Prequel to Summers of Fire

My second memoir is completed, and I will soon begin the publishing process. "All That Came Before" (the working title) is a coming-of age memoir about the intricacies of love, physical attraction, and deep friendship, while longing for independence and a life with meaning and purpose. 

I'd like to share the first few pages.




Chapter 1
Late summer of 1972
Like a whirling dervish in jeans and a print jersey top, my mom danced around our living room to the song “Arizona” playing over the radio, singing along, swinging her arms and grinning. I cringed, and mentally screamed: Mom! Stop it! Stop it! How can you DO this to me? My life is here! My friends are here!
But that didn’t matter. We were packing up our household and moving over two-thousand miles cross-country—in the middle of my senior year of high school.
I pouted. I sulked. I did not play the radio lest that dreaded song about Arizona came on—but I knew nothing would change my parents’ plan to move from cold and dreary Syracuse to a warm and sunny climate.
On the outside, my parents saw nothing but my anger. But on the inside, I began to wonder…if I lived in a new place, could I turn myself into a new me? The one hiding inside? Exactly how the Arizona me would differ from the New York me, I wasn’t sure; but maybe I would be outgoing like my friend, Sheri. She had guys falling all over her, including the incredibly handsome Ray, whereas I always fell for guys not only out of my league (think track stars and French exchange students), but who also didn’t know I existed. Ray and Sheri had always hung out together between classes, and although they didn’t formally date, I still figured they were a couple of sorts.
It hurt that my friends had boyfriends and I simply longed for one.
Sheri and I had the same free time at school, and on sunny days we’d sit on grass and talk. Ray would come join us, and soon I watched with envy while Sheri laughed and flirted with him, which he seemed to enjoy. From that moment on, I felt invisible around them—wishing I had her confidence, wondering if Ray would have paid more attention to me had I been more like her.
On an Indian Summer afternoon, shortly before moving day, I sat on the grass waiting for Sheri. Ray walked up and smiled. “Can I join you?”
Oh, please do! Always shy around him, all I could manage was a smile and nod.
He sat down, cross-legged, resting his arms on his thighs and his eyes on the ground.
For lack of anything else to do, I searched the grass for a four-leaf clover.
“What are you looking for?” Ray asked.
“Oh, well, I need all the good luck I can get…”
He joined me in the hunt. When Sheri arrived, Ray forgot about the clovers to focus on her.
Well, I thought, it doesn’t matter what Ray thinks of me, because next week we’ll be packed up and on the road to Arizona.
In late September, I joined my parents, my younger sister, Elaine, our beagle-mix, Peanuts, and our calico, Tabitha, in our red Ford station wagon to head west. My older sister, Cindy, would remain in New York to finish nursing school.
***
On October 1st, moving-in day, a car pulled up next to the Semi-truck parked in front of our Prescott rental house. (I’d soon learn I’d better start pronouncing it Pres-Kitt, like the locals.) Out stepped an attractive guy with wavy shoulder-length hair, who looked to be my age. I tried not to stare as I carried a box into the house—after all, I did not want this stranger to think I was desperate. My dad greeted his new business partner’s son, Richard, who’d been coerced into helping us unload.
Every time Richard passed me carrying a box, he smiled, and soon I was smiling back. At the end of the long day, before leaving, he asked if I’d like to go out with him.
Despite the fact every cell in my body screamed exhaustion, I lit up. “That would be nice,” I said without hesitation. Maybe this new place wouldn’t be so bad after all…
Over the next few weeks, Rich picked me up almost nightly to go hang out with him and his friends—pot and beer always available. I drank the beer, but pot didn’t interest me, and no one seemed to care when I passed it on. Or so I thought.
We’d been dating for nearly a month the day Rich stopped me in the hallway between classes. Crowds swarmed around us while he stood a few feet away, staring at the floor, lockers opening and slamming shut, kids laughing and talking as they moved on to the next class.
“I think it’s best we don’t see each other,” Rich said, his voice straining to be heard over the din. That’s when I noticed two of his pals hovering nervously behind him.
What? I thought I misunderstood. Did he mean we couldn’t go out tonight?
“You don’t fit in with my friends,” he said, avoiding my eyes and catching those of his buddies.
That’s when he and his friends turned away, and melded into the last of students dashing into classrooms. The bell rang. I stood there, humiliated, devastated, and alone. In the principal’s office, I asked to use the phone. Turning so no one could see my face, and speaking softly so no one could hear, I told my dad I needed a ride home. He asked if I was sick. I choked out, “No. I just want to go home.” He said he’d be right there.
Once outside to wait, unable to contain my tears one second longer, I covered my face with my hands and let them fall.
Silence filled the drive home. I stared out the car window, my face burning with shame and my soul filled with rejection. As soon as we pulled into the driveway, I fled into my room, flung myself onto the bed, and sobbed for hours until I fell asleep from utter exhaustion. No one checked on me, which was fine. I didn’t want them to.
Before school the next morning I told my mom that Richard and I had broken up.
“I’m sorry, Lin, it’ll be okay,” she said, her brows furrowed as she spooned oatmeal into my bowl.
I didn’t believe her. How could things be okay? All I wanted to do was get on a plane and go back to Syracuse. Either that or never show my face at that God-awful school again.
In the morning, after another ride without a single word, my dad dropped me off, saying, “Now, don’t go wearing your heart on your sleeve.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I envisioned not only my heart on my sleeve, but blood dripping down my hand. Richard had humiliated and rejected me in front of the entire school body. How would I, or could I, ever live that down?
During study period, I hid among the library bookshelves, sitting on the floor, pouring over my music theory workbook. Not that I took music theory. My one requested elective had been turned down. Only band students needed music theory, or so the principal said, discounting my love of guitar.
Almost no one paid any attention to me in my secluded spot, which was my intent. But one guy often moseyed into my cubby, scanning book spines. Each time, he’d smile and say hello. It took me a while to realize he never selected a book. After a few weeks, he introduced himself, and squatted beside me. “Whatcha reading?” he asked.
I didn’t want to be rude, but I didn’t want to be noticed either. Chuck wore me down, though, by stopping almost every day to talk. Our friendship became what I would soon decide was the ideal relationship. No expectations, no stumbling around trying to impress, no pressure to make it anything more than friends, and therefore, no getting hurt. I could be the real me. The Arizona me, or the New York me? With him, it didn’t seem to matter.
Letters from my New York friends were my lifeline, as were carefully timed long distance calls I made when I had enough money. “L.D.” calls were all of five minutes and only once a month—all I could afford on my five-dollar allowance.
With kitchen timer in hand, I dragged the corded phone into my bedroom to talk in privacy with my best friend, Gail.
“I miss you!” I said, my voice choking at the sound of hers.
“I miss you, too, Linda!”
I could’ve sworn that was about all we could say before the timer went off and I had to hang up. Near tears, I felt more alone after the call than I had before.
After school the next day, I rushed home to check the mail. Amidst assorted letters and bills, I found a small envelope addressed to me in unfamiliar handwriting. I glanced at the return address, and my eyes widened. Ray?
His note was brief, asking how I was doing in Arizona, and if I liked my new school. Thrilled to hear from him, I wrote back: Nice to hear from you! It’s tough here…I miss everyone…what have you and Sheri been up to?
Two weeks later, there came another letter from him. Seemed he and Sheri weren’t an item after all—they were just friends. “I used to look right through her to see you,” he wrote.
My heartbeat skipped. Really? How much I wished I’d known that then. I wrote back to tell him how I’d always liked him, but respectfully stayed away because of Sheri.
Another letter arrived from Ray in two weeks. I dashed into my room, shut the door, and tore into the letter like the lifesaver it was.
“I always looked for you between classes, hoping to get a chance to talk to you, he wrote. Your smile made my day. I wish now I’d said something to you…maybe we would’ve hooked up. Maybe it’s not too late. I’d love to see you. Will you be coming back to Syracuse?”   
My heart swelled, and I glowed from reading about how he had noticed me when I hadn’t been aware of it. To be so far from him now seemed like a cruel punishment. Why did it take moving away to discover our feelings for each other? This was so unfair.
“I’ll come after graduation, I wrote, determined to leave Prescott, find the love of my life in Ray, and live happily-ever-after. In order to do that, I’d have to find an after school job.


 

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