Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Loose Fish says Goodbye

I was very surprised to get an email from an old high school boyfriend, Steve, last year, 50 + years since we had seen each other. I was astounded to find out he lived very close to me. He and his wife (they met at the University of Oklahoma and married young) retired in Naples where I live, and took me to lunch and then to dinner. They were odd meetings, but most enjoyable because Steve was a totally different man than the boy I remembered from high school. He was outgoing, very cheerful, charitable with his income, and had succeeded in life with a beautiful wife and several grown and successful children. They were kind to me, and I looked forward to a friendship. But they made a trip to visit their kids, and after that I never heard from them again. I guessed that the whole relationship was just too strange. This kooky old single woman pal-ing around with the high-end power couple in their Cadillac at the country club. An unlikely combo. I was a little hurt however. I was a little pissed. But I forgot about it. Sort of.

Last week, I got a terse little email from his wife saying that Steve had died of cancer on Feb. 20, 2014. My emotions are having quite a romp.

When he contacted me, he had said he wanted to connect with old friends and was searching the internet. Now, I wonder if he already knew he was ready to depart.

RIP, Steve. You had a good life, from what you told me last year. I feel very sad. Life is so...complicated.

From: The Loose Fish Chronicles:

There are about six Jewish kids in all of Lincoln High. There's probably twelve in all of Lincoln. I wonder about my affinity for Jews. Perhaps there's some blood lines way back that Mama doesn't know about. I'm drawn to them. Maybe it's because Pete doesn't like them. Steve Levy is half Jewish, besides being gorgeous. He has pronounced cheekbones and what Mama calls "bedroom eyes." I think he looks like he has Indian blood in him, with smooth skin and full lips. Steve pronounces his name like "levie" instead of "lee-vee" which is the correct way. The Girls say that nobody really knows anything about Jewish names around here, so his family probably thinks they're passing. Passing? Well, it is Lincoln, Nebraska, small town, small minded. It doesn't fool my stepfather, Pete though. It turns out Pete likes him, which is never good news to me. I don't understand it at all.

Steve's a football player (albeit, second string) and I wear his letter jacket over my shoulders between classes. He doesn't say a lot, and he doesn't dance. It doesn't take long to discover his home life is weird. His mother converted to Judaism and is adamant that he date only Jewish girls, so he has to sneak around to see me. I can relate. But Pete, oddly enough, doesn't seem to mind me dating "The Jew." I can't predict my stepfather's reactions or his craziness. There is something about this boy. I try to talk to Mama about his moodiness, his quiet intensity. She says Still Waters Run Deep which isn't terribly helpful. After Russ Meyers' cheerful openness, it is hard to grasp Steve's dour moods, his lack of playfulness. He won't let me teach him how to dance. He tells me he doesn't really like to hang around with my friends. He has Jewish kids that he sees at synagogue and their youth group that understand him. I think he knows this hurts me, but I try to be understanding. He brings me a beautiful white orchid for Senior Prom, but we stand on the sidelines and watch other couples on the dance floor and that old feeling of having no roots and not belonging returns.

Steve gets a new Buick convertible for his birthday, bright red, gleaming with chrome. I shop for fabric and in Home Ec. make us matching shirts in a floral Hawaiian pattern. The shirt I make for him is an unimpressive gift next to a car, but I am excited about it anyway. It's the kind of shirt that shows off Steve's big shoulders and makes him look like a worldly playboy in my eyes. It takes hours of work, ripping out mistakes and resewing to get it perfect. Steve is a bit of a perfectionist, and I make sure it's perfect.

We decide to go to the Dairy Queen on his birthday. There's not a lot to do in Lincoln, and we're tired of miniature golf. It's a sunny day and he picks me up with the top down on the Buick. We sit in his car in my driveway while he opens his present. He immediately takes off the sport shirt that he's wearing and puts on the new shirt. I'm already wearing mine, and we laugh because we look like a couple of Honolulu tourists. His enthusiasm thrills me, and I know I've hit the mark. We could be a magazine ad for his big red car. On the way to the DQ, I ask him if he is going to wear the shirt home. He shakes his head and we get into another argument about his parents. I keep thinking they will like me if he only he would let them meet me. The same way Pete likes Steve well enough once they're face to face. A clean cut young man, Pete says to me, even if he is a Jew. Steve is adamant about keeping me a secret from his folks, and this is an ongoing battle we have.

I offer to buy the ice cream since it's his birthday, and he waits, still sulking, while I go to the window. I get double cones and as I return to the car, he leans over the passenger seat to receive his. I am having trouble balancing them, and his quick move startles me and one of the cones drops right onto the windshield of his new car. In the sunlight, it immediately melts in big chocolate drips down the glass and onto the wiper blades. I see Steve's face turn from a sulk into a fury and I panic.

"Wait, I'll get towels," I say. My heart is racing as I watch him jump out of the car. I try to hand him the other cone, but he swats it out of my grasp onto the pavement of the parking lot. I gasp as he takes his shirt off over his head, wads it up like a rag and begins to mop the ice cream off the glass with it. Something inside my head explodes and I yell at him, "I didn't do it on purpose!" but he ignores me. He goes to the water fountain and wets the shirt and continues to sop up the chocolate. The hours of work that I put into that birthday present and the pride and pleasure I took in it, dissolve in an instant. He tosses it in a big wire basket before getting back into the car. I tell him to take me home, keeping my voice as normal as possible. When I am alone inside my room, I tear off my own shirt and rip it into two pieces while I sob in rage. A feeling like a fluttering of bats shifts in my stomach and I see now why he and Pete get along so well.

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