This afternoon I was chatting with a young man. He is 17 years old. He was on the water polo team when he was in high school. He graduated from high school this past June. The water polo experience has given him the chance to work as a lifeguard while he waits for his Long Shoreman’s card to arrive in the mail. His long-term goal is to be an underwater welder. The Navy has told him that they will educate him and certify him so he joined the reserves while in his senior year. He is bubbling over with excitement at the approach of adulthood. His enthusiasm makes the air around him lovely to feel. While we were talking a young woman walked by and he told me how he had known her in high school. She had been in his Auto Mechanics class.
“Auto Mechanics! They allow girls in Auto Mechanics classes?” I asked. He turned to me with a perplexed look on his face and said, “Didn’t they allow girls in Auto Mechanics when you went to school?” No they didn’t! And once again my thoughts were thrown back to the 50’s and the memories of my 17th year.
Denny and I were sand from head to toe after ‘the wave’ had tumbled us all over the surf. We sat and worked at finding the humorous side of his bloody nose and my yanked off swimsuit. We watched the sun set and talked about his going away. By that time I was ready to wash the sand off my body so we decided to go home, shower, and meet later sunburned and anxious to see one another. We went for a ride along the coast and Denny told me about his plans for the future and gave me a lecture about dating other boys while he was gone. I was certain he had given the matter a lot of thought because he went on and on about how it wasn’t fair for him to think that I would sit and ’wait’ for him to return. Eighteen months was a long time for someone that was only 17. I listened and agreed. Then he pulled over and parked in a lovely spot that was high enough for us to see the moon’s reflection on the ocean. It was a very romantic spot with all the city lights, beneath us, sparkling and blinking. Denny turned to me and kissed me like he had never kissed me before. He told me that he had felt how my body had responded to him when he had kissed me those other nights. His hands touched me in places that I had never been touched. His mouth was sensuous and went places that made my body ache for more. His words were loving and just on the edge of promise. The more he touched methe more that my body was filled with new and exciting sensations. He slowly moved me so that my back was on the seat and he was beside me. He had never made love to me like this and I was swept up in the feelings he was producing in my body. He put his hand on my thigh and slowly moved his fingers upward while he was whispering to me how much I meant to him. And then something inexplicable happened. My mother’s words bounced around inside my head and I heard her say that she would always trust me to do the right thing. I put my hand on Denny’s shoulder and asked him to please stop. He paused, looked into my eyes, and then sat up. He smiled and said, “I KNEW you wouldn’t, I KNEW you wouldn’t.” I knew if you were going to do it with anyone it would be with me, but I KNEW you wouldn’t.” He was so blessed happy. My emotions were still jumbled and fractured and he was so damn happy. He had planned this! This had been a test! What would have happened if I had given in to the feelings he had generated in my body? I wanted to scream that this was unfair, but all he had done was seal my mother’s words in stone. “Good girls don’t”. The double standard! Boys were beyond understanding. He had tried his hardest, but he was overjoyed that it hadn’t worked. Now he was bubbling with how happy he was that it hadn’t. “Give me a break. What would you be doing now if I ’HAD”? He said that he would be taking me home and he would still care about me, but NOW he knew! Knew what? Did he know that I had really wanted to, but it was my mother’s voice that had stopped me? I hadn’t told him that. He was so happy that he was infectious, but I will never forget the mass of emotions that he opened in me. This was my ’right of passage’; the knowledge that men are confusing and often mean the opposite of what they say and do. Heaven help the woman that doesn’t figure that out!
Denny went overseas and we wrote back and forth for over a year. Then one afternoon Denny’s mother called me to say that she had just received a letter from him saying that I had broken his heart. I have yet to understand exactly what it is I wrote that broke his heart. I had no intention of breaking his heart. I loved writing to him. I wrote him a letter asking him what I had said to hurt him, but he refused to answer. When he came home we met once, but he had taken up with a girl in the neighborhood that ’would’ and she became pregnant and they married. The last time that I saw Denny was when I came homefrom the hospital after having my son. It was a difficult birth, and I had had to have a C-section. I got out of the car carrying my new baby and there was Denny. He handed me a dozen red roses, congratulated me, and told me to be happy. I have no idea how he even knew that I was married much less that I was coming home from the hospital that particular day. I hadn’t seen him in years.
My junior year of high school was starting and my mother had received a letter back from the organization that had wanted an update and a picture of me. Seventeen was the age that I had to learn to decipher what boys actually wanted and how the world actually saw me. Being quiet wasn't enough any more!