How to Find and Lose your First Love in 24 Hours or Less

At ten years old my social circle extended no further than my immediate family, a few classmates, and the small group of kids sharing the same path on the way to and from school. This tiny band of side-walk travelers included my younger brother John, my best friend Jamie Thompson, Beverly Watts (the tallest girl in the class) and Cathy O’Neil.  Cathy O’Neil was the most perfect combination of blonde curls, ribbons, ankle socks and black patent leather shoes.

dejectedI had met her the previous year in the fifth grade and we had hung out a few times during summer camp. By the time we were half way through the sixth grade, I was completely smitten.  Running to catch up with her on the way to school, lingering until she appeared at the top of the street, I had it bad.

I knew I liked her. I really, really liked her.  But the word love never occurred to me.  I loved Batman and Lost in Space, I mean who didn’t.  I loved my Mom, but that was different, using the same word to describe with my feelings towards Cathy would just be creepy.  No, I needed another word. I wanted to tell Cathy how I felt about her and I needed to express myself in such a way she would understand the depth of my passion. I was determined to let her know how I felt before the end of the school year.  Seventh grade meant changing schools and perhaps, well who could tell what might happen during the long months of summer vacation.

The days of spring were coming to a close. I was running out of time so I finally decided to tell Cathy just how I felt.  We were walking home as usual, and as we approached the corner where our paths diverged, she turned to raise her hand in a parting wave.  I gathered my courage and hurrying to her I leaned in and said in a quiet voice the words sure to send quivers through the spine of any female. She stood there looking at me.  Her eyes widened as my heart raced with anticipation.  Her face blushed. She turned quickly and ran away.

Well, clearly I had made an impression.  Of course she was embarrassed. She’d probably never experienced such a sophisticated suitor.  I was proud of myself. I walked the rest of the way home confident tomorrow she would be more composed and ready to share similar feelings towards me.

The next day Cathy O’Neil was not in school.  How disappointing.  I hoped she wasn’t ill.  But I’d see her tomorrow or the next day.  Class dragged on like the day before Christmas, but at last the final bell rang.  We all grabbed our books and stuffed them into our desks and tumbled out of our seats in the mad dash for the door.  Our teacher, Miss Richards, called me back.  “Robert, I need to have a word with you!” I was in such good spirits, being held after school couldn’t darken my mood.

She sat at her desk considering how to proceed. “Do you know what the word rape means?”

I don’t recall the exact circumstances as to when I first heard the term “statutory rape”, probably an over-heard adult conversation quickly terminated upon my entering the room.  Or maybe I heard a sound bite from a T.V. news broadcast. But regardless of the method of my exposure, the extent of my comprehension extended only to a vague idea that rape had something to do with sex, and all I knew about sex was first there was kissing, moaning possibly, and a few minutes later, a cigarette. What statues had to do with it all was clearly beyond me.  I certainly didn’t understand rape is to sex what strangulation is to having a sore throat.  All I really knew was I had stumbled upon a shiny new word to place in the treasure chest of my lexicon until there arose an inappropriate time to use it.

So to the amazement of us both, I had no satisfactory response to her straight forward question. She followed with another.

Did you tell Cathy O’Neil that you would like to rape her?” she insisted.  I felt my face begin to redden.  I was speechless and I stood there staring at her.  My look of shock and embarrassment at the revelation my affection toward Cathy O’Neil gave her all the answer she required.  She sighed; relieved to know she was dealing with a mere idiot and not a sexual deviant.

At her instruction, I read the definition of rape in the dictionary.  I mouthed the words slowly and in silence. I still didn’t quite understand it all, and it didn’t seem like the right time to be asking questions but, Oh my God.  Why hadn’t I thought to look up the word before?  I felt small and insignificant and horrified at what I had said to the prettiest girl in the world.

“But I really like Cathy.” I finally managed.

She gave me a “You poor dumb bastard?” kind of look.

My world was shattered.  The day before I had been a boy enthralled by an innocent affection towards a girl I truly cared for.  I had hopes of a great summer spent in each other’s company. I’d rape her, she’d rape me back. And, after a respectable period of time, perhaps a week or two, we may even hold hands and kiss.

I think you should probably stay away from Cathy for a while.” she said at last.  “I’ll let her know that it was a mistake and that you didn’t mean what you said.” 

I walked home under a cloud of shame and disappointment over my failed attempt to win the affection of the fairer sex.  Cathy O’Neil never spoke to me again.  Over the summer she moved away, her father transferred to New Brunswick with the Canadian Air-Force.  Though saddened, I was still aware of how lucky I had been. Miss Richards hadn’t mentioned talking to my parents or the Royal Canadian Mounties for that matter.

In the age before Title Nine, social and political correctness, such a grievous error committed by a clueless twit, could still be resolved without a court hearing or mandated sexual counseling.  Writing 300 times on five sheets of paper, front and back was sufficient.

I will not rape Cathy O’Neil.

I will not rape Cathy O’Neil.

I will not rape Cathy O’Neil.

The Bones on the Wall

capuchin-chapel

A few years back, my wife and I took a trip to Scotland with my brothers and their spouses.  We travelled back to the land of our birth to scatter the ashes of my mother and father over the waters of their beloved homeland.  After fulfilling our parent’s wishes, my younger brother and his wife drove north to explore the ruins of castles, while my older sibling and his wife joined and me and mine heading south for a cruise of the Mediterranean.  We ported in Niece, Monte Carlo, Sicily and my favorite destination Rome.

I had long been fascinated by the eternal city, the history of the empire, the accomplishments, conquests and abuses of the emperors, the rise and fall of one of the greatest civilizations in the history of the world.  Upon arrival in Rome, through the brilliant foresight of my sister-in-law, we were not limited to a crowded ship sponsored excursion.  She had arranged for our party to be picked up dockside by our own personal driver who escorted us for the entire day on a private tour of the city and its many sights.

Instead of just one or two locations, we visited all the places most favored by tourists, The Colosseum, Circus Maximus, The Trevy Fountain, The Pantheon and Vatican City to name but a few.  But for me by far, the most fascinating stop in our long day was not to be found on any cruise line brochure.

The Capuchin Crypt is a collection of six small chapels beneath the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto.  The walls of the chapels are adorned with the skeletal remains of friars who have been buried in and exhumed from the holy soil (carted by the friars from Jerusalem) beneath the church. Macabre does not begin to describe it.

Despite what has been written about the place, both by the Catholic Church and its detractors, I find it still to be a curiosity, not only historically, but for what it reveals about human nature and our desire for immortality.

On average, a friar could expect to rest for thirty years or so before being dug up to make room for the next newly departed. I recall in amazement the dark bones decorating the walls in each of the small rooms, and it occurs to me how much like memories are the remains of those holy men, buried, almost forgotten, then dug up and exposed by some unforeseen event.  Those bones speak to me as I write.

I rediscovered writing in a Life Story class at my local library.  I always regretted not having recorded the remembrances of my parents.  After their passing, I had only the shadows of the stories they imparted to me as a child.  At first I thought writing my story was about sparing my own children the same sense of disappointment, but I came to realize it was more about telling my own journey in my own voice.  It was about telling it for me, more than anyone else.  I want to write down what I recall, while I still recall it.  My father died of complications of Alzheimer’s and the ghost of his infliction haunts me still.

And so I started digging up the bones.  Like the Capuchin friars, I sift the sacred ground of my memories, unsure of what I might discover, recovering pieces buried for decades, one fragment leading to another.  I pull them out and arrange them on the wall, the pages of my journal.  It’s not a popular tourist stop, just an obscure little place stumbled upon occasionally by people looking for something else entirely, known perhaps only by the locals or a few invited guests.

So far I have only dug in familiar ground, focusing in one or two rooms where the light is good and the floor soft and shallow.  But I know there are other rooms where greater force will be required to break the surface, where the shadows cling not so closely to the corners.  But whatever I uncover in those dark places, the bones on the walls will be my own.

I miss…

I miss shuffling through

a red golden hue

of leaves the size of my hand.

Soft boiled eggs, mumblety- peg,

eating peaches straight out of the can.

The sound of galoshes

slushing through sloshes,

footprints on new fallen snow.

Santa and reindeer,

hot chocolate and root-beer

and presents wrapped up with a bow.

I miss slot cars and Slinkys,

toy soldiers and Twinkies

and running wherever I went.

I miss buttercups, clover

and playing Red Rover,

and rain on the roof of a tent.

I miss cool summer cottages

pancakes and sausages

and kites with their tails in the wind.

Garbage dump bears

and parking lot fairs,

cotton candy stuck to my chin.

I miss chestnuts on strings,

Cracker Jack rings,

marbles and balsa wood planes.

Teddy bear cuddles,

splashing in puddles

and dancing around in the rain.