The seventies hit “I’m Not In Love,” brings me back to Delfield Pond, transistor radios, “big boys don’t cry” and the first taste of power that my presence holds in the loins of men. Walking toward the high dive in a bikini with my friends, I’m surprised to see that the cadets lift their heads from their towels.
Though I’m only 14 and never been kissed, songs like “I’m Not in Love” pull at something I don’t yet understand–but know that I want…someday. It’s not some cheap pubescent per-version of romance that I’m after, I’m waiting for the real thing–the stuff of movies and novels. And not Harlequin or Heathhcliff or Romeo, but something cooler.
I got it.
At 16, Roy Becker runs down the corridors of the Tampa Airport and finds me in line at the gate. He is glistening with sweat and his brown bangs hang over his dark eyes.
“My car wouldn’t start,” he explains, as he takes me behind a wall, and leans in to take one last, consumptive kiss. He has ridden his bike all the way here. His mouth is salty and his lashes are… wet?
In our 9 days together, I’ve never know this side of Roy. He is wearing his white painter pants. The ones with loops for brushes, and fingers. He lets go of mine, and we never see each other. Again.
Roy Becker. His name has taken on devotional qualities in my lifetime. Roy was the proverbial bad boy–kicked out of a host of highschools along the Atlantic seaboard, and ending up here, on the strip in Tampa–drag racing.
It was Spring Break, 1980, and I had come from New Jersey to visit a childhood friend from my days at Delfield Pond in New York. After we take a seat in the back of his car, she introduces me to Roy. I shake my head “no” to the offer of the joint, but can’t help but lock eyes. He is beautiful.
“You’re checking me out,” he says, leaving me blushing, and feeling foolish. I don’t want to like him, because everyone does, and he knows it. But after the beach, and Busch Gardens, and the police, it was Roy who fell hard. For me.
Not only did he surprise me at the airport, but a month later he drove north and called me from the road.
“I fell for someone this spring. I’m coming to see her,” he said.
I never expected to hear from him, let alone see him. I’d already returned to my everyday life in a uniform at my Catholic Highschool with a proper boyfriend who was going to college and who kept me on a pedestal where I wasn’t even supposed to look at other guys let alone sleep with them under the stars in the sand.
“Oh, that’s great,” I said, pretending, even to myself, that I didn’t know who Roy meant; until he said it out loud, and I turned stone cold. Terrified.
“You can’t,” I said, and hung up, without telling him where I lived.
After Roy, I was never so careless with passion again, understanding that I could just as easily wield poison. Perhaps that’s why, as a teacher, I’ve been so kind to the scrappy boys who remind me of him.
Funny now, that the song, “I’m Not in Love” comes to me–all these years later–married to a man who was once part bad boy himself. Even then, I didn’t want to admit love. Didn’t want the vulnerability that came with feeling it openly.
That same summer, I’d been dumped by that highschool sweetheart who I had betrayed in Tampa. After 7 years, he abandoned me on the pedestool for a wild girl of his own.
Now, I am neither wild or pedestooled–just another middle-aged mom, with two kids–one, 14, on his way to carving out his own life of passion and abandon.
And yet, something wild in me is still stirred in the music. Just this week, I felt the “in love” feeling with the man who’s lain beside me for a quarter of a century; though now it’s more of a sudden, unexpected “flow” than a “falling.”
It scares me just the same.
“I’m not in love,” I find myself singing. “So don’t forget it. It’s just a silly phase I’m going through…”
Which makes me wonder, how did I become so afraid of that which I’ve always known I’ve wanted?
Kelly Salasin, 2010