It started innocently, as all these stories do. I was on an open-ended summer vacation at Lake Erie. In September, I’d return to New Jersey and my junior year of high school. I’d count the days until I got my driver’s license, and could return to this summer place.
That day, my buddy drove us in his VW Bug to a new shopping center in Mentor where the stores were connected and under one roof. It was the biggest thing to hit northeastern Ohio in 1970 since practically ever. The Ohio kids got their license at 15 – geeze, 15! – if they wanted.
While wandering aimlessly along the cavern of shops, a frantically-waving hand on the other side of the window inside a Friendly’s Restaurant caught our eye. It was my buddy’s neighbor Cyndi, and she was so excited to run into us so far from home. I knew Cyndi, and her mom sitting there, but the new girl – let’s call her Ronnie – caught my eye.
Soon I found myself spending a lot of time at Cyndi’s, and her cousin Ronnie showed up nearly all the time. Evenings, we sat on the front steps listening to the Woodstock album on the eight-track. Ronnie liked listening to the Beatles because they were banned in her house because of something John Lennon said.
As a group, we went practically everywhere. Cyndi drove, and we went here and there, to pick up pop, visit a farm stand, or hit the miniature golf links. And I tagged along with the family to the kid brother’s Little League games at Cederquist Park.
One time, we teenagers got volunteered to work at Cyndi’s church cleaning the ceiling tiles in the kitchen. As long as Ronnie was there, it didn’t matter where there was.
Ronnie and I took walks around the block where Cyndi lived. We were still too shy to hold hands, but we were hanging on every word the other said. We were looking for clues that this summer thing would be a forever thing. Walking and talking with the pretty girl lifted the veil of shyness.
A long distance relationship is fine for a shy guy. At home, you could always defer to your girlfriend hundreds of miles away, and say things like, “Gee, I have to run. I owe her a letter.” And, “I can’t wait until I get back to Ohio to see my girl again.” No one would be the wiser.
But a gal wants someone who’s there. Who can take her to the school dance. Someone she can see in the hallways at school. A guy who’s not too far away to do things with. Long distance phone calls and weekly letters in the mail won’t carry that weight.
It’s been more than forty years since we parted. I’ve had other heartbreaks, but none as permanent as the first. Perhaps our story will become a Lifetime channel movie. We met, lost contact, lived our lives and then one day we each look up at the random table at the random nursing home and see each other again. Of course, I’m wondering if she remembers me, or am I a long-forgotten minor distraction? The music over the closing film credits will be that ’60s Four Seasons song, “I’ll go on living and keep on forgiving, because …” Well, you know the rest.
Is it Ronnie I want to meet in that senior citizens home, or am I deep-down longing to meet myself? Although I’m pushing sixty, inside, much of the time I’m still that sixteen-year-old, wide-eyed, innocent – amazed that a beautiful girl would speak with me. Or leave a burning torch in my soul.