Christa

1968, Carbondale, Illinois. I was in fifth grade, and something of a know-it-all. I had already decided I was going to be a writer, having recently abandoned my previous choices of astronaut and atomic scientist. And I was generally acknowledged, for better or worse, as the smartest kid on the class. Except for her: Christiana Marie Snyder.

She got better grades than me. She always knew the answer, but didn’t jerk her hand into the air when the teacher asked for volunteers, waiting instead to be called on. She had long, straight brown hair, and mismatched eyes, one green, one blue. And she was clearly smarter than me. It was love at first report card.

But hey, I was eight, and at eight you haven’t got a clue about how to express your feelings for someone. At eight you don’t even know you have feelings! So I kept my mouth shut and worshipped from afar, all the way until February.

But then it got close to Valentine’s Day, and to the annual ritual of going to the store to pick out the box of perforated cards to give to your classmates. As usual my mother had to ask if there was someone special I wanted to get a card for. Much to my (and, I imagine, their) amazement, I said yes. So my mom helped me pick out a nice card with lots of glitter and ribbons and stuff that girls like, and we brought the cards home.

And of course she wanted to know whom the special card was for, but wanted to let me have my privacy and not ask. But she wasn’t above looking at the mimeographed list of classmates’ names I had brought home to see who didn’t get a Peanuts valentine. I was too smart for that, though – I addressed one for Christa, too!

I didn’t address the crimson envelope, but took it with me to school and wrote her name on it there. When the time came for us all to walk around the room and drop our little valentines into the decorated paper bags that served as our mailboxes, I tried to slyly slip hers in without being noticed. Fat chance, the card was bigger than the mailbox – I was busted immediately by a girl across the room with a voice like a braying donkey.

“Hey, look! Christa’s got a boyfriend! Christa’s got a boyfriend!”

Thus commenced the taunting and teasing, and there was much merriment among the urchins. So, I did what any self-respecting eight-year old would do when confronted with the leering question, “Do you like her, Kevin, do you?” I said “Ew, no, ick!”

For what it’s worth, she said the same thing. The difference was, I knew that I was lying.

Days peel off the calendar, and it is May. In spite of our public declarations of ick-ness, we started spending time together at recess, running scams on the other kids, being generally weird. It was nice, and we even started to develop a clique around us. So one day in the playground I steeled my nerves and made my move.

“Christa, I like you.”

She smiled at me, and took my hand. “That’s good, ’cause I like you, too.”

And then Tim and Meg came up, and looked at my hand in her hand, and didn’t say a word. And it was good.

And that day on the way home from school my father says, “Hey, guess what? We’re moving to Florida!”

[2003]

Prom Night

Sheila Dixon and Marc Kevin Hall, 1977“If you don’t go to your senior prom you’ll regret it for the rest of your life!” So said my mother, with the conviction only a mother can muster. Unfortunately, being a headstrong and willfully defiant and unconventional high school senior (isn’t that entire phrase redundant?), I would have no part of it. Besides, to go to prom you need a date, and I hadn’t dated anyone for quite a while, not since Suzanne had unceremoniously dumped me. So I told my parents that it wasn’t going to happen, and that they should thank me for saving them the cost of a tux rental. They were not amused.

Nor did the pressure ease up, as the date approached. And to be fair, it was tough at school, too. Even band kids were going, so I couldn’t escape the endless talk of dresses and tuxes, and after-prom parties, and who was getting a hotel room on the beach, etc. One day just two weeks before the event I was complaining about this obsession with a ridiculous party to Lori, a girl I had known for years, but who was way too pretty to go out with me. She admitted she wasn’t going, either, and was getting grief from her folks about it, too. After an extraordinarily brief pause, I asked her to go to the prom with me, “Just to get our folks off our backs.” She thought that was a good idea, but seeing as she was dating someone (an underclassman, no less!), it would probably be trouble. “But why don’t we double-date! It will be more fun to go with someone else who thinks this is silly.”

I sadly pointed out my currently unattached state, but Lori was undeterred, assuring me that she could easily find someone to go with me. I was skeptical, but was willing to let her try to hook me up. And hook me up she did. Boy, howdy.

Sheila Dixon was a member of the drill team, beautiful, sweet natured, quiet, and a sophomore. I knew her by name, but had never even really spoken with her before Lori introduced her to me as my prom date. I formalized the invitation – “Do you really want to go to the prom? With me?” — and she accepted— “Sure, I mean, it’s the senior prom! Oh, and I’ve heard you are nice.” So, passionate vows having been exchanged, we set to work on the arrangements.

I asked Sheila if she wanted to go on a “trial date” first, to get to know each other before the prom. Unfortunately, that wasn’t practical, as it turned out that Sheila was a from a highly restrictive and religious household. She was sixteen, but was not permitted to date until she was twenty-one. Getting out for one night would be hard enough; two would be impossible. How could she go to the prom? Easy: her mother was so excited that Sheila was going to the prom that she decided to lie to Dad, to keep him in the dark.

Prom night itself was an episode of Mission: Impossible. Prom started at 7:30, so at 6:30 I was to pull up around the corner from her house and park on the street. At the same time Sheila’s mother would ask Dad to run to the store and get her some milk, insisting in only the way a housebound mother can. When I saw a large blue car roll past, driven by a burly man with a sour expression on his face, I was to zip around the corner and into the Dixon’s driveway. Sheila would then be bustled out of the bedroom where she had been hiding all afternoon — feigning “feminine discomfort,” I later learned — and after a quick photo op for Mom, we would jump into the car and whisk away to pick up Lori and Steve.

I must confess, I can remember relatively little of the prom itself. We got a little lost on the way there, and arrived late, so that people were already sitting down to eat. I was a bit nervous, too, as I was very much out of my element. Formal wear, white linen tablecloths, the Beautiful People — these are not things for which my Kentucky upbringing had prepared me. But I gave it a shot, and tried to have fun, in spite of the slow dawning realization that Sheila was having trouble remembering my name, and the fact that she was putting the moves on every football player who came within reach. Besides, the torture wouldn’t last forever, given our time constraints.

Yes, time constraints. See, Sheila had to be home by 10:30. “Feminine discomfort” or not, her Dad was going to go into her room to kiss her goodnight before he went to bed, which occurred promptly at 10:30 every night. Mom was going to delay a bit with another emergency grocery run – “Honey, I just realized I don’t have any eggs for your breakfast tomorrow!” – but we had better be watching to see the blue tank come around that corner.

We made it down the street just a little late, but Sheila recognized her father’s car turning the far corner toward the store. We whipped into the driveway, and her frantic mother rushed out and hustled her in. No goodnight kiss, no “Thanks for a lovely evening,” nothing. Just a blur of white fabric, a slamming door, and me backing out of the driveway.

When I spoke to Sheila the next day, she would hardly acknowledge having ever gone out with me. Shortly after these events, of course, I graduated and went away to school, so I couldn’t keep tabs on developments in her life. I did hear that she started to rebel against her parents, though, and ended up dating a prominent member of the offensive line. The evening wasn’t a total loss for one of us, anyway.

And my mother turned out to be right. If I hadn’t gone to my prom, I wouldn’t have this story to tell, and isn’t that all we take away from high school, anyway, stories?

A Nameless Kiss

I can’t honestly recall my first kiss. I have vague memories of kissing a girl named Donna when I was about five, but I don’t suppose they count. Two or three years later I was kissed by Christa, an embarassed peck on the lips at a going away party she had for me. That one left me dizzy, but maybe it was just too much sun. Anyway, they were both too vague to really count.

The first fully intentional and anticipated kiss I ever received was at about age eleven. I was at a lavish birthday party for Debbie, once of my classmates, and as the evening wore on the numbers dwindled to the point where we could all go into her dad’s study and listen to records. The lights were low, there was much whispering and giggling, and then the empty Coke bottle came into play, beginning an American rite of passage.

I knew Debbie pretty well from band class, and I freely admit to a tremendous crush on her. She was darkly pretty, whip-smart, and a talented musician. I didn’t fully understand all these hormonal currents rushing through me — I hit puberty at nine, so I was pretty damned certain something was going on — but I knew that getting my lips against hers was the first step in the process. So the bottle was spun, and spun, and spun, and wouldn’t point at me. No kisses. Finally on one girl’s spin it did. She wasn’t my first choice, Debbie, but by now I had witnessed enough kissing that I knew the kiss was more important than the person.

Unfortunately, the girl who spun the bottle looked up, saw that it was me, and said “Ew, no! I’m not kissing him, no way!” Much hilarity ensued, all at my expense, until Debbie coldly informed the girl that if she didn’t kiss me she would tell everyone at school that the girl was making out with me all night. The thought of her utter social devastation so terrified her that she steeled her nerves and gave me a dry kiss lasting perhaps a nanosecond.

Shortly after that I decided maybe it was time to get on my bike and ride home. I still wanted to hook up with Debbie, but in no more than ten words she made it clear that we were just going to be friends. Distant friends. Acquaintances, even. It turned out not to matter, as her dad was arrested for money laundering the next year, so they moved out of state.

In Amber Light

I woke up early that Sunday. I usually do these days, no matter how late I stay up; I guess it’s a sign of age. Mary was still getting some much-needed sleep, so I decided to make a little breakfast for us, to surprise her.

I padded as quietly as I could into her kitchen, and started rummaging through her cabinets. When I’d arrived in town she’d shown me all the stuff she’d bought for us to eat over the weekend, and we’d ended up barely touching it. Time to eat.

“Hmm, here’s the coffee, and there’s the coffee maker. What’s in the fridge… crumpets! She made some yesterday, and they were pretty good. Only two left, but that’s okay. Okay, and I’ll just leave the toaster set where she left it, since it worked before. If it ain’t broke…

“The coffee is made, but I don’t know if she takes cream, sugar, or both. I hate to wake her up for that, but I guess I’ll have to. Oh, and I know she likes bacon, and there’s a package in the fridge. Damn, it’s a gas range! I’m thwarted by unfamiliar technology! Okay, I’ll wake her up and ask her how to turn it on.”

I gently woke her up, and asked about the range. Mary offered to get up and do it, but I declined. She gave me the instructions, and I brought her coffee — cream, no sugar — and the crumpets. She laid back down and started to drift off again.

“Okay, here’s a pan. Hmm, small, but it’ll work. Shit, it’s been so long since I cooked breakfast I don’t even remember what to do. Check the back of the package. Good, it has some of those instructions I like to mock so much: ‘Heat pan. Put bacon in pan. Remove when done. Drain before serving.’ Well, okay, I guess I could have figured that out. Damn, another dilemma. Does she like chewy or crispy bacon?”

I was getting ready to disturb her again when I heard her voice: “Wow, how did you make these crumpets? These are so much better than the ones I made yesterday!” A testament to the flavor gained by having someone bring you breakfast in bed, I suppose, since I didn’t change a thing.

“Bacon chewy. Okay, then I’d better take these out now. How much will she want? Hmm, better put in some more.” She called me from her room, and asked if I wanted some eggs (or actually pseudo-eggs). “I’m on a roll here, and am having fun putting this together, but I don’t eat eggs. So what am I going to do? Hmm, the directions on the Egg Beaters package assume that you’re going to make an omelet. Uh-oh, now this batch of bacon’s gotten too crisp. Well, that’ll be mine, then. Shit, where’s a bowl? How am I going to cook these?”

About this time Mary shuffled into the kitchen to save me. She noted that the grease is getting deep in the pan, and that I was probably going to set the house on fire. We laughed, and I poured the grease into a cat food can. When I put the pan back on the burner for the eggs, it immediately started to smoke and set off the alarm. Mary dashed around, taking a towel and fanning the detector while I got the pan off the burner, and all I could think about was the lobster scene inAnnie Hall. We started laughing again and she gave up and joined me in the preparations.

She mixed stuff into the eggs, and we made a pitcher of orange juice. Then she decided to make scones (which turned out to be a hell of a lot easier than I thought). And then, at last, we popped a bottle of champagne for mimosas, and headed to the dining room.

And it was great. Jazz on the stereo, amber morning light coming in through the windows, and lively conversation. The food was good (even the eggs), and we plowed through it all voraciously. Then we adjourned to the Florida room, for more mimosas and talk.

We sat there for hours in pleasant conversation, of the sort I’ve not had in years, just getting to know each other. We spoke of our lives, of dreams and fears, of people we’ve known and experiences that led to our places today. Griffin and Scooter wandered in and out, I learned about the “Secret Life of Santa Claus,” and sometimes just closed my eyes and let the days soak into my soul. And every now and then Mary would note that it was my last day in Cincinnati, and was I certain I didn’t want to go somewhere? I said no, and it was the truth. Much to my amazement the morning had truly relaxed me, and I didn’t want it to end. But eventually the orange juice got warm, and we both started getting mild headaches from sitting too long, so we decided to drive to Yellow Springs for a while. We would be able to continue our conversation in the car.

Mary checked her e-mail and called her mother while I showered. I got out, dressed, and was ready to leave when the bad thing happened.

I don’t want to go into too many details, since their are real people involved. It involved the unexpected amd wholly irrational actions of another person, escalated into potential violence, and utterly shattered the peace and good feelings of the morning. Instead of going to Yellow Springs we spent the remainder of the day and well into the evening dealing with suicide threats, the police, and harassing phone calls.

Late that night, after things had settled down a bit, Mary and I went for a walk through her neighborhood. She pointed out historic buildings, places where friends lived, strange renovations. I marveled at the simple and solid architecture, so different from Miami. And we talked more about our lives, and of the future. The bad thing came back into the conversation a couple of times, but that was to be expected, and it didn’t stay too long. Eventually we started to recapture, in a small way, the golden light of the morning, and of our sunlit talk of the early afternoon.

And then we spoke of feelings, in a tentative way, of fear, and hurt, and hope. As we talked we turned down a long, steeply sloped street, a street which rose just as sharply on the other side. Being from a flat place I stopped to take in the view, and then really saw it for what it was. I took Mary’s arm and guided her to the middle of the road. “Look!”

It was perfectly cinematic. The old tree-lined street dipped ahead, our elongated shadows cast onto the asphalt before us, the starry indigo sky above: it was framed perfectly for a film.

“Today’s been a movie, Mary. We had the set-up, introduced the characters, built tension, had the dramatic crisis, the sadness and conclusion, and now they’re getting ready to roll the credits on us. We survived, and we get to move on.”

Thirty feet ahead, our shadows held hands, then kissed.

All Good Things

I guess the detail which surprised me the most was the genuine compassion in the judge’s voice. I knew going in that in dissolutions of marriage the judge is supposed to make a token attempt to preserve the union, but this guy made eye contact, and really seemed like he cared when he asked us if there was any way he could help us work things out. I wasn’t expecting that; I almost lost it.

But really, what could he — what could anyone do? Marie and I were together fifteen years, seven before marriage, and nearly eight years after. We tried, in our own twisted ways, we really did. Maybe in the end we were both too independent, too proud, too stubborn, too unwilling to compromise — but I don’t think so. I suspect that our marriage died because it had been so very, very good for so long. I’m not looking back on this through the mists of romantic nostalgia, either – we had terrible fights, and petty situations would drive us to incredible anger. But we were so different in complementary ways that we always rode out the storms, and ended up even closer as a result. Love conquered all.

When the trouble came we were both blind sided, didn’t really know what to do, how to handle it. We had just gotten married! How could there be trouble so soon? So, we did what we always did, tried to talk about it, and rode it out, waiting for this storm to pass, just as the others had in the past. After all, we were special, we were unique in all the world, we were in Love, and we could work this out, given time enough. But the storm passed too slowly, and we grew apart before the trouble ended. Honest to god, we tried for years, but hurt had accumulated on both sides, and it was going to take an extraordinary effort from us both to fix things. And we blew it.

And now it is over, with the granting of a petition for dissolution of marriage. There’s no rancor, no hard feelings between us, and I hope that eventually we’ll even be close again. I find myself fending off the attempts at levity from uncomprehending friends – “Wow, finally! Where’s the party?!” — or the well-meaning but clumsy offers of solace — “Well, at least now you can get on with your life.” The hardest for me to deal with, though, are those who use this occasion to expound on their own theories of How Things Work: never live with someone before marriage; honesty ruins relationships — just lie and the problem will go away; love is not important in a marriage, money is; and so on. Every single person has their idea of what it must be like, and how they’ll get it right, and every married person knows that they have the answers, and every bitterly divorced person knows it is all shit, anyway.

Fortunately, I’m not bitter. I know better than to even say something as foolish as “I’ll never love again.” Hell, I fall in love at the drop of a hat; there is something so marvelous and special about humanity that I can’t help myself. Nonetheless, the finalization of the divorce has hit me hard, harder, actually, than I had even expected. Some people are saddened when they hear a song which was special in a past love, but Marie saved my life; I can’t look in a mirror without seeing her impact on who I am. I don’t have the answers yet, and I’ve been thinking about it for years. Somehow I doubt that I’ll ever have any real answers. Relationships grow, change, and eventually die, without anyone ever really understanding why.

I just know that for a brief, shining moment I was a part of something extraordinary; now I’m left with a melancholy remembrance of something beautiful irretrievably lost.

Force of nature

“So, what kind of games do you play?” Gale’s lush, kinky blond hair fell down around her face as she sat studying her cards under the fluorescent lights. “It’s usually pinochle or euchre for me.”

“A little of everything, really. Board games, cards games, role playing games…”

The host carefully placed another pitcher of sangria on the rickety table the ambled off to another group. Gale played some cards and refilled her glass without looking up.

“Oh, yeah, okay. But do you play games?” Her emerald eyes peered out of the thicket framing her pale skin. “You know. Games.”

She slowly smiled. I drained my glass and asked for the check.


The sun crept into my efficiency’s tiny window and woke me as she was pulling on her t-shirt. “Gotta go,” she smiled, shaking out her mane. “Early shift in the ER today. Usually I work graveyard. I had fun. Mind if I come over again?”

I muttered something about getting her some orange juice while I searched the floor for my glasses.

“You’re sweet, thanks, but no time today. I’ll see you tomorrow!” The door’s chain rattled behind her.


A 7am knock.

“Uh, Gale, hi! How’re you—”

Silhouetted in the doorway, her head and shoulders were haloed by her wild hair. I had never seen anyone so beautiful in rumpled scrubs. I knuckled my eyes.

“Shhhh. I’m in a hurry.” She kicked the door shut behind her.


In just two weeks of visits I switched from a night owl to a morning person. Sometimes she brought doughnuts. When she stopped showing up, I wished I’d convinced her to give me her number. I missed her. I got over it.


“Welcome to Sears, can I help you find something?”

The brambles of her hair had been hacked away, and what was left was held in bondage by a severe clip. These had been five unkind years. “Gale?”

Her tired eyes looked puzzled for a moment, then flashed with fear. She touched the small gold cross at her throat. That was new.

“No, I’m sorry, I’m not the person you’re looking for. Let me find someone who can help you.”

I waited at the counter for ten minutes before I left the store.

Redemption

A few months ago I received an e-mail from a lovely woman named Holly; the same Holly featured in my story “Belief.” After some failed attempts, we finally arranged to meet for coffee, so in the interest of full disclosure, prior to the meeting I sent her a link to the story. I wasn’t sure how she would respond, but I was ultimately delighted that she understood. She remembered a few details a little differently — no surprise there, it was over twenty years ago — but she thought the gist of it was quite accurate. That was a relief, as I’m always uncertain what the subjects of my stories will think of the intersection between their life and my own. This is a part of my reasoning behind the discretion shown here on Hidden City — why expose people needlessly?

We met in a cozy little strip mall coffee shop in Broward; living room style with comfortable couches and low tables. There was a bit of awkwardness at first, but it lasted mere seconds before we fell into a wonderful conversation. We spoke about her life in the days since we broke up — her friends’ attempts to get her back into dating, her wonderful marriage, the odd quirks of fate, her terrific daughter — and we talked about the relentless oddity of my own world, and my recent decision to try to find a little stability. When Holly’s daughter called to check up on her mom, I spoke with her on the phone for a moment, which was funny and strange and, well, remarkably nice.

As expected, we reminisced about our time together — the fun we had, the silly and romantic times, the weird times too. Holly shared some very touching things with me, memories she has treasured that I would never have guessed she even recalled after all these years apart. And yes, we talked some about the break-up and of the heartbreak we both felt.

Mainly, though, we shared a lot of laughter. It was as if we were still in our twenties, the cute biology teacher with the goofy laugh, and the skinny bookworm with dreams as big as the sky, eating junk food and drinking sweet wine, best friends planning our futures and sharing our lives.

Before it was over our cup of coffee had lasted over three hours, moving to an IHOP before we reluctantly parted. As she prepared to drive home to her husband and daughter, we promised to get together again soon. Unlike most such promises, I think we’ll keep this one. I suspect we were both thinking the same thing. The tragedy was not the pain we both suffered when our romance dissolved; fate has its way with us all, and life moves on. Our tragedy was that we let twenty years pass before finding our friendship again.

Belief

I liked Holly from our first meeting. She was quite cute, with curly black hair, a gorgeous smile, and fabulously zaftig, but she also had a delightful sparkle in her deep brown eyes, and an embarrassed way of telling a dirty joke that was utterly charming. But to my twenty year old self, her most intriguing trait was that she said yes when I asked her out.

When I picked her up from her tiny one room house I brought her a gift: a goofy-looking, fifteen feet long hot pink plush snake. It was an irrational choice, but she previously mentioned liking stuffed animals and snakes both, and since I had seen this monstrosity at the mall, I gave it a shot. When I dragged it into the house she was taken aback, but amused, and — as she later admitted — a little touched by the naivety shown. The snake ended the night wrapped around her table, and we ended the night looking out her window at the moon. Holly believed in romance.

Two nights later she showed up at the little shop I managed, having called first to tell me she was picking up some Kentucky Fried Chicken for my dinner. She went straight into my office carrying a large wicker basket, and when I closed the store a short time later I found my office table cleared of papers. In their place was a red and white checkered tablecloth, china plates and crystal glasses, silverware, white candles, linen napkins, a chilled bottle of wine, and a bucket of the Colonel’s best with all the sides. Holly believed in showing some class, even for fried chicken.

Our relationship progressed swiftly past the first “dinner and a movie” dates and into the “why yes, we’re dating” stage. She became accustomed to my eccentricities as I became enamored of hers. Granted, we didn’t go out all that much, as our low-paying jobs didn’t afford us many options; we enjoyed staying in and listening to records more, anyway.

Soon we started spending weekends together, and our conversations turned toward the future; we both liked what we saw. We made plans on Sunday afternoons: I would go back to school and complete my degree, while she would start work on her master’s degree. In a few years we would both be in better places career-wise and financially, and then we’d take the world by storm. Laying on the couch with jazz on the radio it seemed so straightforward.

Then I was fired from my job. I hadn’t done anything wrong other than point out the things the owners needed to do to become competitive, but that was enough. It devastated me. I had never lost a job before, and I had bills to pay, and tuition to save, and a future to create. Holly was supportive, though, and tried to help me find a good job, but my fear of bankruptcy was too great. I ended up taking the first job that would have me — packing boxes in a warehouse. I didn’t plan on staying there long, but I needed to get some money coming in so I could focus on finding something better.

Holly didn’t approve of my decision. I was rushing to get a job, she said. I was too desperate, she said. I didn’t see the big picture, she said. I wasn’t ambitious enough, she said.

I wasn’t the right person for her, she said. Let’s be friends, she said.

Ten years later I ran into Holly at the Olive Garden. She’d changed, but I recognized her immediately — if her eyes hadn’t given her away, her smile would have. I wasn’t sure she saw me, though, until she approached me by the hostess stand.

The traditional pleasantries were exchanged, nothing extraordinary except her casual mention that her husband was in the men’s room. “He’s a dentist,” she said, “a nice man. My mother approves.” “I’m happy for you,” I told her, and meant it. Then she leaned forward, quickly kissed me, told me she still thought of me from time to time, and then darted back to her table.

My date returned from the rest room and asked who the woman was. “Holly,” I said. “I haven’t seen her in years. I never expected to see her again.”

Holly believed in bone china for fast food, and showing a little class. Holly believed in romance, and having love in her life. But Holly also believed in being practical, and planning for the future; Holly didn’t believe in us.

Sand

I like going to the beach. I like the sand, the sound of the waves, the inescapable tranquility there, even on a Saturday afternoon filled with boom boxes and hip-hop and traffic noise. The immensity of the ocean mutes all the trivial achievements of man and our petty little annoyances. It is calming.

Unfortunately, the sun doesn’t care much for me. It seems sometimes that my skin is so sensitive to ultraviolet that I get a burn from fluorescent lighting. Without a thick coat of SPF1000 I go up in flames, like a gen-x vampire. And while I have no problem with oiling up for the right person, it isn’t the same when it’s Coppertone Flat White Housepaint.

So I compromise. I go to the beach in the late afternoon, when most of the crowds have left, and walk until the sun sets. Some days I bring a notebook with me and write until the light is gone. Once twilight comes, I find an empty lifeguard station and sit, watching the violet waves fade to black. It helps me find my center. It did back then, too, before I met her.

The first time I saw her, she almost literally bowled me over. I had seen the sparkle of something in the sand, and knelt down to get it. When I stood up, I slipped a bit in the loose dry sand, and almost fell right into her path. I heard a sound and looked up just in time to see two strong, muscular legs leap over my almost-but-not-quite prone form. I instinctively ducked, and by the time I got to my feet she was already yards down the beach. For a moment I considered trying to follow her, but quickly realized that I could never catch her, probably not from an even start, certainly not with her lead. I smiled though, at the image of those legs, and of that terrific ass as it sped away from me.

Our paths crossed several more times over the next weeks, though not as clumsily as the first. Mostly I would be walking along, scribbling in the sand with a stick of driftwood, when I would hear the quick pad of her footsteps on the sand ahead of me. I would look up from my scrawl, and stop to watch her glide effortlessly across the sand, enjoying the movements of her taut muscles, then energy she put into the run. And I would just enjoy looking at her, although I tried to be at least slightly discreet. I would smile at her as she passed me, and she would smile back. And some days, after she passed, I would turn around to enjoy the view from the other side. I wondered if she knew I was looking, and was embarrassed once when she looked back over her shoulder a few yards further down. Fortunately she smiled in a good-natured way, and I assumed I didn’t have to be quite as circumspect in my enjoyment.

As the days passed, I tried to think of ways to introduce myself to her. Running alongside her was ridiculous; even if I was as young as her, I couldn’t hope to keep up with her, and would only humiliate myself. Just waving her to a stop would work for most people, but I tend to be shy. (I guess that’s why I write.) But I only had another weekend on the island, and hated the thought of leaving without even telling her directly how much I enjoyed these glancing meetings.

So one Friday twilight I was walking along, lost in thoughts, writing poems in the sand, when a haiku came to me. I stopped near the water’s edge and wrote, in large block letters in the sand:

the panther runs with
grace and speed, and does not stop
for introductions

I read what I had written, laughed at the silliness of it, and was about to wipe it out when I heard familiar strides.

She continued running, but slowed as she passed. She was maybe another ten yards down the shore when she stopped and turned around, returning to read it again in the fading light. I stood stock still, afraid to even look at her. Then she turned to me, smiled, said, “I’m Stephanie,” and continued her run. It  took quite a while for twilight to end.