I can’t say for certain she was in the ticket booth the first time I saw her, but later she told me she had worked at the theater, selling tickets under the marquee lights, and I went to the movies there often, so it’s entirely possible. I have a vague memory of it, but I’m not sure if it’s a real memory or one I invented. We were formally introduced in the early months of 1971, when we were on opposite sides of a double date, and within a few weeks we were dating each other.
She was seventeen that spring, just over five feet tall, somewhat petite but endowed with womanly curves that did not fail to attract the notice of other boys, something I both liked and hated. Her hair was long and straight, parted almost in the middle but not quite, so she projected a hint of the flower-child, but not too much. We met on Olive St. every morning before school. I can still see her walking towards me, her hair tossed by the breeze, arms full of school books; a vision in bell-bottoms illuminated by an unseen light. I was so enthralled I would have thrown myself into the traffic at her command.
We didn’t see much of each other during the school day, but we made up for the lost time afterwards. We could usually be found zipping around town in her car. She drove a little green Ford with no air-conditioner and no carpet on the floor. We logged thousands of miles in it, but it was the times when the little green car wasn’t moving that I remember best.
As our relationship evolved, we sought more time alone together, and we found the perfect spot for it. We called it “the port”, a remote picnic area that overlooked an old channel of the Arkansas River. To get there we sped the little green car through a shanty town, then we gunned it past the Cotton Belt railroad yard, then we launched it up and over a levee, finally sliding to a stop at a picnic shelter, where we could look out across the water. Sometimes we were treated to the sight of a tugboat pushing barges to the wharfs downstream. The view across the water, as the sun went down in the late afternoon, was about as close to scenery as our town could get. But we didn’t go to the port for the scenery.
For the next eighteen months we were inseparable, and insatiable. We parked the little green car anyplace we could find privacy; at the port, on old logging roads, in cemeteries and city parks. We were regulars at the drive-in theater, usually parked on the back row. When it was cold we fogged the windows completely. When it was warm, the vinyl seats glistened with our sweat. Summarizing the movie the next morning was always a challenge, and my attempts usually caused sideways glances between my parents.
The little green car was our classroom and we were motivated students. We furthered our education together, learning a great deal about each other and about being human. We learned about pleasure and about passion, how to let go of our inhibitions and how to trust each other. And we learned that, despite what our parents and teachers and preachers may have thought, we had nothing to be ashamed of.
In the spring of 1972 we graduated from high school. So often this is where the plans and promises of a young romance go by the wayside, fading in the excitement of new places and new experiences. She went to college in one town, while I did the same in another. But we turned out to be the exception, because the distance that separated us proved to be no obstacle. After college we were married, and last August we celebrated thirty-six years together, and you’ll never convince me it’s not because of the bond we created together in the little green car.