“Beer drinkin’ don’t do half the harm of love makin’.”
— Old New England proverb
Having a car did, as expected, changed life for the better to some extent. It definitely made things easier on a variety of fronts. The summer in between tenth and eleventh grades was filled with endless parties, parades and summer theatre. I was home as little as possible and my parents’ relationship seemed more tenuous than ever.
My mother seemed weary all the time, like she was worn out just by the effort of living. I couldn’t really blame her. Whatever the effect of Eddie’s violence on me, it must have hit my Mom so much worse that it was hard to imagine. She seemed to have lost her zest for life that always made her a person people wanted to be around. Now she took naps during the day, whenever she could. I tried to talk to her about leaving Eddie again, but concluded that she never would. She was still too afraid of being alone, and she continued to defend his good qualities. I knew they were in there, too, but the bad ones were exacting a very high price on our lives. Maybe it was the new math, but it didn’t add up the same way when I calculated the positive and negatives Eddie brought.
She seemed to realize that we’d drifter apart and I was disappointed in her decision to stay with Eddie. He was coming home drunk several times a week now, and tearing up the house two out of three times. There was hardly any pretense left. At least before we felt like there was a chance we wouldn’t go nuts, now we were certain he was. It was sort of like the difference between romance and pornography. Before when Eddie got home we’d be walking on eggshells, doing a kind of dance to not anger him in the hopes of his passing out without incident. And once in a while, we were successful and felt like we’d accomplished something in an unhealthy, twisted way. Now there was no more dancing. When Eddie came home it had the feel of pornography’s certainty. Somebody was going to get fucked, figuratively speaking, and was always us.
Even though our relationship had deteriorated — and I don’t think my mother truly understood the distance that now stood between us — she did keep trying to reign me in and keep me close, sort of the way her own mother tried to keep control of her. The more she tried, the more I resisted and I think on some level she knew it was futile. One thing that she did do for me which I appreciated as much then as I still do, was forbid me to work. I had talked to her about getting a job to pay for gas and whatnot several times. She always said no, saying simply. “You’re going to have to work for the rest of your life. Enjoy being a kid while you still can.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her I hadn’t really felt like a kid for years, although I still was quite immature. It was more like I had developed a hard outer shell of indifference, ennui and attitude from Eddie’s violent alcoholism but inside I was still a ten-year old.
My mother began supplementing my allowance using the same theory I had come up with for skimming beer from Eddie. Whenever Eddie passed out after one of his episodes, she would relieve his wallet of a portion of its contents, splitting the money with me. Eddie never remembered what he’d done the night before or how much money he’d spent so we simply decided to make that work in our favor. It certainly freed me up to be able to afford staying away from home more easily, since I could pay for gas, beer, food and whatever I needed to get me through the days.
Phil and I spent most weekends driving to some small town in Pennsylvania to march in a fireman’s parade, usually with another friend we’d made in band, Steve, a trumpet player from Mt. Penn, who was a year or two younger than we were. Driving around the state on our own gave many more opportunities for mischief and mayhem. Phil’s father hilariously admonished us to be sure and stay out of the middle lane on three-lane roads. He was convinced it was the most dangerous spot to drive. Of course, we went out of our way to drive in the middle.
Junior year began with band practice a few weeks before the start of the school year in August. We were looking much more forward to this year, in part because we would no longer be at the bottom of the social order. The girls in the sophomore class might even be interested in us, though it seemed more than we could hope for. As it happened, I met my first serious girlfriend that first week. Kelly was a majorette and I was smitten. She had dark brunette hair, thin features and a nice, shy smile. I found excuses to talk to her a few times after practice and one day her and a friend joined Phil and me on a drive to a spot we liked to go to drink in Nolde Forest. We shared a Genny Cream Ale and went for a walk in the woods. I invited her to go to a party that weekend and she sheepishly accepted. She didn’t think her father would like me picking her up in my car, so we agreed to meet at the party, we suited me just fine.
A guy we knew in the band, a trombone player, was having a party at his folks’ place near the community swimming pool. Kelly’s family, I learned, lived outside of Mohnton and she was going get a ride from an older girlfriend in the neighborhood. As usual, I arrived early at the party. Unless I had something else to do, I almost always went to parties early. Usually I’d help out with the keg or other details but really it was because I wanted to get out of the house, the driving force behind many curious behaviors. When Kelly got to the party, I initially played it cool, something I wasn’t very good at. But I quickly gave that up and just started talking with her and group of her friends. Eventually they all peeled off and we were left alone. We ended up drinking and talking that whole night. I drover her home, but at her insistence dropped her off out of sight around the corner from her house. We shared a brief goodnight kiss, and that was the beginning.
Over the next few weeks Kelly and I spent all of our time together. We made out a lot. I was having the time of my life. Sure, I wanted to have sex but as much as that was in the back of my mind, I was just enjoying having a girlfriend and making out. We’d been standing firmly on second base for a several weeks and I felt confident we’d round the bases at some point soon. For now, I was having too good a time to worry about it. I was even drinking a bit less, I suppose, because I was more interested in hanging out with Kelly than going to parties. But parties also afforded us a place to make out other than my car or our respective houses when our parents weren’t home. Kelly had a little brother, which made her home less of an option for us to be alone.
I really loved being in a relationship. I started picking up flowers at the farmer’s market for Kelly. Then I’d get to school early before anyone else was there and put then flowers in her locker so she’d find them when she got there. I had it that bad. I had moved passed the crush stage to adolescent love, or at least that’s what I thought. She seemed to express the same thoughts, which only confirmed my feelings. There’s nothing like that feeling of first love where you feel like you could fly or like you’re walking on air. It was probably the first time since I was very little that I allowed myself to be completely happy.
Sometime as fall began, we slid into third base and increased our sexual tension. We’d started getting naked just to feel one another’s body against each other. We’d fondle one another with fingers and hands for hours. She seemed just as in to it as I was. I had heard other friends and older kids talking about forcing themselves on girls and I was relieved that I didn’t have to confront that possibility. Certainly I had felt anxious when we’d stimulated one another for any length of time and I often wanted to just jump her and relieve myself. It sounded to me like some of my friends were having trouble controlling that impulse, not that it wasn’t difficult for me, too. I did get a few hand jobs in the bargain, thank goodness, which helped immeasurably.
Finally one Saturday in early November, my folks were out-of-town visiting Eddie’s marine buddy who lived near Pittsburgh, a good all-day drive away. We had the place to ourselves the entire day, and we planned to spend it all in bed. The only beer in the ‘frig that was some old Carling Black Label — which I had grown to dislike — and a joke beer the same friend Eddie and my mother were visiting had brought with them to our house a couple of weeks before. It was Olde Frothingslosh Pale Stale Ale, a novelty beer made by the Pittsburgh Brewing Co., the same brewery famous for Iron City beer. But it didn’t taste any different than other Iron City beers I’d had. I made us some lunch of tomato soup and some sandwiches. Afterwards, Kelly went upstairs while I cleaned up the plates and pots, loading them into the dishwasher.
I joined her after a few minutes and she was waiting for me in my bedroom, wearing a sheer nightie she fund in my mother’s dresser. I’d seen my mother in it once or twice but Kelly looked completely different wearing it, more grown up than I ever remember seeing her look. Thoughtfully she brought up more beer cans with her and they were sitting on my nightstand, next to the Fyfe & Drum lamp. I sat on the bed and took another long sip of beer, then turned to enjoy her naked form lying on my bed. I could hardly contain my excitement as I undressed and got under the covers with her. Within a few minutes, neither of us were virgins. Once we were finished, I held her for a few minutes before we both fell asleep. Waking abruptly less than an hour later, we took a shower together, laughing and caressing one another under downpour. I was ready again in no time and so it seemed was she. We quickly dried and I carried her back to my bed for round two. We took our time that day, exploring the unfamiliar territory on each other until we were thoroughly versed in the other person. We were quick studies and by the end of the day I believed we’d be together forever, such is the power of a first love.
We seemed deliriously happy over the next few weeks, at least until the band trip to Boston. Then things went horribly wrong. Our band director was originally from Boston and he set up a trip there and an opportunity to play both at a Patriots game and in a band competition taking place there over a long weekend. We’d been selling candy for months to help finance the trip and finally the time had come. We loaded up four Greyhound buses and headed north to Boston. Naturally, Kelly and I sat together on the trip up. My friend Phil was going through a breakup that began only the week before we left and he was taking it pretty hard. I felt bad for him but secretly thanked my lucky starts that I was not going through the same thing and was trying to wrap my head around being happy for a change.
We arrived outside Boston without incident and checked into hotel rooms for the night. There were four of to a room, all male of course, and Kelly was on a different floor. Later in the evening I couldn’t find Kelly so I took Phil to dinner with some other friends and tried to cheer him up. When I got back to our room, someone had written something derogatory about me (and Kelly) — I don’t even remember what it was — on the mirror in lipstick. The only person unaccounted for from our room was another drummer we knew, Lance, but we couldn’t for the life of us figure out why he would have written anything like that. As far as we knew, he didn’t even know Kelly.
Well it turned out they did know each other and Kelly had a crush on him when she was in seventh grade and he was in ninth. Three years later and suddenly he was showing her some interest and she felt her old feelings for him resurface, but she was unsure what to do about them. He had ambushed her and they went for a walk where he put the press n her to go out with him and dump me, at least that’s what she told me later. I saw the two of them when I was walking back from the restaurant across the street from the hotel wed gone to, and she tried to explain to me about her feelings for Lance and that she was feeling confused. My first reaction was anger and I didn’t handle the situation with much decorum or dignity. I was just getting used to having her in my life and no it seemed she didn’t feel as deeply for me as I thought I did for her. After I realized I was just making it worse for myself, I left her with Lance and that’s when I found the writing on the mirror.
Kelly tried to find me after that, but I’d split from my room after finding the writing on the mirror to a room where someone had managed to smuggle in some alcohol and I was tying one on, having assumed I’d lost my girlfriend. I stayed there all night, not wanting to go back and Lance and that inevitable confrontation. I had considered him to be a friend, but I was obviously wrong about that, too. I couldn’t manage to fall asleep and Adam’s neighbor, my good friend Frank, kindly stayed up all night with me talking and drinking. We’d only had sex a few times, I told myself, and I tried unsuccessfully to convince myself it was no big deal.
While looking for me, Kelly also discovered what Lance had written and she told him to get stuffed and that she’d made a mistake about him. She spent the next couple of hours trying to find me or where I’d gone but eventually gave up. I knew nothing of these events and when I eventually turned up at my old room to collect my stuff in the morning, Phil filled me in on what I’d missed. I was as confused as ever. Back in the bus, Kelly tried to explain and make up for what she knew was such an obvious slap in the face. She was contrite and apologetic. She kept on apologizing and asking me to take her back for the rest of the day. Coming back from the football game on the bus that night, with everyone else asleep, she even gave me my first blowjob under a blanket in an effort to make it up to me.
I did, of course, relent and we continued as girlfriend and boyfriend off and on for the next couple of years, but it was never the same as those first magical weeks when everything was fresh and new. After that, reality set it and although the sex continued to improve, I never really completely trusted her after that and constantly expected her to leave me again. I became a jealous person and even strayed myself a few times, which I told myself was simply preemptive. Being sixteen with so little experience in relationships, especially healthy ones, also undoubtedly played a role, too. All of those things taken together, in the end, probably made it a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it also gave me one more good reason to drink, too.