Demolition woman, can I be your man?
A mini-memoir story [18/52*]
I was in Manitou Springs, Colorado for the Summer. I had just recently turned fourteen years old.
I was new to the place and amazed at how beautiful it was. I’d heard the term at the foot of the mountains used before, but Manitou Springs was well above the ankles of the mountains. Having been raised in the mostly-flat Deep South, mountains were something to see in paintings and postcards, yet here I was nearly surrounded by them.
My mother and step-dad had purchased a small motel just outside the main part of town where all the little mom and pop shops started clustering. Along with my little sister, Jennifer, and my stepbrother, Ben, I worked cleaning the rooms and doing little errands for spending money. It didn’t take up too much of the day, so we had a lot of time to enjoy ourselves and a couple of parents who didn’t hover over us. Looking back, it was a little surreal, the warm sunlit recollection like being able to taste a perfect summer. It was the kind of place I feel privileged to have memories of.
White lights, strange city, mad music
There was a strip, like something out of Lost Boys, with a penny arcade, a video game arcade, several little park-like spots (the entire town was a bit like a park, to be honest), a couple of pool rooms, patio areas with chairs, and more. At night it was lit up and full of teenagers and tweens, music, buskers, and vendors selling junk food. It was all kind-of worn and a bit rundown, if you looked closely, but none of that mattered to me, I was enthralled by it all.
My sister is a year younger than me and my stepbrother is seven days older. We actually got along well with each other, most of the time, so we formed our own little core group instead of walking around alone looking for an opportunity to insert ourselves into a group of strangers. I was a shy kid, anyway, so I really wouldn’t have known what to do there by myself.
Back at the motel, there was a pretty serious stream delineating one side of the plot the place occupied. There were weeping willows growing along the point where the ground began angling down at a fairly unsafe grade, about twenty feet, to the water which was usually fairly shallow. I imagine the only real danger lay in accidentally (or intentionally, if you were a lunatic) rolling your ass down that bank. The grass was lush and green and the shade from the trees was a perfect counter to the summer heat.
On one of those sunny summer days I was standing by the willows, looking down at the stream, when I heard my name called. It was my stepbrother, from the other side of it. My natural curiosity had been posing a thousand questions about that stream. Where did it come from, Pikes Peak? Where did it end up, was it mountain melt, was it drinkable, could I get down to it safely, maybe there was a good spot to climb down, etc. Ben was telling me to stay there, he was coming over. I was momentarily jealous that he had found a close-by way across the stream before I had.
When he got around to the side I was on, I saw that he had two girls with him. My mouth went dry and I felt a little bit sick. My head went sort-of empty around girls, especially if they were pretty. I already knew I really liked girls, so my inability to conduct myself in any way except mute-boy made me very uncomfortable.
Ben introduced me to Charlotte — tall, gangly, and pretty. She had great hair, like someone on television. She giggled a lot. I noticed right off that Ben and Charlotte liked each other. I was good at picking up on those things — being quiet and shy gives you a lot of time to observe. They were bumping into each other, teasing, standing closer than normal, and she could not seem to quit messing with her hair. It figured.
Charlotte virtually shoved the other girl at me, introducing her as Haley, her sister. She stopped herself just short of impact with me, cursing Charlotte. Haley was very different from Charlotte. She was shorter and far more ‘filled-out,’ both in her hips and her chest.
Haley was pretty. Not in the immediate, but forgettable, way that Charlotte was. She was pretty in a much more interesting way I wouldn’t be able to put my finger on until a few years later on the other side of puberty. In that moment when our faces were about six inches apart, before she caught herself and wheeled back, I got a good look. She was wearing a hoodie with the hood up, but I caught sight of bright red hair. I couldn’t tell if it was long or short, just that there was something unusual about it.
I really didn’t know what I liked yet in girls, but I liked something about the chaotic way those bits of her hair sprang from the edge of that hoodie. My first thought was that she reminded me of Cyndi Lauper, both in hair and make up, and even fashion sense — she had something quite strange going on beneath that hoodie.
Ben and Charlotte were loud and animated, while Haley and I followed quietly along after them, hands in our pockets, leaving each other to our thoughts. We didn’t say much to each other, just a few side glances and a polite smile or two exchanged.
Later that day, as we sprawled on the couch watching Grease 2 (my sister’s fault), the hood came down. I wasn’t wrong — she was pretty — and I was thoroughly fascinated. Her hair was an unnatural shade of red, cut in different lengths, with some random-seeming braids, and the rest of it teased and set with hairspray.
The real ice-breaker came when Cool Rider, the dufus in the movie we were un-enthusiastically watching, drove his motorcycle off a cliff and supposedly died tragically. We snickered at the same time, causing us both to turn and look at each other. The smile she gave me made my awkward heart stumble and bang its big stupid blushing head against the inside of my rib cage.
Jennifer, a true devotee of that particular movie, instantly whipped her head around like something out the the Exorcist, locked eyes with me, and spat SHUT! UP! Haley made a mock uh-oh! face at me and we both had to stifle laughter. After that we started hanging out regularly.
Over the next several days we’d occasionally get teased by Ben and Charlotte. I’d blush and Haley would grin at that. They didn’t get the way we were, so they assumed we needed encouragement. Haley and I never really talked about the nature of us, but we always found ourselves mutually paired up whenever we were around each other. If I lagged behind the group of us, left to go get/see something, or just found a good place to sit and relax, it was a given that she was coming too, and vice-versa. I preferred being where she was and she seemed inclined towards being where I was. I think we both found it nice to have someone who didn’t prod us with questions or constantly ask if something was wrong just because we didn’t experience the need to fill every silence with the sound of our own voices.
Step inside, walk this way, you and me babe
One night, walking through the arcades, we walked off to the side and she climbed up on one of the wooden park installations. I have no idea what they were called, but the surface she was standing on was a few feet off the ground and about a foot-and-a-half wide, a bit like a really high bench that was maybe a hundred feet long, or more.
As she was climbing up, I noticed she was wearing lavender cowboy boots with bare legs. The strangeness didn’t stop there, though. She was dressed in a strange layering of skirt and black lace joined with a t-shirt and leather jacket.
She decided she wanted to walk along the weird wooden thing, so she reached out, balancing, and wiggled the fingers of her left hand at me. I reached up and got her hand, steadying her. She was wearing black lace gloves cut off halfway along her fingers, leaving the last half of her fingers bare and showing short nails painted in alternating dark-red and black.
We walked for a while, her on the wooden thing and me beside her, feet on the ground, hand still clutched in hers. When we reached the end, she let go and turned about, nearly losing her balance before I could grab her hand again. She let out a little whoa! and a nervous chuckle as she recovered. The sound of her laugh was far more pleasant to me than Charlotte’s constant girl giggles. It just added to my infatuation with her.
…you could try to get closer to me
We reached the other end of the wooden construct and she sat, legs and cowboy boots dangling. She patted the place next to her, so I climbed up and sat. She reached over and put her hand in mine. A breathless feeling washed over me in a warm wave.
A song, Hysteria by Def Leppard, was playing from the arcade nearby. She told me it was one of her favorite songs.
We sat for a bit in silence, just listening. I can’t decide now whether that song was perfect for the moment or if the moment was perfect for that song. I guess it doesn’t much matter. When I hear it, I’m reminded of us walking along that strip, sometimes holding hands, the nervousness, the co-mingling hot and cold feeling of realizing she wanted to be around me like I wanted to be around her, and us doing our awkward little dance without once having to call attention to it.
We listened to the entire album, by the same name, many times over the summer, etching a soundtrack of memorable moments in my head. I can’t hear one of those songs without a twinge of nostalgia, focused on Manitou Springs, that summer, and her, along with a sliver of regret.
one part love, one part child
Songs from that album evoke strong memories of laying in the grass with her, on my side of that stream. We were under a weeping willow tree with branches nearly touching the ground, like our own magic canopy. We’d lay there next to each other, both of us with headphones, listening to the same songs, sometimes with our fingers laced, sometimes just a finger crooked around a finger, and sometimes just close enough together to touch.
Sometimes we’d lay parallel to each other, and other times perpendicular, with me serving as a pillow for her head. Other times we’d lay with our feet pointing opposite directions and our heads right next to each other.
Sometimes we’d sit, back to back or side by side. Sometimes it was me sitting and her laying back with her head on my lap, eventually leading to me raining little blades of grass, along with an occasional dandelion or sprinkle of pink clover flowers, onto her face.
Sometime, anytime, sugar me sweet
Those songs summon memories of laying there close, both of us having inadvertently turned our heads to face each other, leading to an awkward moment of locked eyes and our first nervous kiss.
We sat up, facing each other, legs crossed, knees touching, too bashful to make eye contact at first. I’m certain I was blushing bright red. Without looking up, she laid her hands open on her knees and I held them, her fingers curling around mine. We leaned in and kissed several times, mixed with smiles and a few relieved laughs. The eye contact was easier after that.
That’s more-or-less how the rest of those dream-like days went, punctuated with little adventures, such as the ‘secret’ waterfall we walked an hour for her to show me, our laughably naive attempt to walk up Mt. Manitou, the initially terrifying Cog Railway, drinking from all eight natural springs and then puking, buttermilk pie at The Dutch Kitchen, and a chipmunk park up in the mountains (I kid you not — Google it) where we had the little animals eating out of our hands. Those were all, on their own, memorable times, but what made them special was Haley.
At the end of Summer I had to go home to my father. I didn’t see her that last day to say goodbye. That bothered me more than I ever would have admitted. I wanted to stay, but I worried about my dad being all alone. Even so, I asked my mom if I could come back later and live with them and she said of course, but things don’t always work out the way you want. Of course no one takes the infatuation of a fourteen-year-old boy too seriously, but I still remember her, still remember the songs we listened to together, and I still have my picture of her from the photo booth in the arcade.