On Friday, August 31, 1979 my friend Cheri and I were on our way home from the mall. At a stop-light I noticed a blue 1965 Mustang stopped next to us, and about the time I noticed the driver’s afro bopping to the Blue Oyster Cult song shrieking from his radio, he also noticed me. I blushed and grinned, and for a reason known only to the Lord, I waved. He waved back.
The light changed, and since we had to turn left at the next light we fell in behind the Mustang. After both cars made the same turn I joked to Cheri that they probably thought we were following them. She grinned and said, “Hey, we should!” So we did, through a couple of turns, until they got smart and turned into a church parking lot. Spooked, we took off as quickly as her dad’s Beetle would carry us.
We should have expected that they would come after us. They were quickly behind us, so Cheri tried to lose them in an empty Winn-Dixie parking lot. Don’t judge. We were teenagers. To this day I’m not sure what Cheri was thinking when she drove straight to the apartment where my mother and I lived alone and parked in front of our building. I asked her if she’d lost her mind, certain those creepy stalkers were going to murder us before we could escape.
I hid behind my algebra book and Cheri tried to look busy. The guys got out of their car and I remember thinking as they approached ours that I was really not fond of the idea of dying so young. I was about to scream at Cheri for rolling down her window when she pointed to the afro and said, “Hey, I know you!” Bless Jesus, we could live.
Cheri laughed and we both sighed our relief, then we got out of the car to chat with the no-longer-total-strangers. Turns out about a year before, Cheri and Steve had been briefly introduced at a Tampa Jam concert. Briefly was working for me, since it at least assured me of seeing the morning. We talked for a while and before they left Steve asked if he and his best friend Dave could hang out with us sometime, and mentioned a concert that was coming up. We said sure, thinking we’d never see them again.
We bailed on the concert, of course, but I felt a little guilty we didn’t go, so I asked them to meet us for pizza after our high school football game the following Friday night. Friday came, along with a massive rainstorm that combined with a huge loss for our team and drenched us body and spirit. Cheri was in no mood to go out at all, but I convinced her to at least come to the pizza place and hang out for a while.
When we arrived Steve naturally paired up with Cheri (I assumed since they had been introduced) and I sat with Dave. Steve and I sat across the table from each other goofing off and making silly conversation (I recognize it now as massive flirting), and as the evening wore on I felt a heart connection with the tall, skinny Italian rocker with the big hair. They took me home and I introduced them to my mother, and after they left she said, “I think Dave is terrific, but I honestly think Steve is more your type.” I hurried off to my room so she couldn’t see the pink in my cheeks.
The following week I called Steve’s house “looking for Dave”. Of course he wasn’t there, so Steve and I chatted for a little bit. He mentioned that he was going to the mall later to buy a present for a fraternity brother and asked if I wanted to come along. As casually as I could voice it, I said yes, then promptly hung up the phone and went dashing through the house to find my good jeans and the red button-down with the gold lame’ stripes.
As we arrived at the mall, Steve mentioned that “The Muppet Movie” was playing at the cinema and asked if I’d seen it. I said no, so he invited me to the movie. I was beginning to feel really comfortable with this guy, and I still marvel at how easily I fell for him since I had grown up watching my mother struggle in relationships, had seen her used and abused by men, and had fallen into a wreck of a relationship myself at the tender age of barely-fifteen and paid a high price for my misjudgment. Steve made me feel safe.
And so we come to the corniest part of our story, when Miss Piggy sees Kermit and her eyes twinkle in that love-at-first-sight way and Steve kissed me. After you stop gagging and laughing, I will tell you that it was the most perfect kiss on the planet, ever—even better than Westley and Buttercup at the end of “The Princess Bride”. It was gentle and sweet and it melted my heart into a puddle then and there.
A few weeks later as my feelings for Steve continued to grow, it hit me like a freight train that it was going to kill us both when we broke up. Everyone broke up. Broken relationship was all I’d ever known. I hadn’t uttered the word love in regard to Steve because there was still that part of me that fearfully withdrew at the thought of giving my heart to a man. It’s hard to describe the terror that overtook me when I realized I loved him. So I did the only thing I felt would save us both: I broke up with him.
I asked that he not contact me, knowing it would take nothing for my will to break. He honored my request, and I cried for the next two days straight. After a weekend of misery and a painful heaviness I can’t even describe, I finally called a friend, who called him for me and nudged him to call. I told him there was something important I wanted to tell him but it needed to be in person. He said he’d pick me up from band practice the next night.
The whole ride home after practice was quiet. Scared out of my mind, I couldn’t even make small talk. We stood outside the Mustang the way we had done many evenings before, him leaning against the driver’s door and me leaning on him with his arms around me. Every time I tried to find my voice nothing would come out. Finally he took my face in his hands and said, “I love you.” Tears came quickly as I said, “I love you, too.” I don’t think I hit four of the twenty steps up to our apartment that night. I felt I could fly.
A month later he asked my mother if he could propose to me. We would go on to joke for many years about me thinking if I hadn’t been in love with him she would have made me marry him. She gave him her own wedding rings, and on November 17, 1979, he asked me to marry him. At my choked out “Yes!” he put the engagement ring on my finger. It was my 16th birthday.