Jeff Smith 12:15 p.m., April 24
- Community Blog
College & University, Revisited
I grew up near the corner of Avenues College and University, which sounds like a bad metaphor but is really just a statement of fact. The house is still there, and it's only recently that I've found myself driving past it without turning my head to look. College Avenue is a busy thoroughfare, and I'm one of those people who often has to drive up it to get to where I'm going. I was away for so long, though, that each time I'd go by it for the past dozen years, I couldn't help thinking about all the things that had happened there during the first eleven years of my life.
We moved to another, quieter place in the same neighborhood just a month before my eleventh birthday, so I was around the same people all the way through high school, after which I moved away for decades. Then I bought a place on University Avenue, a ways east of College. It wasn't specifically my plan to return to the place where I grew up, but I didn't fight the karma.
There are some apartments just west of College, that have been there for as long as I can remember. From time to time there'd be someone we knew living there, so it's a somewhat familiar place. One time in the early nineties, while I was visiting home while working abroad, a childhood friend invited me over to see his house on a cul de sac by the east end of the complex. After a nice visit, I wandered over to the steps of the easternmost unit and sat myself down. It couldn't have been that long that I sat there by myself, but I'm really not sure. I lost track of time.
In my mind, the place returned to the way it appeared in the early seventies, with the Cinerama and the bowling alley and the Red Coat Inn, there in that shopping center on the south side of University, across from the apartment complex. It was all razed in 1990, and during another visit home I remember going over to see the vacant lot, before it was rebuilt into a pretty nice retail center anchored by the Hometown Buffet and I-Hop. I remember it as it was, when it cost fifty cents to fill up the tank of my Honda CB160 and my best girl lived there in the next-to-last apartment.
We never went on a date but we were always, in a sense, dating. We were never all that comfortable with each other because we were in love and didn't know quite what to do about it. We might have held hands a time or two, and she never minded at school when once in awhile I'd give her big ponytail a gentle tug and put my arm around her. Sometimes I'd come over and we'd sit out on those steps, just talking about things. Her mom was always there, but seemed to like me and didn't keep too watchful an eye. In retrospect, she probably thought it a good thing.
She was from Puerto Rico. Circumstances had her living for a time in the Dominican Republic, and when LBJ intervened in the 1965 unrest there he for some reason took a personal interest in her family's wellbeing. She had a close relative who worked for NASA, and perhaps this most enigmatic of presidents had at one time met him and remembered. On his orders, they were evacuated to Puerto Rico. Some years later, she ended up in San Diego, where part of her extended family lived. I don't recall seeing her before my junior year of high school, and I think I would have noticed if I had.
I'd never been involved in any but the most superficial way with a person who wasn't purely continental U.S. She intrigued me at first, I guess, and was just so darned pretty. She was also a good student, and probably too serious about things. We never seemed to talk about simple stuff. It was, truth be told, a little bit confusing to have someone so attractive take an interest in me. My best friend was in a few classes with her, and told me that guys were always interested in her. She, however, had eyes only for me, an angsty teenager in a constant state of existential crisis, with a mop-like head of hair and a cheap motorcycle.
Nearly forty years later, I still have a mop-like head of hair, but my motorcycle is top-of-the-line. Though I've been so for quite a long time, it's odd just the same to think that I'm middle-aged, with more days behind me than ahead. I still remember, though, that day in early 1973 when she told me she'd be leaving before the end of the school year to return to Puerto Rico. I've never had such a feeling of being ripped off. We decided to just kind of end things, with no promises to write or stay in touch.
The story's not as romantic as it sounds. We did in fact get back in touch a couple of times over the years through friends of friends, but there was always that same uncomfortable stalemate. We were never "just friends." We seemed destined to be each others hope, only to disappoint. I asked only that she contact me if she ever were to get married, and one day the letter came. I'd moved on, I guess, but still it hurt to know that the dream, long deferred, would now rest in peace. She didn't love him; it ended eventually... and as Forrest Gump would put it, that's all I've got to say about that. My own situation might be analogous to that of the San Diego Chargers: Not devoid of highlights, but overall a legacy of disappointment. The latest unrequitted love has hurt for past couple of years, but I'm trying to recover and there's always next season.
The corner of College and University is still there, though much has changed. Once in awhile I'll get in moods, probably enhanced by alcohol, where I walk along the familiar places and remember them as they were, the people and happenings. It's strange to have a place where I conduct much of my day-to-day business become so magical in those moments, simply through a slight bending of perception. In such times, I'd trade my nice bike for that cheap little CB160. I'd put fifty cents worth of gas in the tank, and convince my best girl to climb on the back and ride off with me to the kinds of enchanted places that exist in my middle-aged dreams.