The demon barber of Fleet Street
It couldn’t have been any more harmless.
Some of the I.B. seniors went on a field trip to see the play Sweeney Todd in Pasadena. My only real friend, even then, was Trey, and he wasn’t in I.B. nor did he care about seeing some goddamn play. Truth be told, I can’t tell you specifically why I went. I imagine it was the same reason I did anything else my senior year, because I didn’t want to miss it. Like many events, like football games and dances, I was driven by the idea that I would never get to experience what it was like to be a senior again. And I was right about that.
So a bus full of seniors went to see Sweeney Todd in Pasadena. It was March 14, 2008, a week before I got my acceptance letter from Virginia Tech.
I wore a black Volcom T-shirt with blue jeans and a black blazer. I felt good about myself. During the bus ride, my friend Kevin provoked me into a freestyle rap session, so I gave in. In the middle of one of my (most likely horrible) freestyles, I casually referenced the girl who was sitting behind me, the girl I always thought was the prettiest at school. I was shy. Rapping was how I managed to break the ice.
Surprisingly, she didn’t find it totally lame. She was amused, even.
Over the course of the night, my eyes couldn’t stop from gravitating towards her, like a car crash but more beautiful. I felt her eyes on me, too. It was a game of cat and mouse but I didn’t know how to play. We ended up separated by one person who sat between us during the performance, but I had a sense about this one that I hadn’t felt before and haven’t felt since. It was weird.
On the ride home, all of us were talking about this and that, playing games in the nature of Fuck, Marry, Kill — but not that, specifically. My new muse asked me something and I answered. I would ask her something, and she’d answer. It was generally a friendly conversation.
In the middle of something she was saying, I absentmindedly cut her off and asked:
You’re really smart, aren’t you?
It sounded more as a statement of fact than a legitimate question. Weeks later she would tell me that was one of the first things she noticed about me, that I notice things. I didn’t need to ask her if she was smart. She knew she was smart. But I’m sure she appreciated someone noticing, especially when there were so many other obvious and superficial things about her to notice.
When we got back to our high school, I went in to shake her hand goodbye — I was never really a hugger — and she grabbed my hand back and shook it. Then she initiated a hug, which is what I really wanted.
I was shy.
* * * * *
After my atrocious prom night five weeks later, I gave up on girls. Or at least the practicality of having a girlfriend when I was about to leave for the east coast in a handful of months. It made no sense.
So, naturally, a month later I had a girlfriend.
One morning after 2nd period English — which is where the girl I met on Sweeney Todd Night and I rendezvoused with our friends each day — I mustered up the courage to tell her “You look really pretty today.” This was before I was introduced to alcohol. She gave me a big hug, and I found out it was her birthday. It was May 13, 2008.
Not too long after, we had each other’s phone number, and texted pretty much non-stop over the next few weeks. I was living on adrenaline. I could stay up talking to her until 3:00 in the morning, and wake up at 7:45 full of energy and ready for the new day. It was perpetual Christmas for a young boy.
We talked about everything. She was fond of me being a writer, and having the dream of writing for a living. I told her the reason I wanted to write was to inspire young people like I’ve been inspired. She was an artist, and an authentic one. She understood anything my 18 year-old self could say.
At the end of May there was a school dance, the last of the year. It was luau. I arrived as the sun was falling; it was twilight time.
Her and I met in the quad. I wore a big ass black NEFF T-shirt, covered with bright blues and yellows and pinks and had a large palm tree on it, with my Krew jeans that were all messed up from when Trey took me out to paint with him. I swear 18 year-old style is the best, most obnoxious style.
She was better dressed for the part. It was the prettiest I’d seen her in my small sample. She wore a short brown dress with white heels, and had a flower in her hair. Since I was so inexperienced, at the time I had no idea that it was all for me.
We danced, and we danced some more. We took a couple breaks, I presume, to go to the restroom or whatever. But we did a lot of fucking dancing. She was a dancer, so she was really good at dancing. I am not a dancer, so I did my best to pretend like I was.
Until then, after all of about two weeks worth of “talking,” her and I hadn’t spent any time together outside of school. It was all talk. This night we were at school, sure, but we finally got a piece of each other. And we liked it.
During the last song, we kissed for the first time. Then we stopped, looked at each other like no one else in the world existed in that moment. Then we kissed some more.
When we left that night, we held hands as I walked her to her friends car, and she went home. Three days later I asked her to be my girlfriend, and she said yes.
So 10 days before graduation, and two and a half months before I was to leave California for Virginia, I had a girlfriend.
* * * * *
Summer love is an actual thing. Or at least it was an actual thing. As I’ve gotten older I have grown less sure if my life experience is fairly common, or I’m just ranting on about a totally trivial existence. I don’t know which I prefer more.
I could get into the stupid details, but you get the picture. We spent basically the entire summer together, knowing my impending departure was just over the horizon. We both knew what we had wasn’t going to last forever, so it made us appreciate the time we did have. We waited about a month to say “I love you” to one another, and shortly thereafter I lost my virginity.
July 19th, my mom and I flew to Virginia for my freshman orientation, which was to last the weekend. With so little time before I was to fly out there for good, I was a pain in the ass to my mom. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to miss three days from my girlfriend when time already felt like it was running out.
But we had a great time. To this day my mom and I still reminisce on our trip to Virginia, how special it was. We went out to eat for every meal, hung out all day, and shopped for little trinkits I could get my girlfriend. At night I would stand outside the room at the Holiday Inn we stayed at, talking on the phone while fireflies bounced around against the darkness.
It was a preview of what life would have to be like.
We made it home the following Sunday, and the first thing I did was, of course, drive to see my girlfriend. I was rushed with excitement. On the way I remember hoping I didn’t crash and burn because I couldn’t exercise a morsel of goddamn patience. I also had a bag of Virginia goodies with me that I was excited to give her.
A month later, and a month deeper in summer love, there was no time left for practice runs. It was happening. My mom and I picked her up around 4:00 in the morning to drive to Ontario Airport, which would connect me to Atlanta and then to Roanoke.
We sat in the far back of my mom’s blue caravan, holding hands and kissing and crying and saying how much we loved each other. I put in a Jack’s Mannequin album so we could listen to our band. That’s how the book closed on our eternal summer.
I boarded my flight, first class (thanks mom), and sat next to a guy from Ohio who went to Xavier. His name was something Fisher. I wrote it down on my black leather-bound journal that my grandparents got me as a graduation present. I was anxious and excited and nervous and hopeful, but mainly I just wanted to be with my girlfriend again.
I made my commitment to Virginia Tech before I made a commitment to her, but it took almost no time at all before I realized which was more important to me. I chose to play the part I was supposed to play; I needed to go to Virginia and find a way to make it work back home.
I arrived on campus on August 21st. It was a muggy, overcast afternoon.