Dizzy. Rolling out of control. Scenery, like the internal images of a rotating kaleidoscope in the hands of an eagerly entertained youngster, flashed by in a mixture of shapes and sizes. Intoxicated by the rush of doing something utterly different, wondering if we had lost all sense of reality, and feeling as if my heart would never be one complete piece again, I found myself with arms wrapped tightly around my chest, rolling sideways down a dew-dampened grassy hillside in the nascent light of day. It was June some-teenth, 1987, in the middle of our town at the local cemetery on the morning after high school graduation and our senior all-night party, a night which begat a mere two hours of interrupted catnaps in the back of my 1979 Chevy Impala. Despite feeling as if those few moments were catapulting me into another realm of consciousness, the realization hit me upon my final revolution at the bottom of the hill that my life was to continue without her. Two teenagers in love, we would, in a few moments, go our separate ways. Forever.
Nowadays, over two decades later, most memories of my senior-year girlfriend have lost their edge. No longer do I recall with vivid sharpness the majority of our moments shared, for the twenty-plus intervening years wreak havoc on the everyday details of yesteryear—especially that last year of high school. Oft I am found wondering if my mind can be trusted to do justice to all that we entailed. However, I suppose I am accepting of all this diminished recollection and atrophy of nostalgia as a natural process in life. For the most part, I am willing to chalk it up as inevitable, but there are vestiges of those days that still tenaciously linger in the deepest recesses of my heart. Years of countless life experiences, thousands of miles literally and figuratively traveled in between, and lovers and loves that have come and gone in my life like cab drivers on a rush-hour Manhattan street all bury images of her under piles of more-easily-recalled, recent sentiment. And even after finding the love of my life, my wife, and knowing that she and I were meant to be through the ages, I can admit that my senior year girlfriend will forever have an indelible place in my heart, if only a fraction of all that I have had and all that I will be.
To have shared a few months of our lives together during that last year of secondary school all came at the right time. For at least the last year-and-a-half beforehand, I had experienced so many ups and downs with nearly uncontrollable teenage angst, my parent’s disruptive divorce, and a move from New York to Virginia and then back to New York to finish six months of schooling there before graduation. Though I had a good circle of friends that gave life a good dose of meaning at the time, I was riddled with self-doubt about life, feeling as if I was stuck between perpetually abandoned and incessantly melancholic. So it was with her, Christine, that I found a sense of adolescent stability, albeit just for a few months towards the end of that year. We, simply put, had fun. Events that all senior years comprise were shared. Good-bye parties. Prom. Parties to celebrate our pending manumission. After school get-togethers. Parties for the sake of partying. It was a frenetic, exciting time, for we didn’t have many cares in the world when we walked hand in hand or embraced for hours.
Regardless of the dust-covered cobwebs that mask the details of my relationship with her, moments of us do find their way back to me from time to time. For instance, she bestowed upon me the nickname “Mr. Hands” at a party one night when we found ourselves in a dark back bedroom with perhaps a dozen other friends surrounding us in semi-privacy. With no need to detail her rationale, one can suffice it to say that those last weeks before graduation were a frenzy of bonding, emotionally and physically, and that evening was no exception. Perhaps it was the underlying knowledge that we would soon part ways or maybe just teenage desires manifesting themselves all at once. Sentimental yearnings like to label it as the former in order to paint such images with a hue of innocence. Whatever it was, “Mr. Hands” was developing a sense that she was someone with whom he would soon entrust a responsibility of eternal remembrance.
Driving in my car together just to fill time because teenagers had nothing else to do in such a rural town, watching television after school with friends in her family room, and chatting on the phone until day’s end are other hazy recollections of our abridged paragraph in the story of life together, yet none of those times can compare to the events the week of graduation because I had made a decision then to move the day after graduation to Minnesota, a state halfway across the nation—which was, for a provincial teenager, seemingly halfway around the globe. We had known she was to go to college in New York state later that fall, so we would have, otherwise, only had a few months of summer love to inscribe in our hearts and etch in our psyches, but the pronouncement of my imminent departure to take place the day after graduation immediately terminated any hopes of building more together. It was with that knowledge that those last few days became profoundly surreal, all leading to a consummation of our teenage hopes and shared desires; two days before graduation, with tears still flowing and cheeks damp from hours of weeping together over our fast-approaching parting of ways, we shared a tenderness that completed our time together. Within a mere two days, we would say goodbye. Within a matter of moments, we left an impression on our hearts to last a lifetime.
At sometime during the all-night festivities after graduation earlier that evening, Christine and I danced to Chris Deburgh’s “Lady in Red”. I felt like a man for the first time, in the full sense of the word, when I looked at her and realized she was herself wearing a red sweater. I had experienced an unsurpassed intimacy of the heart those few days, so with maturity of foresight, I devised a way to forever remember our time together. As if I had a pre-destined knowledge of my vagabond lifestyle and waywardly ways awaiting me in the years ahead, I knew that I wanted another substantive, tangible experience with which to connect with her, forever. Hours later, I drove her to a place that I felt would increase the chance of recollection later in life: the local cemetery. And it was there that we promised we would forever remember each other at that moment as we lied down in wet grass at the top of a hill to begin our whimsical, rolling descent downward. Our existence for that moment, the last time I ever saw Christine, was… synchronized.