My Summer Love,
I’ve never shared this with anyone, but my heart needs the release. And who more sacred than you with whom I can let go?
I was bullied some years ago. High school. He was 6′ 8″, no less than about 220 lbs.–dry–and the captain and bonafide star of the basketball and football teams.
I scaled maybe 168–wet–a hair above six feet, and, after somehow making the varsity squad, surely by no more than the coach’s sympathy, a semi-professional bench warmer. I had no business on the team. Truthfully I loved books and the art, wonder, adventure and serendipity of words and stories.
Romantic words and expression especially. No one knew–outside my alter ego.
I just so happened to have a geometry class with the captain. I liked angles and degrees, the interplay of my hand and the protractor. And proofs and theorems offered a challenge not quite as hard as the girls on campus.
The captain wasn’t much on geometry. I know what you’re thinking: I was coerced into doing his work, right? Bullied into doing two sets of homework and crafting test answers when my parents and my God knew that wasn’t my character?
Not quite. In English Lit class I’d ghostwrite love letters and poetry to imaginary cheerleaders, and the hottest girl band members of that era, and even to Ms. Roberts, the recent-college-grad teacher whose mastery of the intricacies and power of the English language and, even more, the pen held me spellbound.
She had to sense there lurked something in me for her, harmless though it was. But, I swear, the erections were numerous and unyielding. Thank goodness my desk shielded me sub-torso. Had she called upon me to approach the board to fill in subject and predicate blanks or identify dangling participles, no doubt I would have been the laughingstock of my classmates–or perhaps the envy of a few.
Ms. Roberts never acknowledged my crush. And I was, even then, seasoned in the art of emotional subterfuge–beyond my years. She graded fairly, objectively, always mindful of the fragility of the student’s psyche yet lovingly tough because she understood the world would show no mercy.
I scored high B’s and low to mid A’s consistently. But none of that mattered psychologically to me until one verge-of-summer afternoon when she designated the class period freelance-writing hour–two simple prompts she wrote on the board: “Betrayal; Romance. What does either mean to you?”
Of course I chose the latter. We had the liberty of poetry or prose.
Man, I scored an A+. My first ever in her class. She requested to speak to me after class. Uh oh.
She held me captivated all of about five minutes. She began to read aloud my first paragraph in an almost whispery, lyrical tone (I guess because that’s how the words made her feel) and stopped in what was an eerie moment of feather silence to my lone audience. I then became just a bit nervous because she kept her eyes on the page a few seconds longer as if searching for the verbals.
I stood there; my breaths a bit less labored with each passing second, something having come slowly over me like some transformation of sorts in the presence of this professional woman.
She lifted her eyes, beheld me, and said something that would forever alter the course of my life: “I am so proud of you,” Ms. Roberts spoke. “Good grammar is one thing but emotional heft is something quite another. Your words breathe, invite, move, weave, and emote. If you maintain your discipline and continue to feed your imagination, you will speak to millions.”
I was a nobody on campus. A sometimes-casual, oftentimes-intense observer on the team (when my mind would wonder about the world I would inhabit beyond that gymnasium). A closeted nerd not wanting the girls to know.
But a woman said to me I had something. Gosh, imagine. Little did she know I had written to her, she had been my prompt. My subject, she. That one cheerleader who didn’t care that I never got into the game . . . because she saw me excelling in an altogether other game. She rooted me on when I needed it most.
God, the power of a compliment. A well-earned, sincerely given compliment. It has no equal as a motivator, especially for an impressionable youth. A kid needs a believer in him, an advocate for her–a seer of that light, however dim or hidden or not yet given a chance to shine.
And perhaps that’s what the captain came to see as well. That same letter had somehow fallen from my binder near the end of geometry class and the captain snatched it up from the aisle floor before I could reach it and didn’t offer it back.
“I need my letter back,” I said half-heartedly. He wouldn’t budge. I reached out to quickly snatch it back only to be rebuffed and pushed back into my desk. He laughed arrogantly and dared me to reflex a second attempt.
It would have been a punk move to get the teacher involved. Prompted by the lunch bell, I began to sullenly gather my things and became resigned to having lost a valuable possession. Besides, I had to deal with him in after-school practices. He had a way of making practices more miserable than their very nature.
As I made my way out of the classroom, the beast baller called out with his face buried in the paper. Dude could actually read, I thought to myself.
“Who wrote this?” his voice boomed.
“My name’s on it.”
“Scrub, I see your name. But who wrote it?”
He approached me, his stature seeming to tower over my diminutive, scrawny shadow of a body.
A dead silence stood between us. I kept my eyes on the letter, now peeking from his massive right hand, so as not to have to look him in the eye. I heard what sounded like a chagrin and then a brief chuckle of disbelief. I kept my eyes on the letter–he gathered my seriousness.
Stung was I when the near seven-footer said to me, “You got skills, little man. I’m trying to get Lisa to go to the prom with me but she’s giving me a hard time . . . saying I think I’m entitled to her ’cause I’m the shotcaller on campus. Write something for me, like this,” he said, motioning to return the letter. “Make it sound like this but from me. If she says yes, I’ll take care of you, scrub.”
Now I was the one in disbelief. The king campus jock was offering to “take care of me” if I had the chops to come through for him. This wasn’t actually a fair bargain of the Harvard Business School type. For sure, it wasn’t even a mutually agreed-upon deal between two willing negotiators. He had set the terms; wasn’t like I could say no, eh?
But it wasn’t a Faustian Bargain either. A Bully Bargain, yes, but not totally distasteful. I mean, he was asking, er, telling me to do something that was essentially part of my element. I thought, on my way home after school, if I could win over Ms. Roberts, a talent assessor and critic of the highest order, Lisa’s heart couldn’t be too formidable, could it?
But what about the captain’s voice? My words represent my voice, my heart, my travails and contradictions, fears and inklings of self-doubt. Would she surmise the words are those of an interloper, not her outsize-ego, girls-at-his-feet, funk-the-dunk, crown-and-touchdown Mr. Undisputable?
It was there that I realized writing’s agency as a service, not an easy one. Where creativity, unteachable, would separate storytellers from writers. Something was happening, a world had opened up, opened its doors, and I was taking my place in it.
Credit the captain, I look back on it: Though he wasn’t a writer, he understood its power and recognized its agency. I no longer associated “dumb” and “jock” to him . . . or to any other for that matter. Something was happening to me. And to the captain for that matter.
And so I wrote, refusing more than one take; no balls of paper littering my trash can. I typed it so that he could engage his own handscript. I slipped the envelope in the front jacket of a class geometry workbook and passed it to my “client” the next day in class, expecting him to immediately order a do-over. He never got around to reading it during class, the Friday test took up the entire period.
At the bell, he nodded to acknowledge me on his way out without as much as a word. I’m sure he noticed the sweat across my brow.
Days lapsed between the submittal and the prom scheduled two weeks hence–no word from the team captain.
But something magical happened. The Monday after prom weekend, there, at the beginning of geometry class, a program awaited me on my desk. I picked it up as the teacher was preparing the class agenda, opened it and, involuntarily, became transfixed by the photo inside. The captain, tall, freshly cut, white tux-tailed and towering over Lisa, every bit princess-like herself, as she stands securely in his arms. I don’t think I’d ever seen her wear a smile so freely on campus. I might’ve even been a little jealous.
I turned my gaze across the room to locate the big guy; he sat snugly in the desk, actually looking almost trapped by the desk, copying the board notes, then took a moment to acknowledge me with his signature “what’s up, scrub” nod. No smile. But no frown either. I nodded back with a newfound self-assuredness, as if I had just been graduated a notch up from scrub obscurity. As the teacher returned Friday’s test results, I marveled at the A- I scored. Wow, a scrub’s life ain’t half bad.
But it was at the basketball awards banquet where it all culminated beyond my most creative dreams. My teammates had been ribbing and pre-congratulating me on being likely awarded the “Most Reliable Benchwarmer” trophy. I had to laugh with them. But fate had slightly different plans.
I actually scored the “Academic” trophy for classroom performance, the tallest of all the trophies presented on the evening. My mother’s eyes seemed to glaze over with a hint of emotion, my father’s shoulders appeared to expand with pride. Never having given them reason to come to the games, I compensated for their loyalty–my head lifted just a little higher.
As we exchanged handshakes and congratulations to adjourn the event, the captain came over to us, introduced himself, and did something that will forever rank with Ms. Roberts’ impact on me: He handed me his MVP trophy.
“You deserve this one, too, scrub.”
My parents looked at one another simpatico and then rested their eyes on me, lost for words.
“Nah, man, I can’t take . . .”
He cut me off: “Yes, you can. You saved my season. It’s yours. Take care of it.” The plaque even had my name engraved.
Wow. A magical night. A nerd could be MVP.
Which is what this summer has been for me with you by my side, in my arms, before my sunrises and after my sunsets. My when-the-mornings-come and my enchantments-by-moonlight.
Remember the box of summer treasures I gave you at the beginning of the season? I requested that you not open the envelope it contained until the end of summer.
By all means, open it, Love. The time has come.
The letter? Yes, I wrote it those many years ago, anticipating I’d meet that special someone who’d see what Ms. Roberts saw in the kid with the creative imagination.
Yes, you. I saw it all along, held on to the possibility. Magical, just as I imagined.
And the leaves?
I knew that’d get a smile out of you.
It’s autumn, Love.
Romance lives. -Rg2
© 2013 Pamper-Her-Friday by Rg2®