Courting Sally - Falling In Love From A Defensive Position
When I was a sophomore in high school I chose to take German. It was a bad idea. That class was such a humongous disaster that I had nightmares about it for years. And having nightmares simply about doing poorly in a class is saying a lot, because I had never been a good student; I was a chronic and magnificent underachiever. But there was one good thing to come out of that class. That thing would change my life.
That life changing thing was a gorgeous freshman girl with the disarmingly cheerful name Sally. Her face was an archetypical example of classic beauty. Her light-olive skin was smooth and perfect. She wore her thick and lush brown hair just shy of her shoulders. And her shoulders were beautiful in themselves.
We lived in the warm climate of southern California’s San Gabriel Valley, so owing to the weather, Sally would often wear something summery that showed off her bare shoulders. As my good fortune would have it, I sat in the desk directly behind Sally which offered the benefit of a close up view of her hair, neck, and, providentially, her shoulders.
For a 15 year-old boy, having a girl’s smooth, wonderful bare shoulders to gaze upon was a mortal distraction. I seldom made it past “guten tag” when my attention turned to shoulder gazing. From that point on, Frau Hoffman might as well be saying “blah, blah, blah” for the rest of the hour. Not surprisingly, I flunked German. (blah, blah, blah is, by the way, expressed blabla in German.)
In the entire year I sat there behind Sally, and despite all the visual distraction she commanded from me, I never said more than these seven words to her: “Can I borrow a piece of paper?”
That tiny verbal exchange was forced by circumstance. We were having a written exam and, no surprise, I was totally unprepared. Meaning I came to class with nothing but a house key and a pocket comb. It was the first time I had an opportunity to look her into her eyes, but that passed quickly. She gave me some paper and her attention was right back to her own preparation for the test. I was certain she thought I was a total dink, and if she did, she was correct in her assessment.
That year in German was the beginning of my interest in Sally. I was intrigued by her beauty and mystery throughout my high school career. She was silent and mysterious. Her looks were uncommon and exotic. Naturally, I thought I would like meet her, but, I didn’t have the confidence to simply strike up a conversation. In those days I needed some kind of set up or a lot of luck to meet a girl.
In my junior year a chance sighting of Sally would seriously intensify my attraction to her. I was attending a school dance when I turned my head and saw her in the middle of the gym. There she was standing confidently with her hands in her back pockets while she listened to the band. She looked amazing in a fringed buckskin jacket, tight blue jeans, and, since the dance was a “sock hop”, her stocking feet. I was frozen in that moment and I just starred at her for awhile. I was totally arrested by her astonishing beauty. In a cinematic vignette, the rest of the scene went out of focus in my mind. The only thing I could see in the center of the blur was Sally.
After seeing Sally at that dance I was telling my friend, Steve, about how “really good looking” I thought she was. He agreed, but told me he heard she only dated boys from other schools. I don’t know where he got his information but I accepted his word and understood the broader implication that boys at our school (ergo I) did not meet minimum eligibility requirements. Fair or not, that was a rule that applied to any girl that dated outside the school. I was discouraged and considered her even farther beyond my reach than before. But with all that stacked against me, she was still on my mind – more than ever.
In 1969, by some miracle of academic generosity, I graduated from high school and lost any contact with Sally.
When we had been in high school, most of my friends and I had the same English teacher. After graduating, several of us started hanging out at his house. It was sort of a bohemian thing, if that characterization works in a southern Californian cultural context. We began showing up at his house almost nightly.
George was someone we related to. He was in his very early thirties and to us he was very cool and hip. His teaching style was creative. He listened to the same music we did, he rode dirt bikes, and he was an intellectual thinker. Above all he and his wife, Marcia, opened their door to us and provided a place for us to socialize that was away from our parents.
Marcia was beautiful and warm and kind (and she still is). She always made us feel comfortable in her home, even though I’m sure we often far overstayed our welcome. We were there way too often and usually stayed much too late. We were immature and enjoying ourselves too much to recognize our rudeness, and George and Marcia were too nice to point it out.
To my delight, at some point, Sally started hanging out at George and Marcia’s. She was back in my life, or at least where I could see her.
I found myself arriving nightly at George and Marcia’s, hopeful to see Sally there so I could find a way to get close to her. I would arrive as early as I could, and stay so late that our hosts’ eyes would get noticeably heavy. For me this was a calculated effort to maximize my odds of being there at the same time Sally was. After several weeks of semi-stalking Sally in this way, I still wasn’t able to simply talk her. When she was around my confidence had the fortitude of wet wonder bread.
It was going to take a lot to get over four years of unconfident emotion toward Sally. I spoke openly to my friends about my feelings for her. They told me Sally was interested in me, and that’s why she was hanging around there. I was hard to convince. People kept encouraging me to just speak to her, but I was clueless. I distinctly remember George telling me in his simple, direct way “you should talk to her, Charlie.” Though George had not yet reached middle age, his words could carry the weight of a wise sage. I can still hear his voice replay that insightful six word phrase.
I was being a clumsy suitor. I spent night after night within fifteen feet of her, and it might as well have been fifteen miles. By being there Sally had made herself totally approachable, and even though my friends and mentors had advised me it was time to strike while the iron was hot, I was still holding back because I was afraid of rejection. Planets were going to have to align to get me to take the next step. Lucky for me, they were about to.
Among the young people hanging around George and Marcia’s was a guy named Scott. Scot was very handsome, with bright eyes, a square jaw, and a head of blonde hair in a semi-surfer haircut. He was jovial, full of energy, and he didn’t seem too serious about life’s consequences.
I didn’t really know Scott well but I liked him. Of all the people that would be helpful getting Sally and I together, he was the most unlikely I could think of. Something was about to happen that would challenge that perception.
Scott said he was having a party on Saturday night. It was for couples, and he emphatically advised I should invite Sally and come. He was pretty insistent on the invite Sally part.
“You just need to invite her out,” he told me. “Just invite her to my party.”
Since I didn’t know Scott well, I was a little surprised he would invite me to a party. But it wasn’t that unusual and sounded like fun.
“This is a good chance for you to get together with Sally, and I need you guys to come to my party. You two have to be there,” he said with an impish smile and a nod.
He was really driving that point home.
“Ok. That’s cool. I’ll ask her the next time I see her and we’ll be there!”
“Alright, great! My house, about seven o’clock, Saturday night. Is that Ok?”
“Yeah. Right on.”
“All right, man. It’ll be great. I’ll see ya.”
Scott seemed pleased. He gave me a broad smile and hurried off. Being in a hurry struck me as his typical demeanor.
Now what? The commitment to go to the party was also a co-commitment that I ask Sally to come with me. I was feeling comfortable with the arrangement. For the first time ever, I was feeling like I had a reason to talk to her. All I had to do was ask her to go. If she said yes that would be great. If she said no… I didn’t really think about that.
I can’t remember who, but someone pointed out to me that Sally was sitting alone. I remember hearing the words “go talk to her.” “Ok,” I thought, “I will.” As inconspicuously and nonchalantly as I could, I crossed the fifteen foot divide to where she was. I didn’t say much more than “hi”, then I told her about Scott’s party and asked if she wanted to go. She simply said “yes.”
Yes. With the utterance of that one word - a word with only one syllable, a word that is spoken millions of times every day, a word that is nothing more than a quickly articulated sound to which we have ascribed meaning, a word that has no glamour or beauty in its resonance… that one simple word almost matter-of-factly escaping from Sally’s amazingly beautiful lips - my life changed forever. And somehow, I knew it.
Instantly, there was no longer any barrier between us. All the previous tension I had been suffering fell away. It was suddenly easy to speak to her. I rambled on and on, sentence after sentence. She was a quiet listener, and I was an effusive talker; it was perfect. I probably said many inane and asinine things in the course of that first conversation, but I was afraid to stop talking. It might break the spell.
She was looking at me while I spoke, and I felt like she was genuinely interested in me. Whether or not she knew it, she was casting a spell on me and I was already falling in love with her.
On the day of Scott’s party (Saturday, May 2nd, 1970 by the way) I was walking over to George and Marcia’s when I happened to see Scott coming out of his house. I wanted to tell him I was coming to the party. I wanted to tell him that I had asked Sally and she said yes. I remember it was a bright sunny afternoon, and I was feeling good being outside and anticipating being with Sally that evening. I was happy to see Scott and to give him the news.
“Hey, Scott!” I hailed to him from about a house length away.
“Charlie! Dude, what’s happening?” he said, happy to see me.
“I asked Sally to the party. She’s coming. We’ll be there tonight.”
An expression of confusion came over him then quickly passed, which he hurriedly tried to cover.
“Ooh yeah! Hey, I forgot. I had to cancel the party,” he said with a sheepish look and a shoulder shrug that implied he had been caught in some kind of white lie - or perhaps a naive conspiracy. “I’m really, really sorry, man.”
I might have raised my eyebrows a little bit thinking I uncovered a plot, but I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable about his apology, if it was genuine.
“That’s ok. Uh, we can do something else. No problem.”
“That’s what I thought! Actually there is no party; I just thought you should ask Sally out.” and he started moving back in the direction he had been heading.
“Wait! What? There wasn’t a party?”
“Uh, no. Ahhh, Well I mean I just never got it together to plan a party. I told you about it, and then I forgot.”
His statements were conflicting with each other and they were not convincing. He stepped closer to me and put one hand on my right shoulder and patted me on my left shoulder with his other hand.
“ I thought you should ask Sally out, and I thought I might have a party so you would have a reason, but then I forgot about it. So, sorry, man. Are you mad?”
“No, it’s ok. No problem. We’ll figure something out. We’ll do something else.”
“Good. Great! Sorry again, but I gotta go.”
“Alright. Later dates. Have a good one,” I told him and I stepped back to imply his permission to leave.
“See ya, sorry, thanks,” and he turned away.
“Thanks?” I wondered. “Thanks for what?”
As he headed off he looked somewhat embarrassed. But while I watched him walk to his car and spin his keys on his finger, his manner quickly returned to normal. He really didn’t take life too seriously. I liked that about him.
I was kind of confused about the peculiar conversation that had just happened. It was totally weird and something about it was off kilter. I walked on kind of dazed by it and wondering what it meant. Was there ever a party? Did he really forget to plan a party? Was the whole party thing made up to give me an excuse to ask Sally out?
I was inclined to believed Scott had totally forgotten about the party’s plans (or plot) after he initially told me about it. Maybe he was put up to it? Maybe that’s why he went blank when I brought it up. That could wait until later. I needed to make new plans with Sally.
I told Sally that Scott’s party crashed and burned. She said she didn’t care about the party, and never really had. She just wanted to do something with me, and whatever we did was going to be fine. I don’t remember how we came up with the idea, but we decided to drive into Los Angeles to see the movie Woodstock.
George and Marcia loaned us their yellow Chevy Malibu for the drive into the city. My parent’s cars were dorky, and the Malibu gave the date a class upgrade and credibility. It was really cool and unforgettable to drive their most awesome car on our first date. George and Marcia took a leap of faith letting me drive their car intoLos Angeles that night. Their confidence was humbling, and that one act became an important stepping stone to adult hood for me.
We arrived at the theater before the box office opened. To pass the time we went for a stroll around the neighborhood.
It was an area designed for commercial utility. The construction of a bygone era was plain and ordinary. Signs of wear and overuse were on everything. The traffic was noisy, there were car lots with harsh utility lighting, and the sidewalks were cracked and uneven. We either didn’t notice or we didn’t care.
While we ambled through the unfamiliar urban-scape, we put our arms around each other and engaged in nervous small talk. We stopped under a lamppost next to a row of new Audis. Their color looked off under the illumination of a mercury vapor lamp. Looking for something to say we remarked that the Germans built nice cars. We put our arms around each other and hugged for a long time. I could feel her energy flow through me.
On those streets, in that early evening, before the movie ever started, I was in love with Sally.
When we ask someone “How did you meet?” it may be more interesting to ask “How did you fall in love?”
This isn’t just a story of how I met Sally. I’m not even sure at what point the actual meeting took place, and for that reason I’m never really able to answer the “How did you meet?” question. Instead, I end up telling the story of how we fell in love.
I don’t think most couples fall in love at first sight. They follow a path, usually from meeting, through courtship, to loving each other. Our path followed some twists and turns, split apart here and there, and it may have looped back on itself a couple of times. That’s ok. It was just a preview of the interesting road that was waiting ahead.
Friday, April 12, 2013