I grew up in a middle class suburb of Boston, Massachusetts during the 60’s and 70’s. It’s hard to imagine it but there were only two or three black kids who went to school with me. There was only one who graduated from high school with me in 1978. His name was Russell and he was my boyfriend. Russell was a person of color. He was my first kiss, my first “everything”. He was also my best friend. He understood me. Our love was real. It was also secret.
My parents taught us that color didn’t matter, that all people are created equal in every way. We were encouraged to be friends with them, to have them over for dinner and for sleepovers. My mother had only one condition. You do not date them. Why? It’s too difficult. Case closed. Russell was my my friend and she was fine with that. She had no idea that it was more.
To my mother, it appeared that I never had boyfriends in high school. Once in awhile, she would express concern about it but most of the time, she was fine. She saw me going out with a group of friends every weekend. She assumed I was happy and popular. Russell was always a part of that group of friends. Other girls wrote “Mrs. So and So” on their notebooks or doodled hearts with their boyfriend’s name inside. I didn’t dare. Mom might see it. We never dared to go to the movies or rollerskating together without the group. We couldn’t take a chance that someone else’s parent might see us and report it to my parents. We were always with the group. Russell was a great athlete. I went to all of his football and basketball games. My parents thought I had wonderful “school spirit”. The only time Russell and I spent time alone was parked at a place along the river called The Boulevard. It was the next town over. Couples went parking there all the time in the 70’s. It was known as “going to watch the submarine races”.
It wasn’t ideal but we made our secret love work. There was just one problem. I wanted to go to the prom. How could I be expected to miss my senior prom? It seemed hopeless. Then Russell’s friend came up with an idea. He would show up at my house and pretend to be my date. He took Russell’s bow tie and cummerbund, which matched my dress, and picked me up. He posed for pictures in my front yard. We hopped in his car and drove away to meet Russell and his friend’s real date. They switched ties and cummerbunds and off we went to the prom. We had to make the switch one more time for the formal pictures. Russell’s friend posed for two sets of pictures, one with me and one with his real date. I’m sure the photographer noticed but he never said a word.
Russell and I went our separate ways after graduation. We had a great summer together but he went away to college and our romance fizzled out shortly after. I married, divorced, but never found the kind of love I had with Russell, again. I wonder, sometimes, what would happen if we could meet again today. Would the spark still be there? I guess I’ll never know.