This is a corner of my room in 1979. On the left is my desk where I composed embarrassing journal entries and emasculating letters to a girl who never really cared for me. On the right is my stereo, on which I played a partial recording I got from the radio of Jeff Wayne’s “Forever Autumn,” which became something of a theme song for my year in 11th grade.
When I was the ironically-named “sweet 16,” I had an ill-conceived crush on a pretty read-headed girl. In October of 1979, she moved away, and for reasons that weren’t clear then and aren’t clear now, I was devastated.
Part of it was almost certainly that I romanticized everything. In my mind, and to some degree in my journal, I constantly imagined “if only.” If only we could be together she would see how nice I am. If only she wasn’t moving away I’d have a chance with her. If only I write these emotional letters to her she’ll fall in love with me. If only (and this is the best one) I suffer enough for her, she’ll understand how much I care for her.
On two occasions just before she moved away, I photographed her, once with her hair long, then after she got it cut. She looked great with both haircuts.
There was a going-away party for her on October 27. The party itself wasn’t all that memorable (even though I wrote about it), but I drove her home afterwards. I remember she had on a super-hot pair of high heels. It was an awkward ten minutes, a combination of trying to say the right things while simultaneously concealing my super-hard erection.
I drove like an idiot, thinking it would impress her.
Barry Manilow’s Ships came on the radio, and when I tried to change the station, she asked me to leave it on, then sang along with it.
When it was time to let her out at her house, I wanted to say something that would make her stay and talk for a few, but I had nothing.
A couple of nights before she moved away, I called her on the phone. To my surprise, she talked to me. I’d love to forget what was said, but some of it is with me forever. In summary, it was mostly me being broken hearted by her leaving, not, as it should have been, me consoling her.
I called her the next night, too, and again I was self-absorbed and dramatic.
Journal, November 2, 1979
As she left fifth hour today, I saw tears in her eyes.
“Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.” [Quoting Kansas lyrics - not bad.]
But the last five weeks since I found out she was moving away have passed so quickly. And now it’s gone. She’s gone.
Then she moved away. I began a letter-writing campaign to her that unintentionally alienated and humiliated me. Like the in-person relationship before it, it verged on stalking. Lots of “I miss you.” Really, I barely knew her, so “I miss you” was utter fiction.
She was into about a hundred other guys than me.
I was on the Talon Yearbook staff in 11th and 12th grade. This image shows Cyprien LaPort, advisor Rick Hill, Connie Stokes, Robin Wooten, and Gerald Kyle.
Autumn arrived in earnest. Anyone who has ever known a sensitive teen knows that autumn is enough reason on its own to be miserable, depressed, sad, dark. Throw in to that mix the fact that my imaginary girlfriend moved 500 miles away, and I was primed for all the excellent drama you can imagine.
Then came that song. Forever Autumn by Jeff Wayne.
On the surface, it’s kind of a smarmy song, but its lyrics tell the story of lost love and autumn…
“A gentle rain falls softly on my weary eyes
As if to hide a lonely tear
My life will be forever Autumn
Cause you’re not here…”
Then, winter. My journal has less to say about this season, since, as my writing teacher at the time Ruth Dishman said, “Writers often use comedy to conceal pain.” My journal is full of incincerities, all aimed at getting a laugh and whistling past my emotional graveyard.
Sidebar: Teen Angst
Michelle (the cheerleader who sat in front of me in writing and biology classes) gave me the opportunity to read her journal in December 1979. I didn’t write down what it said, but I can remember some of it. She wrote about looking at herself in the mirror and crying and crying and crying, so much that her tears became “little dry rocks” that eventually wouldn’t even roll down her cheeks any more. As popular and attractive as she was, I couldn’t fathom how she could be so unhappy.
The girl who moved away was in my thoughts the entire time, and I kept writing her. In her defense, she wrote back, but her letters were shallow and emotionally empty.
I started seeing my first real girlfriend, Tina, that winter. When she missed class for a week, I visited her to discover she’d been in a car crash. I picked windshield glass out of her hair and started to get to know her. The first part of our relationship hinged on my missing the girl who moved away.
I can remember the scene as if it were yesterday. I was wearing a tan winter coat with fake fur lapels, and gloves with a special thin suede for the index fingers. As I was leaving Tina’s house, I put my head on her shoulder for a long time. Finally I said, “What if I never see her again?”
Remembering that winter now, it seems like every day was cloudy and cold. Snow flurries filled the air.
One afternoon Tina and I parted company at the traffic light next to the high school. We were both walking home. I held her for a long time in blowing, bone-chilling swirl of snow flurries, then finally turned into the north wind and walked the mile to my house.
I named it The Winter of White Rain.
I had little to offer to pretty, popular high school cheerleaders.
At home those days I must certainly have seemed like the archetypal sullen teen. I stayed in my room, resisting my parents’ efforts to get me to watch television with them.
There were certainly tears. Genuine. Private.
At one point, Mom and my sister Nicole read a piece of pulp fiction called The Second Son, a novel about the second son of God. When they were done with it, I read it. It wasn’t exactly a classic, and it’s been out of print for decades now, but I think of it when I think of those days.
I was also listening to my dad’s easy listening albums. The one that takes me back to that winter the most is Neil Diamond’s score to one of the worst movies in history, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It appealed to my naïve romanticism at the time.
I survived The Winter of White Rain. Despite my affections for the girl who moved away, Tina remained by my side, and by March 1979, we were an item.
By spring, I heard that the girl who moved away was in town. I couldn’t wait to see her, put my arms around her, tell her how much I missed her and was thinking about her all the time. She didn’t make any time to see me at all, and I did not lay eyes on her then.
There would be other chances to see her and her awkward, non-verbal way of keeping me at a physical and emotional distance.
A year later, at the end of our senior year, I saw her again. Her life had changed quite profoundly, and as we sat together on her mom’s couch, we had nothing to say to each other. She wouldn’t even make eye contact with me.
I thought of all this recently because of the weather, with a cold north wind, and a trace of sleet and snow falling. Nothing in my heart in 1979 dug deeper into my soul than those snow flurries falling on my lonely shoulders.
Denim jacket, plaid shirt, and camera; the essence of me in high school.