All That Could Have Been
I spent a lot of time trying to convey to Brenda how I felt about her, but I was so young and inexperienced that I did not know how. Each time I thought I had figured it out, the fear of failure and humiliation took over. Instead, I spent the next five years trying to figure out how to be more than just a friend to this girl.
As we got older the silly games ceased. She did not ask me to play with dolls or play jacks. But we learned to appreciate music together, worked on our studies together, and confided in one another about our lives.
It was an odd situation because we were only about a mile apart, but we went to different schools, different churches, different social circles all around because of the way the roads were built. I was a part of the rural counties to the north and she was a part of the south.
I spent years pining over Brenda while being forced to listen to her talk about other boys as I had never taken those steps to tell her how I felt. Much of our conversations were about relationships. The ones that she was in or dreamt of and the ones that I pretended to be in so as not to seem pathetic.
I remember sitting around her room flipping through her collection of records. I was trying to decide if we were going to listen to Elvis or the Everly Brothers when the door to her room flung open.
I was caught off guard, but Brenda was not. On the other side was one of her school friends, Phyllis. “Brenda you won’t believe what Wallace told me after school today.” She had entered with such a ruckus that her small stature, thick frame, and pillowy blue blouse seemed like it did not fit her demeanor.
Brenda was on her feet in seconds finding herself face to face with the girl in eager anticipation of the news. “What did he say?”
“He told me that after the dance next week he wants to take me to the barn.” She said it in such a dirty way that I felt uncomfortable listening. But, the two girls started to squeal and jump up and down with excitement. “I might have a roll in the hay. Of course, I told him that I’m not that kind of girl.” She lifted her eyebrows in the least subtle way possible.
Brenda fell back on her bed in a make-believe faint. “You are so lucky. A boy wants to take you back to his barn. And then you will fall in love and get married.”
“Who says we aren’t in love right now?” Phyllis pouted. “He is going to inherit his families ranch he might be getting ready to settle down. I mean his father has been sick for months. And I am not wishing anything ill upon the man, but I could be having some babies and living on OUR farm.” She seemed proud of idea.
Brenda laying on her bed bounced up to a sitting position. “I know you are right. You are so lucky. Clayton is taking me to the dance, but he hasn’t even kissed me yet.”
Suddenly Phyllis noticed me sitting in the corner trying my best to pay attention to the records. “I didn’t see you there, Bobby.” She sneered in her most annoying voice. “Did you hear? Brenda here would love a man to take her back to his barn. Why don’t you step up?” She waggled her hips while she talked to me.
Brenda looked over at me letting a pause fill the air. Once she noticed my discomfort she interjected. “Stop it. We aren’t like that. I’m sure there is someone at his school.”
I stood up to leave, “Yep. I will be going to my school’s dance with Mary.” I was trying to keep my dignity, but sounded more like I was slighting Brenda. I looked over at my friend, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” I left to the sounds of the girls laughing and giggling over their possible dalliances with boys. Boys that were not me.
I know the whole thing sounds wrong to a modern person. Girls looking to find a boy to marry and have children with, but it was a different era in a place that was a bit behind the times.
During World War II, most American women had worked in manufacturing and other ventures while their men were at war. When the men returned, they took a step back, but the progress had been made. Women started going to school more, they started working a bit more, and the idea that they may have more to look forward to than a husband and children was a seed that was about to grow. It would blossom into its own creature once the revolution of the sixties took hold.
But, in east Texas where we had graduating classes of a dozen students and family businesses that harkened back to the civil war, it was a slow place to feel that progress. The girls were still assuming that they would meet a man, fall in love, have a family and that would be it. The boys dreamed of having successful farms or ranches or stores. Then maybe we would get our chance to prove ourselves once the world lost their minds again in the next great war.
I remember walking home that day dejected. I had not noticed that when Phyllis suggested I man up and seduce the object of my secret affections that Brenda’s face flushed red. I was too naïve and too stuck in my hopelessness to do anything about it anymore.
On the walk home I tried to figure out what I was going to do at the school dance on Friday. Mary was always my backup plan. She was someone I could ask to the dance. But I had no desire to go with her. I only wanted to be with Brenda.
I do not think I went back to Brenda’s until the next week. I spent a few days at home catching up on my studies. On Friday I went to the dance in the school gym, it was what most kids would call prom, but for our school nothing was that formal. Will and Harry were both there, Joe was too young for the dance still, another year and he would be included. Even with five grade levels at the dance there were only about twenty kids.
It was the same type of dance you see in movies. Hardwood court with banners strung up across the walls. A couple teacher monitoring the punch bowl on a picnic table. Even the boys and the girls kept to one side of the gym for the majority of the night.
I tried to catch up with Will and Harry. They had spent the last couple of summers upgrading the fort and trying to find ways to keep other kids out. Harry had the bright idea of painting Hellfire Chaps all over it, to make it appear as though it belonged to the infamous gang. It had seemed to work as the few kids that tried to invade their area suddenly stopped with the new signage.
They asked about me and I lied. I said I worked the farm mostly and just did not have time for adventure any more. I knew I could not tell them about my forlorn soul constantly pining for a girl who I thought did not want me.
Late in the evening after I tried in vain to convince the DJ to play an Elvis song Mary came up to me. Her hair was curled and held back with a single curl fallen out and in her face. The slender profile of her visage made the curl seem like an accent on a perfectly designed person.
“I thought you might ask me here tonight.” She said it in a soft and subtle voice. I was always subliminally aware of the girl’s interest in me. My own infatuation with Brenda kept me from letting it become top of mind, but looking at her standing in front of me, in a beautiful dress that hugged her hips and thighs, my heart melted.
I looked at her, “I should have. You deserve so much.” All the years before suddenly came into focus. I understood that her quiet and soft demeanor was her insecurities around me. She had always held me in a high regard. It was largely nonsense. Her lofty visions of me were developed when we were both running around the field outside of the school playing childish games. I took one of the biggest leaps of faith in my life at that moment. I leaned in close to her ear, “I’m sorry. I wish I saw you sooner. Can we dance?”
She teared up as we started to sway to the newly placed record by the DJ. It was Liberace’s rendition of Unchained Melody. The wildly smooth piano runs felt like they guided the two of us as we danced for the rest of the night. It was the first time that I truly felt the emotion of holding a woman, being a protector and just being able to provide by being who I was.
It was the night I forgot Brenda. Not the only time, but a night I wish had not happened, even today. Although, I suddenly realized how much I could be for Mary and what life could look like. It was not long before I felt the guilt that surrounded looking at another when my mind had already committed to Brenda.
The rest of that night was perfect. I left the dance together and walked out to a small pond that was somewhere in the middle of our houses. We sat on a tree stump that overlooked the perfectly moonlit water in front of us.
It could have been vulgar, it could have been juvenile. I could look back at that night as a conquest of the flesh, but we did not go that route. Instead, we sat with my arms wrapped around her petite form and I just held her all night. She slept in my arms until the rooster crowed and I walked her back to her home where we departed for the night.
There were so many dreams and unspoken promises that would go unfulfilled from that night. A direction I wish I could have explored with a girl that could have been my world, but it was too late. I already found Brenda whether she had chosen me or not.