Tom Kiske '61 has written several wonderful articles for this web site. He wrote the first contributed article, "McKinley Walk." Tom is the author of numerous published articles, stories, essays and a great book with reflections on the life in the 50's and 60's in the Soulard neighborhood, "Time Has Its Own Terms."
You’re driving home, but you really don’t want to get there – at least not yet. The warm breeze is in your face, flowing through your hair as the entire evening flows through your mind, again and again as you replay each part. This article looks back at a date many years ago and recalls the feelings and emotions of that date.
|After the Date|
On a cloudy day.
When it's cold outside
I've got the month of May.
Well, I guess you'll say
What can make me feel this way?
Talkin' 'bout my girl . . .
My Girl, by The TemptationsIt is a warm summer night in your eighteenth year – probably Friday or Saturday – must be 1:30 or so in the wee hours and you are driving home after spending the evening with her. Traffic is light and you’re in no hurry. The windows are down and you can hear the glass packs rumble under the music from the radio. You’re listening; perhaps, to KATZ broadcasting smooth jazz live from the Blue Note on the East Side. A gentle rhythm to match the night and your mood. You’re only a little tired despite the late hour and at that, pleasantly so. You’re not sleepy, in fact you may be more alert than normal, but in a calm, relaxed way. Whatever worries might occupy your mind at other times have no place here, and you just feel good.
You’ve been with her. You like this girl – really like her – and as improbable as it seems, you’ve learned that she feels the same about you. You’ve looked long into those miraculous eyes, gently held her small hand, caressed that smooth, smooth cheek and hesitated – hesitated achingly – until you knew, until you were sure she wanted to be kissed, and then the butterflies flew away and you were both lost in the intimacy of that moment when your lips met.
You held this girl in your arms and after a while it seemed that holding her might be the reason you have arms, so that when the time came that you finally had to say goodnight you felt – still feel – an emptiness where once she nestled against you. You’ve just left her but already you want to see her again – and soon.
home, but you really don’t want to get there – at least not
yet. The warm breeze is in your face, flowing through your hair as the
entire evening flows through your mind, again and again as you replay
each part, recalling a look, a word, a touch. Maybe there’s a lot
that’s not right with your life, but for now – for right here
and right now – the world’s a decent place and it’s
good being you.
The old neighborhood can’t hold you – it’s far too small, and your eyes are on a distant horizon. You’re young, and strong, and against all odds, you have the heart of this sweet, pretty girl. Nothing can stop you now, because as the song says, you’re the Duke of Earl! And if the Duke should experience a little hunger pang on the way home (you are still a teenager after all), there’s always California Donuts over on Jefferson Avenue.
Many years later you will look back on this evening and it will seem as fresh and vivid as it was back then. The same feeling will well up inside of you, bring a smile to your face and make you want to hang on to the recollection as long as you can. But if you linger in that moment long enough and especially if it has come back to you during a troubled period in your life, it may be tinged with the bittersweet. You may begin to wonder; was that moment it? Was that the peak?
Not that there weren’t other more exciting, more obviously memorable times, but as a simple moment of emotional openness, clarity, connectedness and contentment, perhaps that after-date drive home was, at least in some ways, a sort of sublime summit. Peaks such as this are tricky, because sometimes when something’s happening, you don’t think that much about it, but later – often much later – when you look back on it you realize that moment registered at some deep level, and that it is one of your life’s treasures.
We grow older and the future shrinks before us. Dreams postponed can wither and become dreams abandoned. A sometimes harsh reality intercedes and we adopt a certain armor to get us through from day to day. Parents and friends suffer through illnesses, have tragic accidents, die and are lost to us. We “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Cares and worries mount and so of necessity we toughen up, our nerve endings become calloused and less sensitive, we guard against pain, against vulnerability, against feelings too intense. Life demands we all wear some form of armor, even if we allow ourselves to shed its weight on occasion so that yes, we can enjoy other's apex moments – a marriage, the birth of a child, a new grandchild.
Age has its compensations and comforts, to be sure, but eighteen only happens once. Still, if we are very lucky, every dream that fades is replaced with a memory that shines forever with a radiance that never dims. And it is the glow from such memories that warms the soul, warms it like a summer breeze from a certain night – a night long past but also everlasting.
A night you were with her.