Many great stories start with, “So, there’s this guy” or, “You see there’s this girl”.  A few start with “there’s this guy and this girl” but that’s a whole different blog article.  If I have one piece of advice for my daughters someday it will be the same advice my 90-something year old grandmother gave me when I left for college.  “Be safe, but have fun.”It seems a lot of emphasis is put on life-long commitment.  One has to accept that not every relationship will flourish and last forever.  Does that mean we should avoid them altogether and miss what could be a wonderful experience while it lasts?  Absolutely not.  Some of my most life altering experiences have lasted a week, a night, or a few days, and I have no regrets other than occasionally worrying too much about seeming inexperienced to fully enjoy the moment.

One such story happened the summer I graduated from high school. I tell this story in three parts, and I tell it to honor the coming season.  I also tell it because I believe everyone should have a story about “that summer”.  Mine starts with, “So, there’s this guy…”

I was on a trip to Nashville with a friend for a country music festival.  We’d planned for months, and a few days after graduation we boarded a plane from SFO towards what we were sure would be the trip of a lifetime.  The first day there we eventually split up for some solo exploration, and I turned my mission towards the acquisition of a cowboy hat.   You wouldn’t think that would take you longer than a quick breath in the Country Music Capital of the world, but you don’t know my head.  It happens to be freakishly small.  I exhausted the salespeople at three different stores before they referred me to a children’s rodeo store nearby.

Deflated and defeated I wandered through downtown Nashville until I found a hot dog vendor selling cold soda from a cooler in a parking lot.  After a quick lecture about soda and wearing black in the heat and humidity he smiled at me and struck up a conversation.  I was dumbfounded.  Until that moment no guy had ever voluntarily talked to me.  I’m embarrassed to admit it, but at seventeen years old I had never even given a guy my phone number.  No dates, no kisses.  My own prom date was a friend and never even danced with me.  Who was this stranger and why would he be interested in my in a city full of summering cowgirls?  We talked until I had to meet my friend and our chaperone for dinner and met that night after he had packed away his cart.

He called himself Fiend, but I heard him once refer to himself as John on a call home.  He was 25, had wondered from Virginia to Alaska and back, and had wound up in Nashville just prior to my arrival.  There he had met Russ, the guy who ran the valet lot where the cart was parked, and Jason, who gave temporary tattoos to drunk people all night.  He was sleeping in the key shed in the parking lot and used what little money he had to enjoy the world around him.  He also had a tattoo and the most captivating eyes and smile I had ever seen.  What more could teenage me ask for?  I knew right away that these guys were the reason I was in Nashville.

That night he showed me the building in which the hot dog cart lived.  It was full of random country music paraphernalia, cardboard stand-ups, and neon signs well past their time.  Then took me to a bar where I saw the first insulin pump I had ever seen.  I don’t remember his name, but he was another street kid spending his summer in downtown Nashville.  I was driven to my hotel that night in the back of a pick-up truck with a bunch of extremely comfortable people singing “Hotel California”.  I was hooked.  In the next several days I would meet a wonderful group of guys who would not only change my opinion of myself but my view of the world, none of which would I see or hear from after that week but none of whom will I ever forget.

Hardly did I pay for my own meals or drinks, and I saw more of Nashville than I would have crammed in a convention hall with a horde of autograph crazed country music fans.   One day Fiend and I went to a hole-in-the-wall jazz club and danced for hours.  Another day Jason and I danced in the street newly deserted by the falling rain.  Once the rain had cleared we walked, dripping wet, into an Italian restaurant for lunch where they tried to dry us with table napkins.  As a group we played pool and enjoyed the summer sun together.  One-on-one Fiend and I had a chance to walk the trip between downtown, the stadium where the nightly concerts were held, and my hotel just talking and exploring one another.

My last day in Nashville he accompanied me to my room where we cuddled and watched TV.  Then he kissed me, and there it was.  My first kiss.  We stayed there for a while, and I never went further.  He wanted to, but I was scared he’d know I had never even been kissed before that day, so I backed off.  Had I been less afraid of my chaperone’s return to pack up ship for the next day’s departure maybe I would have told him everything and let him make the call.  This would be a running theme permeating my entire summer.  My inexperience, my resistance to admit I was so out of the loop, and my eagerness to learn.  That night I had a second chance, but I let an of-handed remark set off the explosion already brewing inside me.  I didn’t want to leave, but I couldn’t stay.  I was out of money, out of time, and he needed to take care of himself.  He had an actual place to stay, and I couldn’t ask him to turn that down.  He had decided to settle in Nashville for a while and was starting the next day as a line cook at Hooters.  I wanted to stay, but I couldn’t.  It was time to say goodbye.

The next  morning I made one last pilgrimage downtown for a final hug.  I knew I’d never see him again, but I gave him my email address anyway.  We hugged and went our separate ways.  I got one email from he and Russ that summer, just after my birthday, but never heard from any of them again.  In a way, maybe that’s the better option.  This way he can  be immortalized as who he was to me that summer.  He will always be my first kiss untainted by heartbreak or a falling out.  He will always have a place very close to my heart, not just because he was the first to touch and accept it for what it was but how he changed the way I lived my life from then on.  I was no longer afraid of new adventures.  I was no longer afraid to live my life instead of constantly questioning how I was living it.  That handful of summer is channeled still today.  If you’re still out there, Fiend, thank you.

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