Falling in Love | (chapter two)
Updated: Aug 27, 2019
I was something like eight or nine, I think, when I first tasted beer. Coors in a can, retrieved and opened for my mother; sipped at, because the beer had foamed up a bit and, in settling, filled the moat running around the top of the can.
It tasted terrible.
I didn’t understand the appeal. Metallic, carbonated, fermented. I gave over the beer and that was that, no serious drinking for another ten or so years (until then, the occasional sip of a wine cooler scored when folks weren't paying attention, or perhaps a half-glass of champagne at New Year's celebrations). In fact, as a child I was a walking billboard for the Dos and Don’ts: Don't drink, don't smoke, don't do drugs; do listen to your parents, go to school and get the grades, go to college and get the degree.
Nevertheless by the time I'd reached mid-teens (14 or 15), I had been curious about marijuana for some time, in the simple and normal way that folks are prone to be curious about that of which they have no concrete idea. I had certainly been the walking billboard for the Dos and Don'ts, yet I found myself arrogant with youth, discovering the world for the first—and, therefore, the most important—time, forgetting that my mum and all those older than me had already done the same. So, when the opportunity presented itself, I tried marijuana—and fell in love with it. As far as inebriation is concerned, for the whole of my high school career, and many years beyond, it was my drug of choice.
Around the same time came not my first foray into the world of fermented and/or distilled adult beverages, but certainly my first real experience with alcohol-induced intoxication. The alcohol I found in an old, metal medicine cabinet in the garage (I think my dad had it there for some kind of workshop storage?—he always liked little drawers full of nails, screws, and doohickeys). Beat up, painted white but rusting at the edges, two shelves inside and, lo, a bottle of Jose Cuervo Gold, one-third or so empty (no little drawers at this time). So I had a few shots.
Three or four, I think, on an empty stomach to boot (I've never been one much for eating breakfast);—and boy howdy I was loopy! It wasn't an easy task per se (I don't even know how I managed to keep down that first shot, and have no recollection of what I might have been using as a chaser) but I thought it felt good. I had no idea that it takes time for the body to metabolize alcohol, and that there's a potential to feel even more drunk as time wears on following ingestion, before one begins to feel less intoxicated. Completely ignorant of the effects, or the potential for hangover; used to smoking a bowl and when you take a hit you feel good and then you take another hit, followed by however many more after that until you're good or the bowl is cashed. I guess I took the same approach when it came to drinking that tequila.
Thankfully I ended up being happy-drunk as I rode the bus later that morning (it was a late day for school, normally we got there at seven but for some reason this day I hadn't to be there until eleven or twelve), just going with the flow of learning for the first time just how it felt; talkative, though, when I got to school, telling all my friends that I had stole some tequila that morning and whoa was I drunk. Everyone laughed it off and told me not to get caught; and, fortunate or not, I didn't.
We were a tiny little chartered school, with a relative emphasis on science and technology, located in a first-floor corner of a building built upon the grounds of the same University of Arizona-sponsored Science and Technology Park as houses Raytheon and IBM. The presence of a major US defense contractor necessitated that we constantly wear ID badges proclaiming our reason for being there, and entrance (to the grounds, not the school) could be obtained only by way of guarded booths or code-locked gates. It was a year-round program, with three ninety-minute classes Monday through Thursday and all six classes on Fridays, in forty-five minute snippets of weekly recap. The students themselves were grouped into four different “tracks”, each identified by color and each with differing "semesters": We attended school approximately five hours a day for three months straight, then got a month off and returned for another three or so months. Differing tracks with alternating on- and off-times meant at least one track was enjoying its month-long weekend every month of the year (everyone got two weeks at Thanksgiving and Christmas), while the other three remained in school. Due partially to this, partially to the smallness of the allocated building space and its subsequent sequestrations (offices and classrooms), average student count was probably fifteen to twenty per class, although some of the electives had only five to ten. In any case, there was literally no room for vigorous physical activity.
I forget whether it was as a whole school, or if we were grouped by tracks; but for outdoor, physical recreation, students were allowed a few days of each semester to walk down to the grounds' recreation area, rather than stay cooped up four walls and a door. The recreation area boasted any number of "kiddie" things like swing-sets and a merry-go-round (for children of those employed throughout the complex), but also picnic tables and a basketball court, a grassy baseball-slash-football-slash-soccer field, beach-sand volleyball courts, vending machines, equipment "rental" (think sports gear on a level with bowling shoes, without actual money exchanging hands), and shaded pathways for walking.
After one or two of these excursions, one of my friends brought a water bottle full of Southern Comfort and we walked out to the field as if to watch the current flag football game. The field was lined with chain-link fence and it was not uncommon that, not participating in the game itself, students might walk along said fence. However at one end of this length of fence there was a gap and, beyond, a pathway leading to a narrow wash, banks lined with thick clumps of creosote, mesquite, palo verde and other desert shrubbery. There we brought out the water-bottle of SoCo—pretty warm, being in his backpack such as it was, but we drank it anyway. I thought it tasted like cough medicine (never did develop a taste for it), but allowed myself to believe, even if momentarily, that we were being rebels! Fuggeddabout the football and the merry-go-round and the basketball, here in this wash we knew the ways of the world—had it drilled into our heads every day by our teachers, our parents, and the media, that we are the future, we are the hope for the nation, blah-blah bull-ish along those lines. We're practically adults, we told our half-drunk, teen-aged selves. And, in any case, it's fun.
That's also roundabout it: That small excursion, that tiny little rebellion, was the great extent of my “partying” in high school (I'd already begun to discount Mary Jane as being a proper drug, so to be clear: Marijuana consumption continued reggae; but smoking pot simply wasn't "partying", as such or so-called—it was thinking, and writing, and driving, and studying, and talking, and Barnes and Nobling, and Starbucks-ing, and Bookman's-ing; it was ubiquitous). In fact, one of the best nights in memory is that on which I went with a good friend to the Nightfall shindig they put on at Old Tucson Studios, every year around Halloween. We didn't smoke any pot, we didn't drink any beer—we were high on wishbone after wishbone of Mountain Dew soda, laughing and making fun and getting scared and scaring and running and walking and laughing and talking and buying more soda and eating and finally getting picked up at the designated time.
Things were good. I got good grades, had a voracious appetite for reading and writing, I was neither popular nor unpopular. I also had a part-time job, working at what used to be a locally-owned sandwich shop located just about a mile and a half down the road from where I lived with my mum. There, we had competitions—who could clean the fryer fastest, who got the most up-sales when working drive-through, who was fastest when it came to sandwich-making and tightest when it came to -wrapping. I hung out with these folks outside of work, more often than I did with my friends from school, and we might have partied a bit, but still I had little to no social life and I usually tried to stick with pot because I didn't want to get caught in any way shape or form (I was only sixteen!). School and work were my social life, my car and the pot-smoking were my freedoms, and in any case I was a dreamer—a part-time drummer, a part-time cook (but food didn't really mean anything to me, it was just what we did because that was our job; for me, the high school food service jobs were more about my co-workers and the money earned than the product we were selling, and fuggeddabout the customer(s) who bought them), destined in the long run to be a writer of some repute.
Indeed: In the midst of all this smot-poking, high-schooling, part-time working, and full-time reading and writing, I actually managed to get a couple of books published. No longer in print today, they were hardly more than extremely short novels—but it was publication! My great, grand dream! The original intent had been to write and keep writing until one day I got published; figuring that it would take quite some time, I planned on applying to the University of Arizona, where I would major in whatever I needed to so as to become a professor of English. But now here it was—publication—and I hadn't even graduated high school, yet!
I'm sure there are many who can imagine how my head filled with illusions of grandeur. I was going to be the next Stephen King, the next John Grisham, the next Big Thing! Published! (Allow me to here note that at the time, ebooks were still fairly new, and Print-on-Demand was both new and frowned upon. Stephen King never printed on demand, he published an eBook; it was known at that time that the printed book and printed book sales would be on the decline for years to come, but there was still a level of prestige attached to the notion of traditional publication, versus what might be seen and found today—and what I myself have taken advantage of, and intend to continue to take advantage of—with the likes of Amazon's KDP and Barnes and Noble's "Press", not to mention other sites and services for independent authors. Little did I know, but in high school my manuscript had been accepted by PublishAmerica, which touted itself as a traditional publisher but which in fact was a Print-on-Demand publisher (and is now defunct). I was so excited a seemingly authentic publisher had accepted my manuscript that I thought PublishAmerica's critics were simply disgruntled writers, and surely I wouldn't be one of PA's "victims". The sense of accomplishment was further compounded by the fact that, while PA had accepted a manuscript, yet another, entirely different publisher—located all the way up in Canada—had accepted the other manuscript. So—one of them had to work out, right??)
Despite a ridiculously high sticker price of $19.95 for a 36,000-word horror novella (the Canadian book, which was actually somewhat longer, was more reasonably priced at $13.95 for the paperback, and also made available for early ebook applications), I tried pushing my books onto anyone and everyone who would listen to me. I also decided, in the effervescence of it all, not to go to college. Why should I? I was already published, I was going to be the next Michael Crichton, so what was the point? I had gone from neither popular nor unpopular to Published Author in a matter of weeks! As far as my present situation as a full-time teenage badass was concerned, I was a full-fledged celebrity!
And I was, to say the least, extremely gung-ho about everything that had anything to do with my books, or the sale and marketing thereof. The only problem, was that I completely lacked the necessary funds to make any kind of difference. And due to the publisher's name and the fact of my book's listing as a Print-on-Demand title, I found it very difficult to get into the local bookstores, which essentially had a policy against the purchase or support thereof, except at the author's expense. Moreover, Barnes and Noble had just recently changed their book signing and -reading policies, such that they rarely hosted singular authors (especially when the authors might be entirely unknown), but rathered to gather groups of authors to discuss with a broader audience (sometimes any audience), their individual works (in which I didn't want to participate, of course, because I was the published author, and in my arrogance had neither patience for, nor any need of, my so-called "colleagues" and their readership).
...So much promise. So much potential. I never did do any of my homework, because I got done with classwork so quickly and despised schooling at home to such a degree that I just did all my homework in-class. I never had to do any of the book reports required of the other students, because months or even years before it was “introduced” via the curriculum, I'd already read that particular book; instead, I had to do reports on whatever book I was reading, whatever book of my choosing (I went through at least one but sometimes three or four books, each week). Rather than an actual finals test in my math class, the teacher told me to write a short story that somehow incorporated mathematics: That was to be my final, while the rest of the class got to figure out this and that X and Y and Z. Honor Roll or High Honor Roll all throughout my schooling career, close to a 4.0 GPA upon graduation, a two-year scholarship to Pima Community College and even Dartmouth's tentative interest. Ah yes, the lump of coal well on its way to becoming a diamond.
But I was published. So who needed the extra schooling? Somebody else perhaps, but certainly not me. And in any case, aside from the fact of having my job, my car, and my publication, I had my first love.
Although I think about it less often as the years go by, to this day I still recall the first time I saw her—I in my junior year, she in her senior. White blouse with blue flowers and baggy-large, dark blue jeans. Laughing, turning away from Jacob, one of the members of the drama club of which I was a part, in her laughter. The sun shining down on that cloudless, azure-sky day, reflecting in sheets off her mid-back-length blonde hair. Black boots, low-cut, with a mean tread. Jacob and the others, and my voluptuous Jenny—there, just twenty or so feet ahead and slightly to the right as I leaned against the building, backpack at right foot, left foot planted on the wall, wearing house shoes and shorts, and a white t-shirt and a ball cap with a severely curled brim.
Despite such a strong and everlasting impression, it was not until after the winter break that we actually began to talk and, subsequently, hang out (thankfully we were on the same track, so had the same times on and off throughout the year). She had a few things going on, at the time—military parents, for one, which in themselves were no problem; but she'd just come with them from overseas and, there, had been pretty seriously involved with a certain gentleman, who had promised her the world and up to whom she looked almost as if he was a god on some pedestal. In their parting, I think they agreed to wait for each other but also to see other people in the interim; which she had begun doing by the time I met her, dating some guy who worked at a video store in a different part of town and did not attend our school. Technically, she was engaged to both of them.
As we continued to see each other, she spoke to the other two less and less. She did feel a need, and certainly tried, to maintain the semblance of a "girlfriend" (if not "fiance") facade for Video Store Guy, who was fairly jealous of me (perhaps rightly so). With a regular persistence that might have verged on assiduity, I tried to convince Jenny that I was better than both of those guys: I was like both of them rolled into one, I would always be there for her (versus being overseas or constantly forced to break or rearrange plans due to family emergency, as it seemed Video Store Guy was prone to do); I would be more attentive than they, I would be anything and everything she wanted or needed, I would wax poetic and write songs about her, I would I would I would...
Assiduous or not, one night I borrowed my mum's car because in mine the battery was dead. Or I needed new cables, or to clean them, or some such. Ostensibly I was borrowing her car—an '87 Camaro, no less—so I could go to work, but before I went to work I was supposed to hang out with Jenny and, together, we were to hang out with a pair of mutual friends. Which I and we and they did; but when it came time for work it seemed like just such a good idea that we should all go to see a movie at the drive-in theater, instead, that both I and the other guy called in to work and he took his girl (Jenny's best friend) in his car, and I took Jenny in my mum's car. (I never planned to tell my mum that I'd played hookie at work the night before; but in our rolling around and subsequent conversation, it seems at one point we managed to crack the windshield, damn-near center of the glass an running almost all the way down; and, when she found it the next morning, she was quick to put two-and-two together.) We went and saw Big Daddy, with Adam Sandler; sat on the hood of the car, leaned against the windshield with each other for pillow-like support. A double-feature, as usually the drive-ins will tend to be, and during the course of making out during one of the movies (BIg Daddy was the headliner, if you will, and I think we got started during the first film) Jenny and I wound up talking—yet again—about our relationship. After nearly a movie's-length of steady back and forth and tears and give and pull, I finally extracted a promise: She would be mine. She would call it off with the others, she would be with me; and we made plans to hang out "officially" the following afternoon after school, because I didn't have to go to work.
She called to cancel about an hour before we were supposed to meet. Cancelled so she could go hang out with Video Store Guy, instead.
I was in Wal-Mart at the time, standing next to the wall of car batteries, trying to find the one that fit my car. I had a gold Nokia cell-phone, T-Mobile was the service provider, and the edges of the miniature brick were beginning to wear, revealing a pallid gray plastic underneath. Jenny's voice, so sweet, so tentative; my voice, so cool and distant; her apology; my declaration, "That's it, then." I don't quite recall whether I hung up on her, but I know she knew I was mad, and serious.
This was all very near the relative "end" of the school year. In my head that morning I had it that Jenny was going to be my girl, I was going to buy a battery for my old '73 Ford Maverick so I could pick her up later because I didn't have to work, Jenny was about to graduate and "summertime" was heavy on everyone's mind.
I did not attend Jenny's graduation.
Neither did I speak to her for three or four months, during which time I quit the fast-food job I'd had and started working for my dad—demolition and renovation, peppered with a bit of proper new construction—excepting one time when, not recognizing the number, in the midst of one of our demolition jobs I answered the ringing phone and heard her voice on the other end.
So sweet, her voice, even if startled for my actually picking up; exacerbated, I'm sure, by the fact that, once I realized to whom I was speaking, yet I stayed on the phone. I did not respond to her words, not really, but I didn't hang up. Uncertain as to why I should be confused by the number (which was indeed hers, I later realized—so it wasn't like she was trying to trick me by using someone else's phone, or anything like that); knowing that I was still hurting, and I did not want to speak with her because I didn't feel I could trust her. That very same lack of trust was exactly that which I could not explain, not to her because not to myself: It is only now that I can say my greatest hurt was not that she'd chosen the other guy over me, but that that conversation at the drive-in, was supposed to have been the conversation. Maybe I made that clear, maybe I didn't; either way, it was my trust in her that was broken, and remained so long injured.
I continued not speaking with Jenny. Saw her once at the the theatre, with another guy (I was there with my brother, sister, and father). Summer season summer break—ended. Fall season school season—started. School back in session meant no more early morning demolition jobs, back to the fast food place at night and on the weekends. When I stated working at the fast-food joints, I got the job based on a friends' referral; this time around, folks were moving on and I was back where I'd been the year before. Conclusion of the year? Winter came, eventually.
So it should be no wonder that I began to miss her.
I was still writing. Despite not having my high school friends as colleagues anymore, I was beginning to make my own friends at work. I tried forming a band with a good friend, yet another culled from the school ranks (he played bass, I of course played drums). I even met a different girl to make out hang out fuckaroundwith. She was a freshman, and immature (compared to whom?—I'm sure it was myself at the time); but she was pretty and her fake-tan skin was so soft and she and I both felt a mutual attraction the first time we saw each other, never mind that I was a senior because she liked "older men".
Yet I think it was this very relationship that made me begin to miss my Jenny. I found myself, not overtly but nonetheless undeniably, comparing the new with the old. Instead of going with the flow and learning to accept this other young woman for who and what she was, instead I found myself hollow-feeling and dissatisfied. Because she wasn't Jenny. And her friends weren't Jenny's friends. And none of them were even yet old enough to have a learner's permit, and none of them were ever quite serious enough, and none of them were ever quite artsy enough, et cetera ad nauseum.
So it was that, after breaking up with Miss Rebound; after talking to my mum; after wrestling with the idea for what seemed eons;—finally I gave Jenny a call, sweaty palms and shaking hands and hard-beating heart and butterfly stomach as I dialed the number, hoping she would answer hoping she would not answer; knowing I would be elated but speechless if she did pick up, knowing that I would be devastated and speechless if she did not.
But answer the phone she did, and talk we did. Understandably tentative and awkward to start, yet that first conversation lasted a good twenty-five or thirty minutes, and each subsequent conversation was either longer or somehow richer: For a month or two went on this back-and-forth, until one day I brought up the fact that the Pima County Fair was set to start soon, and would she like to go with me?;—yes did she say, and together did we go; and from that point on, it would seem that we were re-joined at the hip, white on rice beans 'n' rice chicken 'n' rice; even in spite of the fact that—technically—and regardless of Jenny having got rid of the other two guys—we still were not a couple.
Then came a particular conversation, one late-ish night that I had Jenny in company and my mum had cooked dinner for all of us (we both stil lived with our parents, after all). After the feast Jenny, who'd smoked since I'd known her, went outside for the after-meal cigarette, and I, not yet a smoker myself, followed. Quietly, almost timidly, like she didn't want to admit it to herself, let alone tell me about it, Jenny told me that her parents were going to be moving: Dad was to be re-stationed in Texas, and she'd been given the choice either to stay or to go with them. For me, and somewhat for college (she'd been attending the University while I'd been finishing high school), she wanted to stay in Arizona, but was worried about living on her own: Never before had she had to figure any bills or calculate a budget, and never before had she lived away from her parents. Moreover, she did not want to live alone, she said, but neither did she want to find some random roommate who might turn out later on to be some sort of psycho-crazy (which I thought quite understandable).
So, I presented a most grand solution: I was just shy of eighteen, which meant I could move out and get an apartment, or be someone's roommate without need of parental consent, so what if she and I just moved in together? Then she could stay in Arizona, she wouldn't have to worry about the person with whom she was living, and I could get away from my mum's house (my brother was living with us, at the time, he going through a difficult period of his own, and I, approving neither of the manner in which he treated my mum, nor the way she let him treat her, was quite regularly angry and wanting to avoid being in the same residence, let alone the same room, as he).
She agreed, and roundabout one month later Jenny and I were moving into our first apartment—a decently sized two-bed two-bath, with some donated furniture and moving assistance from both her mother and my father. I think Jenny really thought we were going to try to make a go at living together as roommates and not lovers, but I knew that would be pretty near to impossible. I already loved her, had never really ceased to love her, and I knew she loved me but, as according to her, she was afraid to take the relationship any further because she feared ruining the great friendship we had—especially now that we lived together. Let's just say the “roommate” facade lasted roundabout two days.