she grasped about dating etiquette from watching this sibling entertain young men in the family living room.
Just a hunch.
My female-preoccupied interest hibernated for a few years, something Freud called the latency period, in which you are believed to forget any suggestion of being a sexual being. Some guys are so skilled at the misremembering process they begin to behave like they arose from chickens, hatched from an egg.
Fast forward to the last couple of years at Mather High School. Now, these mating matters become significant.
Friends brave enough asked each other how to talk to the fair sex. The blind leading the blind.
We also discussed sign language. How did a dating newbie detect a 16 or 17-year old’s interest? I realized later your pursuit of someone on the distaff team was often sufficient to direct her surveillance your way.
The girls, many of them, marked the time, eyeballing their land-line residential telephones, waiting, wishing, and hoping for them to ring. When they didn’t, the young women wondered, “What’s wrong with me?”
They disclosed their covert shame years later, long after graduation.
All genders carried invisible membership cards in a secret society of hidden insecurities. We suppressed the self-doubts so well, each of us had no idea we belonged to the same club or that such a clique bound us together.
Personal uncertainty was evident on the occasion of my first call for a date.
The sole family phone resided in our kitchen. In the sixties, at least in my working-class neighborhood, two phones would have been an uncommon luxury. No internet nor iPhone yet existed, and my across-the-alley neighbor Jerry and I had long since abandoned two-tin-cans and a long string to communicate.
I wanted to launch into the dating pool after school. My target, the tall, slender, blond CB, would be home. An exceptional student, I figured she’d be studying.
The phone stared at me. Trying to be the hard guy, I glared back. Some amount of time elapsed. Maybe five minutes or 15, perhaps much more. The clock time mattered not, eternity would have been shorter.
The staring contest continued until I admitted defeat.
Much later, I understood this as an early lesson in the importance of “getting things over and getting over things.” Though I didn’t then own the insight to explain myself to myself, there was no need to endure the suffering more hesitation would have inflicted.
Man up, do the hard thing and be done with it. Let go of the misery you create. I still believe this.
The conversation wasn’t long, and CB said yes.
My place on the manhood ladder moved one rung up.
Funny to remember the anguish. Those kinds of contacts and much else became a pleasure beyond pleasure.
I must have puzzled all this out because I managed to produce two children with one of the pretty females I met later.
No masterful advice on the subject shall I offer you. If you enter the game, you find your way. Persistence tends to work most of the time. No matter your doubts, you can partake of blissful beauty, fireworks, and melding with another’s generous heart.
How do I know this?
A stork didn’t deliver you to your parents. Your mother didn’t lay eggs, either.
You come from one female and one male who implanted the seed.
My goodness, dad was right!
The above images, in order: 1. Portrait of Silvia Kohler by Egon Schiele. 2. Photo of Sharbat Gula, an Afghan teen, that appeared on the cover of National Geographic Magazine in June, 1985. 3. Peter Behrens’s The Kiss. 4. An undated photo called School Cafeteria, from the Adolph B. Rice Studios via the Library of Virginia. 5. Two Sisters (On the Terrace) by Renoir, from the Art Institute of Chicago. 6. The First Whisper of Love by John Douglas Miller, from the Art Institute of Chicago. 7. The Author at age 16 or 17, photographed by Steve Henikoff.
Ha. You bring up many memories. My first date at age 17 with my late husband was to a college operetta. I was hyper aware of his closeness sitting next to me. When he put his hand on my leg I knew I would have to marry him! No high school boy had been that “forward” with me. That movement crossed a line!
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At some point those moments, once so awkward, are transformed by time. The emotion at a long distance is quite different. Thanks for sharing it, Lois.
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Beautiful photo. The lines of your arm and profile could have been drawn by Egon Schiele. So poignant that we are beautiful and magical in Others’ eyes, and vulnerable, exposed, and uncertain in our own, even when ‘grown up’. Humour also very much appreciated. Thank you, and night, night.
Thank you, Jay Mo. It is not every day that an old photo of me is compared to a great painting! As you say, youth brings widely shared vulnerabilities. Experience gives and takes. We gain security and lose our innocence, but, for me at least, laughter comes easily. Best wishes.
I had one boyfriend in high school, but it was short-lived because he became too forward for my comfort. I was a good Catholic girl then and I had a reputation to uphold. The truth was I was terrified of advanced sexual contact and I remained a virgin well beyond an acceptable age. Thank God I eventually got that out of the way!
As you say, Nancy, you are past it. As you know, much fiction in books and on film deals with the chance to go back in time and behave differently. Better, perhaps, to make the best of the present. Take care.
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Dr. Stein, I thought the photo of the young male was a model from a magazine. Handsome dude! 😉
Too many career paths, Nancy! 😉 You are sweet!
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Male or female, we seem to share the same insecurities during the early years in the dating game 🙂 My first love told fifteen-year-old me that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. I immediately set out to prove that I was an excellent cook. Oh, foolish heart!
The sixteen-seventeen-year-old you appears quite self-confident and alluring 🙂
Thank you, Rosaliene. I suspect your first love was off-base in other things, as well. It is a rare teen who has wisdom without experience. I didn’t, though a confident appearance rarely hurts at that age. On the other hand, if you are a clueless adult leader…