Never Gone FishingSun, September 27, 2009 - 7:46 PM
It was autumn of 1992. My freshman year of high school had just begun. Ever present, were the leagues of driven young adults traipsing across the courtyard of Martin Luther King Magnet School under the burdensome weight of way too many books. New clothing from the trendiest shopping malls adorned their bodies. In the crowd I glimpsed a familiar face here and there and marveled at the miracles Nature performed over summer vacation: longer limbs, taller gaits, wider hips, larger cup sizes and the oh so dreaded four–letter word: acne.
I walked along the freshly shellacked hallways with the false-confidence of someone too cool to be concerned with juvenile interests, such as who had the nicest shoes or what car mommy and daddy purchased them over the holidays. My mind was occupied with other things. Over the summer, a surge of hormones flooded my biology, turning my formerly baby smooth complexion a most disheartening pattern of ruddy brown mottled with reddish spots. The insecurity I felt was overwhelming. I sure hoped no one would notice.
During the summer vacation, I also was able to view a rerun of Oprah. Suddenly I became aware of how devastating my father’s absence from my life had been. Feelings of inadequacy and grief penetrated the core of my being. That’s when my light began to dim. My adolescent ego became even more fragile.
The school was still under renovation as it had been for the previous two years. I gasped as I caught a whiff of new paint mixed with the chlorine-like smell of dishwashing sanitizer. At least the cafeteria was still operational. Then suddenly it happened; my peripheral vision narrowed and like a heat-seeking missile, I locked onto an unfamiliar target. “Who’s that in the hallway talking to my friend, Adrian?” I wondered. He was tall and tan with sandy brown hair and the most sparkling olive green eyes I’d ever seen. Well-defined calves jutted from beneath his blue shorts ending solidly in a pair of fashionable cross-trainers. Oh and what a sly grin he had! Intrigued, I felt propelled forward by some unseen force. Strange sensations coursed through my body, my face became hot and sweat trickled from my left armpit down the side of my rib cage as my heart palpitated. “Oh why did I have to wear this silk shirt today?” I scolded myself. This couldn’t be happening. It just couldn’t be… a gay crush! As I entered their line of sight, Adrian said, “Hey Tehran!” to which I replied with an awkward, “What’s up, Adrian!” quickly making a beeline to homeroom, under the pretense of having something important to do.
Rewind to the summer of 1978---the year of my birth. Among all the new sights and sounds, there was one shadowy figure that would prove to be prominent in my life by his absence. I recall lying on the couch at my grandmother’s house. The door opened to reveal an amorphous figure. He was tall and dark with broad shoulders nearly touching both sides of the door. Instinctually I knew this man to be my father. Like an apparition, he vanished as quickly as he appeared. The sun never shone brightly on the relationship between my father and I. Our relationship would be filled with haze and ambivalence from that moment on.
Let us return to my freshman year of high school, once again. Just like my relationship with my father, my desire to be closer to Jeremy was overwhelming. Days and nights were spent in intense longing; however, I always maintained a safe distance. The air was different when Jeremy was around. Each moment was saturated with such intensity. Oh how I wanted to disclose myself and reveal my true feelings. Whether in the cafeteria or on the field, we were always aware of one another’s presence. My new beau was a succulent peach and I a weak fruit fly trying to resist my natural impulses. Occasionally, Jeremy and I would steal away for innocent moments of interaction. This was awkward adolescent flirting at its finest. There would be surreptitious knee bumps under the table followed by eye contact which lingered far too long to be merely platonic.
The school year continued in this way; a series of hits and misses. I enjoyed every moment though. It was such an exciting and adventurous time. I felt like Jason in his adventure for the Golden Fleece.
Suddenly, it was summer again. Dragonflies zipped through the air while hummingbirds savored the nectar of a willing hibiscus. At the end of the school year, everyone bid their goodbyes and promised to stay in touch. I was saddened by the notion of not seeing the object of my affection for such a long time. I consoled myself with the knowledge that it would be time well-spent. Over the summer, I would spend nights strategizing and planning our next rendezvous. I vowed to be more bold and confident when Jeremy and I met again.
I ran through the door after tennis practice that afternoon. My mother told me there was a message on the machine. Lo and behold, it was from Jeremy and some other kid. Oh my! What a fortunate turn of events. The voice that emanated from the box invited me to come with them for a camping and fishing adventure. Yes! Oh no… they left no return number. How incredibly cruel! How in the heck was I supposed to call and confirm, if there was no callback number? This was before caller id became a staple in nearly every household. “Wait just a minute! Was that hint of laughter I detected in his voice?” I thought. Could this be just a silly prank? I quickly dismissed such negative thoughts and returned to the land of optimistic delusion. The agony of our failed camping trip subsided while I continued to plan what I would do when we met again.
Sophomore year began in 1993. How excited I was. I had on my newest clothes and looked around in anticipation for his arrival. Maybe it would be like it was in the movies. Jeremy and I would make eye contact in a crowd and run towards each other in slow motion while a sappy love song plays in the background. The first day was a bust. He was nowhere to be seen. I looked everywhere. Perhaps, he was still on vacation and would be returning the following day. Days came and went still with no sign of him. Reality dawned upon me when I learned through the grapevine that he had transferred schools and would not be coming back. A lump developed in my throat and my heart sank to my stomach. No one would be the wiser. I couldn’t let it show that I was devastated. All of my plans would not bear fruit. What was a lovesick boy to do? How would be go fishing now?
The patterns of relating to Jeremy and my father, McDonald, were similar in many respects. I would wait around longingly for some sign of affection. The smallest indication was all I would need to blast off into reverie. I recall one spring day waiting for my father to come and take me fishing. He had called my mother and made the arrangements. I waited at my grandmother’s for his arrival. The clock ticked as I sat at the kitchen table looking through the window. Any moment now his car would pull up. I just knew it. The clouds floated lazily in the sky. The rays of the sun continued to shift casting shadows on the tree I was using as a sundial. I waited. And I waited some more. My father never came. We would never go fishing; yet, he and I would eventually dine at Uncle Bud’s over a dinner of catfish and other southern delicacies.
It simply was not to be. I should just accept it for what it was: a fun infatuation. Secretly I hoped he would call. He never did.
I last saw him when I was working at Wal-Mart. Jeremy’s appearance hadn’t changed much. He was still in great shape and wore dark slacks and a white dress shirt. He pushed a shopping cart while self-assured young woman was in the lead. I don’t remember much about the woman since I was focused solely on him. While I never got a close enough look to see whether we wore a wedding band, I had the distinct impression they were married by the hopeless look now cemented on his once care-free face. I wonder to this day if he ever thinks back to the fall of 1992 and regrets having not gone fishing with me.
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The air was different when Jeremy was around...I have to hand it to you, brother. You took my breath away with this exquisite piece of writing... WOW! Your vivid descriptions of parallel unrequited love tales here, enabled me to not only ache with you, but caused me to ache for you (not only with empathy, but also with desire… tinged with a paternal instinct). I envy the self-awareness you possessed at during freshman year in high school (at only fifteen years wise), that allowed you to have been consciously attracted to a peer! How refreshing that must have been, despite the two crosses of unrequited love you had to bear.
Your writing is literally awesome.
The most sicking thing......is that we are so far apart in location, because we sure are on the same wavelength.