She didn't lock her door.
I recall that thought with complete clarity. It may be the memory with which I leave this world. It will certainly make those attending my demise wonder why in the world I am smiling.
The events leading up to that thought and the events following it are one of my fondest memories. I suppose that love is a component of most fond memories. Perhaps I'm overly romantic in nature. Winning the lotto would make one's top memory list I'm sure. I do have memories in that category. As a budding musician, I certainly recall the thrill of applause. As a writer, I recall the first time my words were singled out and read to a classroom. I recall beating Billy Maguire in a tennis match vaulting me from the Junior Varsity tennis team to the number one ranking on Varsity. Great memories all.
But none of them surpass, she didn't lock her door.
I met the lovely Linda Lee when she was a mere eighth-grader tagging along with some friends to our ultra-cool high school party at Joe Smaldino's house. Joey was my best friend. We were juniors, so Linda shouldn't have drawn much interest from our sophisticated selves. She was a child after all. We were on the cusp of manhood, perched on the oubliette of pending adulthood. We were there for women, women suitable for men of our maturity and screaming hormones.
Nicknames come into play here. It's funny how a nickname can come to define someone. In high school, it couldn't be more true. I can say the name "Tank", for instance. The image has already formed in your mind. Simply adding a "Y" to a name alters perception. Joe doesn't tell you much, but "Joey" alters your perception and adds a dimension that "Joe" is lacking. Robert is one of those names instantly altered for convenience. But there is still definition in the choice of Robert's nickname. Is he "Bob"? Maybe Rob. Perhaps he is gregarious and well thought of … Bobby. To my mother and serious girlfriends, I was Robert. To my friends and those interested, I was Bobby.
There was a need, in my case, to further define exactly who Bobby was. I had more than one nickname. To those who knew me all too well, my nickname was "Little Jeter". Little Jeter was a character in a fast food chicken restaurant commercial. Little Jeter loved him some Pappy Parker friiiiiieeeed chicken! I had a side of me quite out going and rebellious. I could be the class clown. In grammar school, my report cards invariably included comments about my somewhat disruptive classroom persona. "He talks too much during class", "he doesn't take class seriously and it affects his grades", these were all admonitions directed at my mother to hopefully get her on board the taming-of-Bobby train. Well, Little Jeter couldn't be tamed, and I'm happy to report, never was.
Of course, Little Jeter was no ladies' man. But, Blade, another nickname, was. By high school Little Jeter had become, "Grandstand". An older version of the same thing, but not quite as easy to dismiss. My disruption matured, so to speak, into more of a disrupter of the status quo. I was fervently political in high school and singularly idealistic. The threat of going to war in Vietnam no doubt contributed to that bent.
But this story is about Blade. At least Blade playing front man for Robert. Everyone needs a good front man and it is never more necessary than it is in high school. Blade was a musician and a loner. He wore a black cowboy hat and sat in the corner softly playing his guitar. He didn't approach women, he waited for their approach. He was the perfect spokesman for Robert. To meet Robert, you had to approach Blade. Robert waited behind Blade while Blade screened the interested parties.
Robert, truth be told, was shy and awkward one on one. The Grandstand character was the life of the party. One on one though, he became silent and withdrawn. Blade knew this. Blade would meet the public and win them over. Once Blade was done, Robert could be revealed. It sounds a little insane describing it to be honest. I assure you, it worked like a charm.
Linda, who was twelve going on thirteen at the time, wasn't the least bit intimidated by Blade. She saw through him as though he were a vague fog surrounding Robert.
"Hi, I'm Linda. What's your name?"
"Your friends didn't tell you my name? They call me Blade."
"Yeah, they told me that, but what's your NAME?"
Hmm. You're supposed to be talking to Blade, little girl. Robert isn't too good at this even with you. "Robert. Most people call me Bobby or Blade."
"You go to Keppel?"
Keppel is what everyone called Mark Keppel High School. No one knew who Mark Keppel was; I still don't. "Yeah, I'm a Junior."
"Oh, then maybe you know my brother Theodore, he's a senior there."
"Theodore? Doesn't ring a bell. It's a big school…."
"Well, Ted really. I call him Theodore to piss him off." She smiled and it was dazzling and genuine. It startled me. I hoped she hadn't noticed. "Ted Lawrence, he's on the football team."
"Ted, oh yeah. Of course, he's the star of the team." Terrible Ted Lawrence, middle linebacker for the Mark Keppel Aztecs … yes indeed, I knew him. Fortunately I knew him well enough to say, "Hi". I'd hate to be on his bad side. Opponents would actually get out of his way rather than face him head on. He had UCLA football written all over him. "He's deaf, right?" Geez, Robert, what a clever retort.
"Ha! I like to say he's deaf and dumb. What's he gonna do, punch his little sister. He's a sweetheart though, he won't let a guy anywhere near me. That's going to be a problem when I'm in high school next year. He won't be there!" Again that smile followed by laughter that sounded like music.
About that time my brain began trying to get my attention. Hey, Bobby, what the hell are you doing talking to this little girl. She's twelve and flat as a board. What are you thinking? "Oh, cool. Maybe I'll see you there then. You'll be a freshman then, huh?" Well, duh, of course she'll be a freshman, idiot. Why don't you ask her if she'll still be a girl?
The opportunity to make a fool of me gracefully passed. "Yep, a big time freshman. I hope I won't be too lowly for a senior to talk to." Smile, laughter … wow.
"Of course I'll talk to you. You're cool. As long as your bone-crushing brother isn't around." Robert! You're making moderately intelligent remarks. God, where is Blade when I need him?
"Well, I'll be sure to look you up. I love guitar, I play the cello."
The cello. That is major coolness right there. "Do that. We'll jam. I'd love to put some cello on some tracks."
Eight months later, I heard a voice behind me. "Robert? Remember me? Linda Lee, the cello player."
I swear my heart skipped a beat. I have to be honest here; I thought about her the rest of my Junior year and all through the summer. I was looking for her when she snuck up behind me. "Linda. Oh yeah, from the party. I see you made it. Good to see you. You have a class now?"
"No. It's lunchtime for me. You have the 11:30 lunch or the 12:30?"
"11:30". I didn't have what it took to invite her to eat with me. C'mon Robert, you’re the senior. This is her treat.
"Care to join me?"
"Sure". Mr. Conversation turned and walked beside her. I desperately hoped she didn't notice the wagging tail I'd suddenly grown. Out the corner of my eye, I could see some changes in the little girl I remembered. She still had the smile and musical laughter. But now she had a decidedly female-in-every-way body to go with it. I was surprised I was walking straight. I'd been hit by a gorgeous truck.
I'm a love at first sight kind of guy. I discovered this leaning that very moment. We would never be apart if we could help it my entire senior year. There came a time when it was clear we couldn't possibly keep our hands off each other. Kissing her made me tremble. She trembled too, and it thrilled me to know she had that reaction to me.
We spent hours on the phone sometimes falling asleep and awakening to the other's voice. One night I blurted out, "Why don't I sneak over tonight. I miss you."
"I'd love that, but I have a large family. I'm pretty sure they'd kill you if they found you here."
"They won't know, just leave your door open and I'll quietly come in."
I could hear her breathing as she paused. It was a deep heavy breathing. It matched mine. "Okay".
That's all she said, but we both knew exactly what it meant. It was one in the morning when I parked my car a block away and started walking to her house. The house was dark and my footsteps sounded like a stampeed of Brahma bulls. At least they did to me. Her room was at the back of the house on the bottom floor. I had to walk down a long driveway past, in my mind, all of her family. It was Ted I feared the most. He was deaf and I just knew he could feel every vibration as I slowly took each step.
Finally, I stood in front of her door. There was no light on in her room. I wondered if she was even awake. Maybe she didn't take it seriously or thought I'd never have the nerve to actually show up. I put my hand on the doorknob and gently turned it. The click sounded like a bomb exploding.
The thought crossed my mind, she didn't lock her door. What followed was one of the highlights of my life. But I'll never forget the thrill of that door opening. She had a nightlight on. It was very dim, but bright enough that I could see the way to her. She was sitting up in bed wearing a nightgown. She didn't say a word. I walked over to her. Her hair was perfectly in place and she had make-up on. I don't know the name of her perfume, but it was a light floral scent. I knew her heart was beating as hard as mine. I kissed her and I could feel our hearts fall into rhythm, a single shared beat.
Well, I'll never forget it … she didn't lock her door.