BY GLORIA MARIS In the early 1990s I was halfway through my undergrad degree, and my high-school boyfriend invited me to his wedding. He had gone to a small state university out West, while I stayed in the mid-Atlantic to finish high school and start college more locally. We’d kept up the long-distance relationship for a while, going through a fortune in long-distance dimes (this was the olden days, before everyone had e-mail); but eventually he fell in love with a fellow engineering student, and they married in the summer after his college graduation.
It wasn’t the first time I’d driven across the country. The first time had been with that same high-school boyfriend, to help him return to school his sophomore year. I remember the car, a 1983 Chevy Cavalier wagon. We hung our graduation tassels, 198x and 199x, from the rearview mirror — do kids still do that? We stopped at Wall Drug, where I bought a waxed-cotton hat with a leather wind cord. We visited Yellowstone National Park, which at the time was astoundingly beautiful with the wildflowers that proliferated after the 1988 fires. The car’s odometer flipped to 100,000 miles somewhere near the Continental Divide in Montana; we stopped and took pictures. A few months later, the graduation tassels were lost when someone broke into the car to steal the rearview mirror. I never understood why they didn’t leave the tassels behind.
The wedding was the first I attended in the circle of my age-mates, and it showed. The couple obviously had a very limited budget; the groom asked for his parents’ permission to break a glass for good luck; I wore a type of inappropriately short dress that only someone in her early 20s could get away with; and on the strength of that dress I slept with the best man a few times later that fall when we were both back East.
But this post isn’t about my high-school boyfriend or his best man; it’s about the date I took to his wedding. My date was someone I’d met in a social club at the university. He was short. He bore a striking resemblance to John Denver, so much so that some people in our social club called him that behind his back. He was a little older and was going back to school after a stint in the Army. He was good at camping and hiking and making do on a road trip with a limited budget. Late one night while we were camping, he pointed out some of the more obscure constellations to me, which I appreciated. Then he told me that if I looked at them indirectly I’d see them better, which irritated me, because I already knew that trick. He expanded my practical understanding of driving a stick-shift car by making me the designated driver out of Mile High Stadium’s parking lot and into the Denver mousetrap after he’d had a few during a baseball game.
We drove his 1979 Toyota Celica Supra. When we ran the air conditioning, the gearbox heated up dramatically, so most of the drive was very, very hot. Somewhere in Colorado he put “Rocky Mountain High” on the cassette player and I had to turn my face very quickly to the window so that he wouldn’t see me laughing and ask why.
The road trip itself was largely uneventful. We camped a couple of nights, slept other nights in overpriced interstate motels, and mostly spent as much time as we could on the road because we had to get back to school. Unfortunately for my date, I passed a lot of time on the trip quietly mooning over another fella. Somewhere in Kansas he put “Bridge over Troubled Water” on the cassette player and I had to turn my face to the window so he wouldn’t see me coming to tears for missing the other guy, who played a lot of Simon and Garfunkel when we were together. I tried to be a good sport, though, and I put out for my date a few times, including one pine-needly encounter in the tent one cold, mountainous night. But I think we both knew that he was merely my lift to the wedding, and this was my “payment,” and we weren’t going to be able to continue once we got home. It didn’t end gracefully, because I didn’t yet have the communication skills or even the self-knowledge to understand what I was doing and be completely honest about it, both to me and to him. Truthfully I feel ashamed about how we ended: I pettily fussed at him over the phone to mail my Swiss Army knife, which I’d left in his car, to my dorm room. I was so young and immature, even for the age I was. I wasn’t nice to him at all.
I haven’t seen or talked to him in over 15 years. His name is too common for me to effectively Google him. I used to have a photo of him taken outside Mile High Stadium, but I tossed it years ago. I don’t know if he went back into the Army; he’s probably not too old to have been sent back to Iraq or Afghanistan. (The best man was Army, too. He went to Iraq in Desert Storm and got sent back for Iraqi Freedom, but in the interim he’d settled down, gotten married, and had two kids.) If I ever saw him again, I don’t think I’d apologize, but I would acknowledge that I was less than classy with him, and that I hope I didn’t turn him against women for too long.
Gloria Maris blogs at GLOMARIZATION