Pioneer Pride: Chapter 24—A Sophomore Date

As I search my mind for an interesting memory to wind down this memoir and perhaps give it (or at least me) an everlasting point for our unkind, digitized, distracted times, I return to one girl, let’s call her M, who transfixed me briefly during my sophomore year. It was truly remarkable how she danced into my consciousness as I was working on Pioneer Pride. A writer can never explain why a certain person mysteriously emerges when writing about the past, but that’s often what happens. It’s one of the great delights of writing.

That M did emerge is something I take seriously and continue to consider. I am considering it now and offer my thoughts about her for your consideration.

I no longer recall how we met or what precipitated our first date. I must have asked her out, face to face, at school. I do remember it was my first car date, which of course was a big deal, a landmark. I had absolutely no idea what to do on a car date outside of seeing scenes on television or the movies. Everyone knows what those were about. AC-DC wrote a song about it, back seat rhythm and all that.

It was in the late spring, not long after I earned my driver’s license. I picked M up in the Dasher. She lived out in the country. I don’t remember what she was wearing but I remember when she opened the door and I beheld a sprite, with gorgeous, heavily-lidded eyes so round and deep they seemed like tiny Crater Lakes. I dove in.

We got in my car and I drove us to a movie at the Southgate Theater. What we intended to see has escaped me. I was incredibly nervous with M. I had never been in a car alone with a girl. What was protocol?

Here is what I do remember: she turned her head to me as I drove and asked slow, deliberate questions. We were from two different camps at Oregon City High School. Let me amend that. Two different countries.

No girl I had ever liked had asked questions of me. And they weren’t banal ones. She looked me in the eyes and Crater Lake wanted to know the answers. They mattered to her. I think she was a lot smarter than she let on. A lot of girls had to disguise it with boys back then. Maybe that’s still true. I hope not.

As this memoir has shown, I was a quasi-angry, infrequently arrogant kid in high school who swam against the current, but I wasn’t that way with M in the Dasher. She didn’t seem to know or care anything about that.

At some point in the drive to the theater, I stopped at an intersection for a red light and stared at M as we talked. She looked at the light, hesitated a bit, and then said, “Matt, the light’s green.”

And so it was! I have no recollection how I responded to M. We probably laughed. I took my foot off the brake, stepped on the gas, and away the Dasher sputtered.

We may have made out at the movie. My journal from sophomore year records no mention of M. I think I didn’t know how about to write honestly about my feelings for her so why not omit what you can’t explain. The Who sang a great song about that very sentiment.

Or maybe the date didn’t go well and we didn’t kiss.

All I do know is that we agreed to another date, a tennis lesson taught by me—my first date on the tennis court!

M showed up in a crop top that she must have scissored herself and terry cloth shorts. She wore Keds without socks.

As she took to the court, I watched her glide around before the lesson began. I struck me she was barely clothed. I had never seen anything like this before. M moved liked a ballet dancer, light on the feet, lithe, graceful, twirling. Not jerky tennis movements at all.

We stood near each other and I showed her how to hit a forehand, turn the body, straight arm, follow through. She practiced the stroke a few times and all looked good. She was smiling and asking questions.

I positioned M at the back line of the court and walked over to the other side of the net where I had a bucket of balls. I hit a soft arcing shot to her forehand. She swung and missed by a mile. I hit another one and she missed that one, too. She fanned it again and again and kept apologizing. I came around the net and went through the forehand again, this time holding her arm from behind and demonstrating the stroke deliberately. I could feel her heat against me and could barely concentrate on instruction.

A minute later I was on the other side of the net and hit her another soft ball to her forehand.

Nothing. Another whiff. More whiffs. It seemed impossible for someone who moved so gracefully to miss the ball. I mean she didn’t even nick it with the frame! The hand and eye coordination simply wasn’t there and you can’t teach that. It should have been funny to me but I think I got upset. I could teach anyone tennis!

But not her.

I no longer recall how the lesson ended, but we never went out again. That was my fault.

So why end this memoir with M? I don’t really know. Perhaps it’s because 40 years after that nervous car date and ludicrous tennis lesson, her style of conversation with me now feels almost totally unique and the type I want more of in my life. Indeed, it might serve as a model for how people should converse with each other, particularly in the days of text messaging and social media posts and whatever hasty communication platform comes next, and we all know another one is coming.