Hooked


My nose is pressed against a moist window as I watch a sinister fog wiggle its way down the dark city street. It twists through the tops of thick, slick maple tree branches, lit by streetlights, and his call alerts me he isn’t coming. It is Friday night, a week before Christmas, an unusually cold night after a warm day. I spend so many hours waiting. Greg is a rogue, resembling Clark Kent.
He captures my heart the first moment he opens the tall glass door of our mansion, and steps inside with my friend Robbie, the paperboy.
“Mon Cherie. You are so beautiful! ” Greg confidently announces as he kisses my small hand. I stare at my hand like it is touched by a royal.
Robbie chides,“ Can’t you wait for the party?”
That was two weeks ago, December 5, 1964. I hosted a birthday party for my older brother’s best friend Roe. Greg has visited me every day after that.
It’s Friday night! Greg should be here since we are, “going steady”.
He said he can’t see me since he has to visit his cousin. Oh well… I’ll just go upstairs and write in my diary. Boring Friday night! No other options. Meeting boys is not easy in an all girls’ private academy. I feel restless as I walk toward the stairs. I glance up the stairwell at the expansive stained glass window that is black at night. The foyer is glowing softly from a small lamp on an antique pipe organ against the back wall that is wrapped in dark mahogany panels. As I tip toe toward the stairs, I feel comforted by the peaceful feeling this room emits. The ceiling and walls have embossed designs in leather like wall covering, and there are two carved lion heads flanking the corners of the mantelpiece of the mahogany fireplace to the right of the room. Double sliding doors open to our music room. Our Steinway “ grand “ sits like a queen in front of high triple windows, dressed with white sheer curtains, framed by drapes and valances in dark maroon velvet. It is quiet tonight. I don’t feel like practicing since I think Greg will surprise me by coming over. Oh well, I guess I’d better go upstairs and try to get to sleep. Suddenly, the phone in my room rings and I leap over my diary to get it on my nightstand before it awakens the rest of my family.
It ‘s Greg!
“How is your cousin?” I slide off the bed and walk over to my door to the hall to close it.
“Just great. She’s going to the teen club on Sunday and you can meet her.” “Are we still going bowling tomorrow?” I wonder. I tweak open the door and peek down toward the other bedrooms. Silence, down the hall, and on the phone. I wait.
“Sure, I’ll walk over around seven and we’ll take a Bergen Avenue bus there.” “Great, I’ll be ready, goodnight.” I hang up and sit on the edge of my bed, running my fingers through my long, straight, dark blond hair.
Well, I feel better that he called. I hang up and I push my diary into my drawer after scribbling, “Thank you God for another day. I’m glad I’ll be seeing Greg tomorrow.
We all have our own projects to do on Saturday, so Mom is busy chasing after us. I just want to get ready for my date with Greg at seven! “Who’s going to be there tonight?” Mom prods.
“A group from the teen club, Mom. Greg is picking me up at seven and we’ll take the bus to the Bayonne lanes.” “You must be back at 11:30. Your father and I will be waiting for you, so don’t be late.”
I hope I can be home then. They keep a tight reign on me.
I pull out a brown skirt with a matching knit sweater. It isn’t proper for girls to wear pants, so I feel comfortable. It is almost seven. Anticipating my date with Greg makes me feel like it is going to be Christmas morning. I guess my priorities have changed. The shrill sound of the front doorbell startles me. I run past my little brother Johnny in the hall. He pushes past, bolts down the stairs, and pulls open the translucent curtain on the front door. Greg’s eyes widen like a mouse getting ready to run from a cat. I check him out, up and down. He is wearing a dark green cable knit sweater, and brown slacks, which compliments my outfit.
“Hi, you’re early. Would you like to come into the living room for a few minutes and listen to the radio?” “Sure, he sighs.” I leave the door open a crack since that was the proper thing to do when alone with a boy.
I tune into Cousin Bruce on 5:50 am radio, and the rhythm of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” beckons us to dance. Suddenly, Greg yelps so loud it makes the walls wince. “ Oooo, Ow. My back pocket has a fish hook stuck in it!” Johnny leaps with joy as he runs about the living room. As we are dancing, he silently sneaks up behind Greg and pierces his back pocket with the hook. “Johnny, how could you do this?” I shriek in horror. For about twenty minutes Greg twists and turns to try and undo the mischievous prank my six-year old brother has concocted. Finally, he succeeds and pulls the stubborn, thorn-like hook from his pants. Johnny has nothing to say and joyously runs upstairs. “We have to go.” Greg says firmly, obviously bewildered, and anxious to leave.
“I am so sorry, my brother behaved so badly.” “Fine, I’m ok, let’s get out of here, we don’t have much time. I’m not thrilled that you have to be back by 11:30 p.m.”
We walk quickly and silently up the dark street to get the bus to the lanes. Shadows of bare maple tree branches wave like long arms with claws on the dimly lit sidewalk. I’m out of breath as we step up into the empty bus. Burning gasoline fumes burn my nose when the bus stops. I look inside the crowded lanes. Yuk!
I hate bowling, but it is a group date that’s approved by my parents.
The loud, shrill clanking of the bowling pins reverberate in my brain, and shiny black bouncing bowling balls knock together as beer laden bowlers patiently wait for the pins to be reset. Waiting on a round circular bench is the “Teen Club” group from church. I sit down and put on scuffed rental shoes, and feel out of place here. I do my best when it‘s my turn, but waiting is excruciating, and trying not to get a gutter ball, is a challenge that is uninspiring.
“Hi Mariah, how is the Academy?” A girl with long wavy black hair and a short upturned nose slides over to me. “Greg is cute, isn’t he? We call each other cousins, but we aren’t. Our parents are good friends.” She wrinkles up her nose and nuzzles her head on his shoulder whenever he comes near.
Cousins, I thought. How interesting. Greg couldn’t come to my house because he was visiting his “cousin”.
I couldn’t wait for the evening to be over so I could confront him with it. Everyone is going to the diner afterwards, but I have to get home. Greg and I leave and I am relieved to get away from them.
“Greg, Leanne came over to me, and she told me that you aren’t cousins.” “That’s right. I just call her my cousin.” “But you told me you couldn’t come over that Friday night because you were visiting your cousin, and you lead me to believe that it is an innocent situation. We’re going steady, and Leanne doesn’t know that.”
I feel jealous. It is a new feeling. It is very unpleasant and unsettling. We don’t talk on the way home either, and as I ring the bell on the brightly lit front porch door, I see my Mom through the sheer front door curtains.
He just gives me a hug, and swiftly runs down the steps to walk back home. Mom lets me in. “Everything all right?” she whispers. She can feel the tension.
“Sure Mom, I just want to get into bed.”
Mom turns out the porch light and we both silently share the stairs as we retire to our rooms.
As Dad and I return home from Church, the sky looks like the frosty white beard and mustache of a gray old man, and before we could climb the steps up our front porch, the old gray man dusts the snow from his face and sprinkles ice cold flakes upon our uncovered heads. Decrepit winter is here at last.
“Dear, I’m home!” he announces. Mom is busy in the kitchen, and he continues through the foyer, past the dining room, and through the swinging door into the kitchen. I flee upstairs to my room, up the kitchen’s back staircase, and take out homework for tomorrow’s test. I lie across my bed and lean on my elbows over my math book when I hear our home phone ring. Johnny cracks open my door and I see his fingers grabbing the inside doorknob. “ That guy called you.” “What? Why didn’t anyone call me?” I slowly sat upright, giving Johnny a hug as he jumps on my bed. I silently arrange my books on the bottom of my bed. He smiles impishly and runs downstairs to grab a chocolate chip cookie from the hot pan on the table. I didn’t know if I should call Greg back. I’ve been taught that it is too forward for a woman to pursue a man.
Daytime was still short in January, so I reluctantly retreat to my room and return Greg’s call. I sheepishly await the voice at the stop of the last ring. “Hello“. “Hi, this is Mariah. Is Greg there?” It is his mother, Marge, who always chaperons the Teen Club dances. “Hi Mariah, No, he’s not here. There was an officers’ meeting at the Teen Club this afternoon, but I’ll tell him you called.” “Thanks, Mrs. Preston, I’ll see you soon. Bye.”
As abruptly as the conversation ended, the shrill doorbell disturbs the afternoon Sunday solitude. I touch the cold dimly lit colored stained glass of the huge window on the landing between the first and second floors as I bound down the stairs to answer before anyone else. Through the translucent white curtains covering the inner glass door, I could distinguish a dark outline of a young man. I stop and fluff my hair, pull my sweater over my belt, and check that my skirt is not above my knees. First, I peek from the left side of the curtain. It is Greg! He sees me peek, and he laughs. I am embarrassed as I opened the door and invite him into the foyer. By now, the doorbell has alerted the whole family. “It’s Greg, Mom.” Greg took two timid steps. “Where’s Johnny? Is he hiding anywhere?” “ No, he’s upstairs playing in his room. We’re safe!” He quickly reveals the real reason he visited. “ Mariah, I came to take my friendship ring back. I feel that I am getting too attached to you and I don’t want to go steady anymore. My eyes widen and fill with tears. I turn quickly and swipe them away with my hand. With my back to him, I grip the silver band from my left hand and extend my right hand to him to take it. The night’s emptiness settles into my heart. It beats so loudly; it’s like fists pounding on the ground. Drums echoed through the canyons of my being. “Please go now, I whisper.” I hear his feet retreat to the foyer, and he opens the door and silently leaves. My left hand is barren. I don’t remember how I perform on the next days‘ test, but I find out in school that Greg asks his ”cousin” Leanne, to go steady that very night, and he gives her a gold friendship ring that he buys from another guy. I pretend that I don’t care when I go to the Teen Club to try out for Oklahoma. I get into the chorus and I have fun watching Rob play Curly and Greg play the Peddler. Type cast, possibly? Junior year ends, and I still have the fish hook my brother stuck into Greg’s back pants, and it was not without sensing that I’ve been hooked!

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