“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” ― Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy
It’s afternoon here in Lithia, Florida, on a cool late November day much like the ones I’ve been writing so much about as of late. It’s a mostly sunny day, but since the Venetian blinds are drawn and the curtains are only half open, the light coming through the window is gray and thin. My bedroom/writing room door is closed but unlocked, and I have music playing – the third movement from Sergei Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op.27 – on my Amazon Music app.
I’m off to a late start with this post because – if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you noticed – I wrote and published the 10th – and hopefully last – haiku in the School, 1972 cycle. I didn’t set out to write so much poetry, Dear Reader, just like I didn’t set out to make Remembering Cheryl T. a multipart series in the Tempus Fugit memoir I’m doing to “commemorate” the 50th Anniversary of:
- Moving back to Miami with Mom (and, later, a reluctant and resentful older half-sister) after living in Colombia for almost (but not quite) six years
- Starting on the long and winding road that led me from Coral Park Elementary School to South Miami High School
- Meeting – and falling in love with – my first girlfriend, even though our relationship was tragically nipped in the bud by circumstances beyond our control
I don’t want to write another series of blog posts about the longest of the two romantic episodes of my childhood. Suffice it to say that because it was a long relationship – with all the joys, sorrows, and missteps that a couple can experience between the ages of 10 and 14 (except for “going all the way”) – and lasted longer than my all-too-brief one with Cheryl T, I know more about my second girlfriend (“K”) than I do about my first.
And because the relationship I had with K lasted nearly as long as my days at Tropical Elementary, it had what storytellers call a story arc: it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, the two protagonists evolved, and although it did not end on a note of “happily ever after,” it had a resolution. It had closure.
The Loose Thread in the Tapestry
“Something about first love defies duplication. Before it, your heart is blank. Unwritten. After, the walls are left inscribed and graffitied. When it ends, no amount of scrubbing will purge the scrawled oaths and sketched images, but sooner or later, you find that there’s space for someone else, between the words and in the margins.” ― Tammara Webber, Where You Are
Maybe I will write about K and me in the future, perhaps next November for the 51st anniversary of our first kiss, but since that relationship didn’t leave a lot of uncertainty or “loose threads” I don’t see a need to explore it in depth. Suffice it to say that K and I are still friends on Facebook, though we don’t often “talk” there about anything, much less do the “Do you remember the time when….” thing.
I think the reason I feel so compelled to write about a girl that I – in all honesty – didn’t get a chance to know is exactly that I didn’t get a chance to know her. Due to bad luck, bad timing, the indifference of the Universe to the desires of a nine-going-on-10-year-old boy, the fickle finger of Fate, I was Cheryl T’s boyfriend for one day – no more, no less. And the most physical affection we got to share in that time was two hugs, one kiss on the cheek from Cheryl, and…that’s it.
As I wrote in Tempus Fugit: Remembering Cheryl T- 50 Years Later, Part the Third (in the style of a letter to Cheryl):
The weird thing is that even though I really loved “K” and “went steady” with her for four and a quarter years – which is the shelf life of my long-term relationships – I don’t think I totally got over you, Cheryl. Ever.
It’s strange. I never really got to know the real you at all; I didn’t get to know what music you liked, or what TV shows you watched. If you had a complete set of parents or if you lived in a single-parent household. Did you have pets? Do you like sports? Were you a tomboy? Were you a reader, like me, or did you prefer playing board games or collecting Barbies or other toys? What was your favorite food in the world when you were nine? I never found out what your favorite color was, although I do remember that you favored clothes that had either blue or pink.
And yet…of all my heartbreaks, and every single relationship I’ve had since I met you in Ms. Turtletaub’s class has involved heartbreak in one way or another, losing you 24 hours after we exchanged those notes in class hurts the most mainly because while we didn’t have a relationship, the promise of one was there. We just didn’t have the chance to see it through. (Emphasis added.)
A Tale Kept Close to the Vest
I suppose there are other factors – such as the way my most recent relationship soured gradually over the period of almost five years (my long-term liaisons have a shelf life of just over four years) and the effects of what is basically one more example of rejection – at play here, but as of late I’ve had to deal with events that I had not thought about, much less written about in so much detail.
I didn’t talk about Cheryl with my mom, partly because I was so heartbroken that I couldn’t mention the topic, but mostly because I was angry at the time at her for losing – or throwing away – a report card envelope on which Cheryl had written her name and number.
I think I might have talked about it with my half-sister, who I adored at the time and saw as my friend and confidante, but I didn’t tell her everything because, you know, it was such a painful experience.
I never told any of my friends – male or female – about Cheryl, either. Not even those that I considered my “besties.” I internalized the whole incident, and because life is full of comings and goings, I moved on and tried to forget the pain of the whole sorry episode.
I never even talked about Cheryl much with “the girl who came after,” and – I don’t know why the fuck I did this – what little I did say was not true. I don’t remember what cockamamie story I told K the few times that she asked about the girl I had left behind, but I can tell you that I did not tell her about the pink sweater, or that I had cried myself to sleep three nights in a row before starting school at Tropical Elementary on Tuesday, November 14, 1972.
The Weight of Memory…and What-Might-Have-Been
“True love, like any other strong and addicting drug, is boring — once the tale of encounter and discovery is told, kisses quickly grow stale and caresses tiresome… except, of course, to those who share the kisses, who give and take the caresses while every sound and color of the world seems to deepen and brighten around them. As with any other strong drug, true first love is really only interesting to those who have become its prisoners.
And, as is true of any other strong and addicting drug, true first love is dangerous.” ― Stephen King, Wizard and Glass
I tried to forget – and I mostly succeeded – the girl in the pink sweater. I don’t think I would have been able to have a relationship – even though that, too, was imperfect, full of its own dramas, and doomed – with K if I had consciously held on, limpet-like, to What-Might-Have-Been.
Unconsciously, though, part of me did hang on to the girl that gave me my first (but chaste) kiss in a sun-drenched spot in front of Coral Park Elementary on the afternoon of November 10, 1972. That bit of nine-going-on-10-me ducked into a dark, cobwebbed corner of my psyche and hid, surfacing every so often at different periods of my life.
Again, I refer you to that “letter” I wrote to Cheryl last week:
I did, unbelievably, try to find you through at least two kids that I knew from Coral Park and who were still there when we were at the elementary school level. One girl whose dad was a friend of my mother swore that she knew who you were, that your last name was Tecano, and that since you were not held back academically as I had been, you were at least one school grade ahead of me. (This was in 1976, the year we both turned 13, so if this was true, you were already at Rockway Junior High while I was still in sixth grade at Tropical.)
This girl was not a friend of yours, or so she claimed, otherwise I would have asked her to tell you what happened regarding the phone number incident and that I was sorry I had never called. By then, of course, I was going steady – as we used to say then – with “K.” and would not have considered cheating on her, but I would have wanted you to know that I had wanted to call you like I promised, but fate intervened.
Still later, when I no longer lived in Westchester but was still close to the Coral Park area, I was visiting the old neighborhood and recognized one of the kids from our classroom. In fact, he was the boy who facilitated the exchange of love notes that we made 50 years ago last week. One thing led to another and 15-year-old me, or maybe 16-year-old me, asked him if he remembered you.
(Before you ask: Yes, I have, at various times, tried to find Cheryl T via the Internet. Not with much enthusiasm or confidence; the T – I found out when I was in junior high school – stands for “Thigpen,” which is a distressingly common last name here in the U.S. And “Cheryl Thigpen” is, likewise, a common combination of first name and last name. Trust me on this; I’ve tried. Besides, who is to say she uses that name now that she’s almost 60? She might have gotten married, moved out of state, or even died, no? Besides, I seriously doubt that she remembers me, or if she does, she probably believes I ditched her and didn’t mean it when I wrote “I love you, Cheryl” a half-century ago.)
“I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets may say.” – Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
This, hopefully, will be the last time I’ll write about Cheryl T. Even 50 years on, I sometimes feel the same sense of loss and sorrow that I did when my mom said she had misplaced Cheryl’s phone number and realized that my only link to her was gone. (You have no idea, Dear Reader, how hard I cried when I heard that, or the many times I looked in our house in Westchester for that phone number during those first, awful, I’ll-never-see-her-again days in November of ’72.) I’m not sorry that I’ve written – and published – Remembering Cheryl T, but it still fucking hurts, y’know?