All I ever wanted...
"All I Ever wanted…"
by MICHAEL JAMES
November 28th 1982 - The weather was unusually warm for a late fall evening. Fog was rolling in off the west and into the cavernous streets and skyscrapers of Manhattan. It was the kind of weather I was accustomed to when I was living in the San Francisco bay area years ago. I left home Sunday to return to college from a long Thanksgiving holiday weekend. I had to take a Shortline bus back to Sullivan County Community College, 100 miles northwest of New York. It was 20 minutes before 10pm. I was an hour early for the trek north to Monticello and Liberty. Since I had time to kill, I planted my bags by the bench in the waiting area, sat down and relaxed.
The characters that walked in and out of the terminal were mostly vagrants. Undesirables who feed off the vulnerable individuals coming to New York with big ambitions, trying to make it big. I heard a voice to the left of me, "Say brother!" I turned right and was confronted by a man. He was a pitiful sight. Holes in his shoes, soiled pants and a disgusting odor of filth. He went on and said, "Got any spare change?" I glanced at him and said, No. He left my air space and continued accosting others in the terminal until a police officer sent him on his way. I felt sorry for the man because he obviously couldn't take care of himself. He had a future and somewhere down the road he got sidetracked. Nine times out of ten it was drugs. In his case, it was alcohol. Eventually the sympathy I had turned into disgust as I saw another person copying the numbers off of someone's phone credit card. He was equipped with small binoculars and looking from a darkened area. I had to be careful of who came my way at all times. I didn't want any trouble coming by me.
As I sat in the bus station, I couldn't help but look at an attractive woman eating by the Nathan's hot dog stand about 100 meters in front of where I was sitting. There was a girl I once knew in high school. She had looked very familiar. I was tempted to find out if my hunch was right, but I didn't want to make a fool out of myself. I left the question alone. As I pondered the opportunity wasted, I couldn't help thinking of the similarities of the first girl I liked. The first time I laid eyes on her was in a supermarket during the summer of 1978. I was 15 at the time and I was waiting by the checkout counter waiting to pay for my items. And there she was. She was a 5'3" brunette with shoulder length hair and olive skin color. I could only guess what her age was. All of the sudden, without warning, she glanced at me. I had no choice but to smile at her. She quickly turned away and got back to paying her groceries. As she finished paying for her items and headed out of the store, she glanced at me again. This time I gave her my pearly white smile to impress. For a few moments, I lost all sense of reality. It was if I was in a trance from her beauty. I heard a popping sound. It was the cashier snapping her finger in my face to get me out of my hypnotic state. The customers behind me were laughing hysterically. It was, to say the least, embarrassing.
Being in love for the first time will throw allot of people off base. It did me in, too. Just like that little redheaded girl did to Charlie Brown. I wondered, "Who was that girl?" She had to be new in town because I didn't see her in junior high school the year before. I attended Turtle Hook Junior High School in Uniondale, Long Island as a 9th grader last year and would attend Uniondale High as a sophomore in September. I asked all my friends if they knew who she is. Obviously, they had no idea who I was talking about. I even asked the finger-snapping cashier. She didn't know either. Dejected, I said to myself, "I guess I'm out of luck. I'll never see her again." Pretty soon everything began to start looking like her. Billboards, magazines, you name it. If it had a woman's face on it, it had her picture on it. I even thought she was on television. There was a show on television I remember watching. There was one particular girl I can remember by face only. I can't remember the name of the girl. But I did now that she looked exactly like her. She was almost a complete replica of the girl. From the shoulder length hair, to her olive skin. None the less, I spent the rest of my summer wondering if I would see her again. One morning in September, I was late for my first class. I lived a half mile away from school and I had to run like crazy to get there. My only concern was to get to class before the first bell rang. To my surprise, there she was walking down her street on her way to school. I immediately put on the brakes and strolled along very carefully. Apparently, my running didn't catch her attention. My heart just dropped from the sight of her. Every step she took was like poetry in motion. She was full of radiance. I was obsessed with the notion of meeting her. But being that this would have been the first time I'd talk to a girl I was attracted to, I was afraid to do anything. I couldn't think of anything to say at the time. I needed a reason to start a conversation with her. Some kind of plan to get her interested in me. I decided to let the situation to for today.
The next day, I did do something about it. I tried to think of current events that were important. Now, the next thing to do was to find out what her regular route as. Luckily, it was the same as mine. Now, if she went to school at the time I was late, I would make everything fall into place. I wouldn't have mind at all being late once in a while, especially for her. Well, there you have it. My plan was easy. Emotionally, I was flying high like an eagle. I wanted this to come off perfectly. I couldn't wait for tomorrow to come. Now following through with my strategy was a different story. It didn't exactly go the way I planned. At the start, I did everything perfect. I took the route and sure enough she was there. But as I walked up to her, my knees were shaking. My heart was pounding rapidly. My mind was in all different places. But this was something that I had to do. I taped her on her shoulder and I said to her very nervously, "E..Excuse me, but do you have the time. I think I'm running late for my class." "No, I don't." She said giving away a distinct foreign accent. I continued as best as I could. "You look kind of young for your age. How old are you?" "Sixteen", she said. At that time, my mind went blank. I had no idea what to say to her next. Even the current events question I came up with the night before flew right past me. Boy, was I scared. What could I say to her? Quickly, I asked her, "What's your name?" "Nadia." she said. "My name is Michael. I'm very glad to meet you. I have an older brother in the 12th grade. You might know him. His name is Gary." She said, "No." Slowly, I started to relax and with it I gained a tremendous confidence. I felt like I could talk about anything with her. I asked her, "What grade are you in?" "Eleventh." she responded. I then said, "What's your first class?" She said, "Ceramics". "Do you do allot of work in that class?" I said. "Yes." she said. "Well, its allot better than what I got to start out with. I got History as my first class and you should see the teacher I got. The guy's got 2 inch spectacles and he can't see at all." I said to her trying my best to humor her. As we approached the school, the bell rang for the 1st period class. I said to her, "Well, it's been nice talking to you. Hope to see you later on today." She didn't respond to that and left me. At any rate, I was overjoyed from the opportunity that came to me, to finally meet the girl of my dreams. The next day I did the same routine. And sure enough, there she was, on her way to school. She caught a glimpse of me and walked briskly down another street. Naturally, I followed her. This time, I knew what to say to her.
I was all confident and ready for the conversation. I finally caught up to her and said "Good morn..." All of the sudden, she cut off my sentence and verbally lashed out, "WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME!" I casually replied, "Don't be mad at me. I just wanted to strike up a conversation with you so we can be friends. I really would like to be friends with you." She then said to me, "WELL I DON'T WANT TO BE FRIENDS WITH YOU!" and ran down the street to the school. The ice coldness of her emotion had a profound effect on my mental state. I was left stone solid. I wanted to plead my case to her and tell her how I felt inside. But because of my inexperience with girls, I had no idea of how to win her heart. During the weeks that followed, all I could think about was her. I tried my best to show my affection to her during the school year. There were times when I could not concentrate on my schoolwork at all. The impact showed on my report card that first quarter when I started bringing home C's and D's. Pretty soon, I started hearing it from my dad. He did all the ranting and enforcement. I was grounded for months without television, movies or music. My mom gave me words of encouragement. At least she understood that this was a hard time for me to be a teenager in love, and not winning the girl's heart. I started to put into perspective the reasons why she wanted no part of me. Were my tactics too aggressive for her? I will admit, approaching her in the manner I did would scare anyone into suspicion. Maybe she hated going out with jocks. I was wearing my varsity track & field jacket at the time. Maybe it was my cologne. I did splash on too much the day I met her. Then it dawned on me. "Color." I said to myself. It hit me like a twelve-gauge shotgun blasting in front of me. I couldn't get out of the way of that illogical explanation. I went to a fairly large high school, about 1500 students in all. It was very hard finding your friends without being in the same class together. We had people from all different walks of life go there. Irish, Italian, German and European-American families from mostly 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants. You had African-American families that worked hard to move out of poverty of and into the middle class. And then you had the new wave of immigrants. Eastern-Europeans from Poland, Hungary and the Slavic regions, from places like Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and the Middle East region (I found out later on from one of her friends that she came from the country of Jordan.), and Hispanics from South and Central America. Many of the kids in high school didn't bother fraternizing and wound up staying together in their separate groups. I didn't understand they were afraid of. I was raised as a Christian and was taught the values of loving one another the way Jesus Christ taught us (Strangely enough, I also found out that she too, was a Christian, further perplexing my thought processes tremendously.). However, that's not the way it was within many of the towns and neighborhoods of Long Island, New York. Communicating with other people who were not of the same race, creed or religion was a taboo subject. It was sad, but it was true. But surely, that couldn't be the reason. I was very resentful of that we were from different worlds and that we couldn't communicate with each other. The fact that I was African-American and she was an immigrant from the Middle East shouldn't have mattered. I said to myself every time I saw her, "How could two people be the same and at the same time be so different?" I wanted to say to her, "I can understand how you can be so closed minded being that you're new to this country. Yes, I'm an American. Yes, I'm different. But, what do you have to fear? If you could just open your heart to the reality that I could truly be a great friend to you, you won't regret the decision." After all the theories I made of why she was hostile to me, I'll never know the real reason why she wanted nothing to do with me. I tried my best to be friends with her, but I failed miserably. And try I did, up until I graduated from high school. The damage had been done on me going to any prestigious university. I soon realized that I had to make a decision in my life. There was more to life than a beautiful girl. I made the career decision to go to Sullivan County Community College, a 2-year junior college in Loch Sheldrake, New York, to start getting my grades up. It was for my own good. It would get my mind off of her and back on school again. The day before I went off to college, something bizarre happened. I ran into Nadia again for the last time. She was on her way to work, ironically at the same supermarket we first laid eyes on each other. I was expecting to get the cold shoulder treatment as usual. To my surprise, she didn't. "Hi, Mike." she called to me. I was shocked! Was this the same girl who shunned my advances for 3 years? I gave her a simple, "Hi." I asked her, "Going back to work?" "Yes." she said. I told her, "I'm going off to college next week." "Oh, good for you." she said. "Have you ever thought about going to college?" I asked her. "No.", she said. "I just want to save money and be well off." I said to her, "You really should consider going to college. You really can get a better head start than just saving money. I think you can benefit from learning about yourself, too. Go at your own speed, take your time, and get it when you feel like it. Just don't let it get too far away." As we approached the store entrance, she stopped and smiled at me. "What's so funny?" I asked. She then said, "I'm sorry for the way I treated you." Her sentence totally threw me for a loop. It was just like Murphy's Law. I looked at her in disbelief. I didn't know what to say to her, just as if we were meeting for the first time again. I turned to her and said, "You take care of yourself and good luck in whatever you do." I put my hand out to her and she did the same and we shook hands. And that was it. My thought as I left her was, maybe, just maybe, one day we can really get to know each other. Maybe, someday.
"Bus 1175 to Monticello and Liberty now leaving at gate 12!" The announcement for the bus rang loud and clear over the speaker. It was time to get on the bus back to the Catskills. I reached for my bags and got on line. I pulled out my ticket and gave it to the bus driver. "Transfer at Monticello for Loch Sheldrake.", he said. I took a seat in the front of the bus, closed my eyes, relaxed and got ready for the trip. I heard a voice calling out to me. "Is this seat takin?", she said to me in a classic New York accent. It was the lady who looked like Nadia!! The woman from the hot dog stand!! I was nervous. It felt like I was back in high school again. What was going to happen now? I said to myself. "No, it's not. Be my guest." "T'anks allot she said. I'm sooo ty'id. You goin' to Sullivan?", she asked me. "I sure am. And yourself?", I asked her. "Yea. I'm visitin' my girlfriend in Monticello. I hea' Sullivan's a pa'dy school (She meant party.). How's the pa'dies? People tell me this is a pa'dy school." She was very enthusiastic about attending one of the college mixers. Her name was Debbie and she lived in of all places; Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. I was more than happy to tell her about Sullivan and their wild parties. We talked all during the trip about our past, what schools we went to. We even talked about our past loves (Yes, I mentioned her resemblance to Nadia also.). It did me lots of good. We even exchanged phone numbers and addresses and promised to go out on one of the social functions on campus. Sadly though, the moments with Nadia are gone. Well never know what could have become between each other. If only she could have let me into her life. All I have left are the memories. Memories that surround me like a warm blanket.