1978 was a pivotal year for me. So many things changed in that one year, and it was only as I contemplated this post that I realized the significance of that short few months of transition. When the year started, I was a nerdy, walking-everywhere, picked-on, crush-whipped, insecure, sophomore at Muncie Southside High School. When it ended, I was still a bit nerdy but I had a driver’s license, I was big enough that most bullies left me alone, I was a leader among my youth group, and….oh yeah…I had a real-life girlfriend.
The driver’s license and the girlfriend were the most significant, of course.
I finished the Driver’s Ed class with an “A” and a waiver from my teacher, Mr. Jay. I think out of the thirty or forty kids in our double class only two got a waiver, and I was one of them! (A “waiver” meant that I could bypass the official driver’s test at the local branch of the BMV.) I had to practically swear an oath to secure it, but it was mine in the end. It was a good thing too because trying to parallel park my dad’s stick shift ’68 Chevy Nova for the tester at the license branch would have been a nightmare!
I still vividly remember proudly driving my dad’s car up 22nd street all by myself on the first day I had the legal right to drive. I was something to see! I was the epitome of coolness as I sort of hung out the window, waiving at my friends. Spectacular! Awesome! Everything was wonderful…until I inadvertently swerved into the lane of oncoming traffic while showing off.
Scared the crap out of me!
Time to drive home.
The other big thing that year was the culmination of my Crush.
I’ve shared the story of my “Crush” in a previous Muncie Boyhood posting. This juvenile infatuation lasted for five years; from fifth grade in Mrs. Dennis’ class until it came to a screeching halt in March of 1978. During this long period of naïve and innocent puppy love, I had always held out hope that one day my aspirations of attaining this girl's affections would be fulfilled. So, when I was invited to attend her 16th birthday party, I was quite excited…and more than a little nervous. However, when I got there reality overcame my adolescent dreams.
There were eight of us at the party. Tena, and her two friends, Bobbie and Betsy were there, and they each had a boyfriend. Yes, my crush had a boyfriend….and he was there! That accounts for six. I was number seven. Number eight was Tena’s younger sister, Teresa.
Now, consider me Mr. Oblivious….because it only recently occurred to me that this could have been by design; someone's match-making plan. I really don’t know. But, there were three couples….and two other people without a partner at the dance. And it was a dance…a dance party. It just never hit me like that at the time because I was so infatuated with the birthday girl. It is possible that perhaps I was so mesmerized by the lily that was out of reach that I couldn’t see the rose that was under my nose. I guess I’ll never know if that was the intent, but it does make me go “hmmmmm.”
Well anyway, there are two things that I do recall clearly from the party. The first was the one time I got up to dance. I sort of wanted to, but then again, I didn’t. I was still paralyzed by insecurity and I really had no dance skills. (Still don’t.) But, because the girls dragged me up to do “The Bump”, I danced with them. (I have got to admit though…my teenage-self did enjoy that couple of minutes quite a bit.)
But, the other thing I remember was the sense of loneliness and loss. I was alone in the crowd. The girl I had been longing for over the last five years was not to be mine, and the affection she was showing her boyfriend made that painfully obvious.
I just sat there…alone…alone in the darkened room with the pain of my new futile reality.
I would have no choice but to move on.
As painful as that was, it was a short-lived pain. Three months later my Crush was replaced by my first girlfriend when Toni jumped into my world and eradicated the lingering pain from my smashed obsession.
I don’t really recall how we met. She was in my youth group at Fairlawn Church of Christ, so it was probably at what was called “Monday Night Fellowship” or in our Sunday morning class. Somehow, though a friendship developed, and the first time it seemed to me to be even more was a Sunday afternoon at a park in New Castle. The group had an outing, and we spent a good deal of the time together. Afterward, she sent word to me that I should give her a call. (I played it cool, but my heart nearly jumped out of my chest!)
Later that day, I called her…and I messed it up right off the bat.
I didn’t realize that her dad had some pretty strict rules about boys and phone calls. For example, she could only stay on the phone for ten minutes. (That still seems insanely short to me.) But, the time limit wasn’t my initial screw up. No, you see, she also was not allowed to call boys and she was not allowed to ask them to call her…which is exactly what she had done with me.
So, the call started out something like this:
Her sister: “Hello?”
Me: “Uh, hi. Is Toni there?”
Sister: “Yeah, hold on. Toni! There’s a boy on the phone for you!”
Me (while the sister is still on the extension): “Hi Toni. This is Mike. I heard you wanted me to call you.”
Let’s just say that there was some sibling conflict that ensued, and Toni got in a wee bit of trouble. Thankfully, it wasn’t too much because we set up our first date…, my very first date ever.
July 4, 1978. Prairie Creek Reservoir. Fireworks.
A week later, we had our second date…,and I had my first kiss.
Delaware County Fair. Parking Lot. My dad’s Chevy Nova.
That kiss was only remarkable in that it was my first. Otherwise, it was pretty pathetic. I was so incredibly nervous and I had no clue how to handle myself. Ultimately, it was just a short little peck on the lips and that was about it. But, it was a kiss. A wonderful thing to a nerdy 16-year old who had begun to wonder if it was ever going to happen. And, they got much better at our next outing, which was a youth group trip to a Cincinnati Reds baseball game.
Soon, we were “visiting” at stop signs on county roads, the back of the Wendy’s parking lot on McGalliard Road, and anyplace else where we thought we could sneak in a few minutes of lip-locked visitation. Call it "Youthful Enthusiasm."
Now, we did have our boundaries driven by our faith and our commitment to God in our lives, and we kept to them pretty well considering we were products of the ‘70s. And even though there were temptations to overstep our personal limits, we never did so, and I am proud of that fact. She was a good girl, and I was doing my best to be a good guy.
To bring this installment to a close, by the end of the summer of 1978, I was driving like I’d been born behind the wheel, and I had a sweet and pretty girlfriend named Toni. All that anxiety caused by my crush was behind me, and Tena was again simply my friend Tim’s sister.
Crush? What crush? I had moved on.