I prefer the memory to the photograph…(Part Five)

“I didn’t know you could play the guitar!?” Jasmine was genuinely impressed by the fact that I could not only strum a few open chords…but I could play complete songs. And had just enough blood in my alcohol level to convince myself to sing. (You read that right).

Jasmine was smoking hot. Everybody knew it too. Especially her boyfriend Mike who was so possessive he didn’t even allow discussion of his girlfriend among his friends.

Even Jennifer told me if Jasmine wasn’t so unassuming about her petite athletic build with long wavy hair and olive complexion (which by the way was the perfect canvas for her striking blue-green eyes…) she would absolutely hate her. What made Jasmine even hotter was that she was always positive and upbeat without being superficial. But as easy as she was on the eyes, the first few days we hung out together (I hadn’t even met Jennifer yet) I didn’t dare flirt or even get caught staring at her by her boyfriend Mike. Mike (aka “The Wall”) was being courted by several SEC universities  prior to his senior year for his aggressive skill as defensive tackle. Word travels fast when a college bowl game is at stake and he even had a few out of state recruiters foaming at the mouth in anticipation of snagging him for the benefit of their Alma mater as well as their own collegiate careers. That’s how I met Mike…well to be exact…I met his right shoulder pad, helmet and mechanical bull like torso in almost that order. I was the rookie lucky enough to fill in on a scrimmage game while training during our 10th grade summer. I took a “routine tackle” from Mike that resulted in a sprained ankle and torn ligament. He told me he felt bad about it later but then for the rest of my high school days someone always reminded me of the hard hit I took that summer day like it was one of those harrowing ESPN injury loops featured in slow motion.

Surviving the injury came with several months of rehab preceded by solitary confinement for what seemed like an eternity. I decided to make use of the time alone to legitimately learn how to play my Dad’s prized Gibson Les Paul six string guitar. It had a tobacco sunburst finish and anyone that held it was destined for rock stardom. Well…not exactly. The other punishment (in addition to the solitary confinement) was that my Dad is a closet musicologist and he insisted that I learn “real music” like the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, etc. and I did…until I got better and realized I had a knack for learning guitar riffs by ear.

Unbeknownst to him I also learned some Pink Floyd, Hendrix and Nirvana, Foo Fighters, etc. By the end of that summer I knew at least 4 bars of every major rock song ever written. That’s right…I was lonely but talented!

Little did I know then that on our senior trip one of the roommates would leave their cheap acoustic guitar on the couch and that I would know enough to keep a few of us drunkenly singing some rock classics and that the smoking hot Jasmine would would grab my tan summer leg while making more song requests. Which was great except that Mike kept drinking and observing from the corner of the room…with a quiet intensity.

I had no idea she had a thing for musicians but I had a stronger urge for survival so (sing along if you want) I finished up with:

Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”: <lyrics omitted due to potential copyright infringement> (Oh God…speaking of pain…Mike’s ears are literally getting red)

Foo Fighter’s “Everlong”:  <lyrics omitted due to potential copyright infringement> (Crap…a frigging body cast if he has anything to do with it)

“Whew. I think I’ll take a smoke break everybody.” I pretended to wiped sweat fro my brow and address the roomates as if we were in a 200,000 seat arena. Jasmine had her hand squeezing my knee again “But, you don’t really smoke do you?”

“There’s a first time for everything.” I walked out of the condo bracing for impact but from the deck heard someone else pick up the guitar and strum a little which meant Mike now had a new target. I was safe.

In retrospect, I probably could have made my Dad proud and ended the last set of the evening with The Beatles’ “Help!” which I would’ve needed a lot of if Mike had decided to act on his jealous rage tendencies.

I prefer the memory to the photograph…(Part Four)

“You can’t be serious!” Jennifer said slack jawed. She was petrified of heights.

I was totally serious though. “That’s what playing truth or dare with me will get you” I mouthed back at her like she’d done to me earlier that day. I was going to make Jennifer ride every thrill ride at the beach amusement park that day or die trying. “Yeah there’s only been a thousand documented fatalities this year where someone didn’t measure properly to compensate for the elasticity of bungee cord” Shannon said like a news reporter to get a little further under her Virginian bff’s skin. Shannon rocked. She was like the little sister I never had and would occasionally come to my defense with Jen…on her terms only of course. “Yeah and if that doesn’t kill you…the human slingshot will!” Heather mocked and pointed to the guillotine looking platform with a large harness that, once secured to a body or bodies, could propel them over 300 feet straight into the air at upwards of 100 mph. Heather, however,  had the subtlety of a freight train. She was as direct and brutally honest a human being I’d ever met. I respected her though because she was the same with everyone. She’d tell a crass and embarrassingly awkward joke to her mother, a stranger in the market or the Pope if prompted. Meanwhile, Jennifer became a little more reserved as the discussion continued.

But in all fairness…they all pushed the issue. Case in point…the three of them were teary eyed laughing when Jen dared me to wear a fluorescent yellow Borat style mankini that we saw in one of the roadside surf shops. The dare also required me to run one full block on the strip (interesting term) in midday on a busy Sunday with them closely following with their cellphones videoing the whole incident…from all angles! This would have been extremely embarrassing had I not also opted to buy the latex rubber horse head mask they had on display at the other end of the store. None of them noticed me sneak it to the cashier at check out. That made casually jogging passed hundreds of onlookers for two city blocks (yeah I added another block for good measure) in the full horse head mankini ensemble a little more enjoyable as I maintained some amount of anonymity. They were losing their breath laughing while following behind me to document the event like it was an episode of Jack Ass. I did get pinched in the buttocks at some point too and just prayed to God it was either Jen  or one of the other two having fun with me. Nonetheless, I did it.

What was the truth I was avoiding you ask? Jen was going to ask THE question. I just knew it. In front of her friends who would’ve really enjoyed watching me squirm as I would have stumbled for an answer. I mean of course I did. But I hadn’t said it. Neither had she. I think we were both a little afraid of how attracted we were to each other. But I was trying to play it a little cool too because our bond must’ve been obvious even to a casual observer. I was more wrapped than the ends of her hair being twirled in her fingers whenever she was preoccupied with her thoughts.

I didn’t know you could be addicted to someone. Her scent, her breath, the taste of her lips, the slightest hint of a lisp she had when pronouncing certain words. The way she looked at me and said so much without speaking a word.

I was never more alive than in even the shortest of moments spent with her.

I prefer the memory to the photograph…(Part Three)

“This is bullshit man! You knew I was into her!” Dave yelled at me. And for the first time since we’d met in grade school I thought he may actually take a swing at me.

Things began to unravel between Dave and I when Jennifer’s best friend Shannon let me in on a secret…Jennifer didn’t have a boyfriend waiting for her back home in Virginia. Ahem..let me rephrase…JENNIFER HOLCOMB DIDN’T HAVE A FRIGGING BOYFRIEND!!!!!”. Possibly the best news announcement since perhaps, i don’t know, the end of apartheid, landing on the moon and the conclusion of any major war you can think of all rolled into one AP news ticker. I tried not to let it show but Shannon read me faster than any National Enquirer headline. “Oh…my…God..you DO like her?!?.” And there it was. The potential best friend approval or disapproval. A dilemma that has prevented many budding relationships from ever getting off the ground for males and females since cave drawings were modern graffiti.

Shannon’s next statements would permanently seal my fate with Jennifer and prove once and for all if I ever had a chance with her. If things went badly then she and her friends might laugh the whole thing off and begin whispering every time I entered the room. I couldn’t stand the thought of spending the rest of our summer vacation awkwardly trying to avoid each other or trying to work past the sting of rejection. It all hinged on this moment with Shannon. Who immediately balled her right hand into a fist and planted it in my arm as hard as she could. (Which for the record was pretty hard but I didn’t dare let on.) “What the hell was that for?” I really wasn’t sure. “Jennifer has been asking me for three days now ‘What have I got to do to get him to like me?'” I think my heart my have momentarily lept into my throat and everything Shannon did and said kind of went into one of those slow motion movie sequences. I took a breath and cleared my throat then laughed a little pretending that she didn’t just possibly bruise my arm. “What about her boyfriend back home in Virginia?” I asked. The guy I had never met but was sure I would bludgeon him to death (…figuratively of course…) if I could have Jennifer to myself for just 24 hours even.

“Boys are so stupid!” was all Shannon said and turned to walk back toward their beach blankets with more wine coolers and water for she and Jennifer but I blocked her path with my body like an NBA defensive player vying for rookie of the year until I got more details. “Shannon…what are you doing? What are you going to tell her?” I was simultaneously worried and elated. “What do you think genius? I’m going to tell her that you’re an idiot and that she can do better” she said through a partially crooked smile. That prompted me to put my arms on to her tan lined sun baked shoulders. “Shannon there’s a real problem here…I think Dave likes her too.” The fact was I knew Dave liked her. She was the only girl he’d met that really didn’t fall for his charm or GQ modelesque looks and it was killing him at first but, then again, once anyone got to really know Jennifer would understand how easy it was easy for anyone to fall. Shannon replied “She told me he tried to kiss her not long after we all started hanging out together but Jen just walked away. She’s told everybody she has a boyfriend back home since we got to Myrtle Beach but the reality is the guy she was dating cheated on her so she came here to avoid him and now she is scared to death of getting hurt again”. I can only imagine what the look on my face  must’ve been as Shannon continued. “So genius if she asks me anything I’m not going to lie to her. She’s already been lied to enough.”

I walked back to the beach with Shannon and Jennifer was flashing a heartbreaking smiling at both of us as we got closer. I reached my hand out for hers “Jennifer…let’s take a walk.” She took my hand and brushed off some of the luckiest grains of sand that ever got to attach themselves to a human body. I finally confessed to Jennifer how I felt and asked her out on our first official date. That night was one of the best. We ate and danced at the 21 and over club thanks to a fake id and a bouncer that didn’t really seem to care. We walked on the beach until  Jennifer got chilled that night and we both exchanged the sweetest, longest kisses I’d ever tasted. God I loved her scent.

Unbeknownst to me Dave, witnessed all of this and waited for me to come back to the condo. He’d been drinking and went ballistic when we returned together. I had no idea it would be the last words between us.

I prefer the memory to the photograph (Part Two)

Jennifer Holcomb became my obsession that summer.

I think for a while I hid it fairly well but I was captivated. In no time I memorized the angles of her face and the slightest dimples that appeared when she was amused enough to display her toothpaste commercial worthy smile…especially cool when it was prompted by something I said. I probably counted a million times the slightest amount of freckles on the top of her shoulders which were typically hidden by the flow of her soft brown hair that was naturally highlighted by a summer spent under the Carolina sun. My favorite look was when she was preoccupied with some menial task and she brushed one side of the length over then tucked it behind her left ear. That move alone got my heart racing. I casually found out she had a boyfriend back home…not what I wanted to hear at all. And though it made sense that she was taken, all I could think was if she were mine I’d want every chance possible to be near her or at least a nightly phone call to tell her I love her and just to hear her sweet lyrical voice. She was a perfect combination of beauty and cool too. She was just as comfortable in her skin whether peeling labels from beer bottles with some of us guys or discussing the latest gossip with her best girlfriends who by the way all enjoyed taking shots at the egos of the guys surrounding them for sport…I wasn’t spared either . But then there were the occasional opportunities I had for real conversation with her when we took walks along the beach or the occasional meals at Shelle’s Grille which became our version of home cooked food when we got burned out on peanut butter sandwiches and soft drinks. The typical diet that our vibrant and athletic teenage bodies could endure.

Jennifer was as refreshing as the moist seaside breeze and as comforting as the consistency of the waves of the Atlantic. She was an only child and later I discovered her most striking physical features were inherited from her mother. Her parents were far from rich but she definitely did not go without. She was the first girl I’d met that owned a Sahara edition Jeep Wrangler which was white with a tan canvas soft top and a slight lift which became our main means of transportation and was always on the verge of exceeding maximum occupancy. The stereo sucked however but that didn’t matter because the sights and sounds of the Harleys growling, low riders bouncing and the blare of mounted speakers around the pavilion were more than enough entertainment. I also remember how good it felt watching her from the passenger seat and occasionally our arms would brush against each other or she would laugh and grab my arm when I pretended to be the announcer on the nonexistent radio and commented about the people crowding the sidewalks as we slowly rolled by them on the main strip which now looked like more like we were in a parade of some sort.

When no one else was watching I took a picture or two with my cell phone camera. I also saved a few more incriminating photos of some of our glassy eyed red cheeked partying moments too but those are stored away for safe keeping and will only resurface should the occasion arise I ever need to blackmail anyone. 🙂

I prefer the memory to the photograph…

A cloudless, humid, 99 degree, palmetto state day in August at the beach (in bare feet!) is certainly a recipe for disaster, but, I left my sandals in the car again. Dave said “Mind over matter…if you don’t mind it won’t matter.”  Once my eyes were done assessing the awaiting beach scene packed with vacationers, I looked at Dave the way I always did: one part laughing AT and the other part laughing WITH him and his nuggets of wisdom delivered in his inimitable low country drawl.

We had driven through the night under the ruse that we were going to stay for part of the summer in his uncle’s beach house before heading to the next stage of our lives (college!) in one of those quiet, peaceful neighborhoods with aggregate driveways and two car garages that his family’s prominence in real estate could afford. However, we really set our sights on going another 5.5 miles south to where all the fun was in a community of beach front split level condos near Springmaid Pier. Aka party central. This was where  every 17-19 year old that had access to a vehicle and could convince their parents of some sort of similarly concocted seemingly innocent back story was headed for the perfect get away for a week or two of freely sewing a few wild oats that summer.

That’s why Dave and I invested in the large hunter green Rubbermaid cooler on wheels before we left for Myrtle Beach. Now in actual use I think the ratio of ice cube to beer bottle or beer can within that behemoth was 7 to 1. We blew a lot of high school graduation money on the condo we shared with Dave’s cousin Mike and his smoking hot girlfriend Jasmine and because we spent more money on alcohol than the condo that summer it was a damn good investment. We WERE the party everywhere we went along our stretch of the Atlantic coast.

But my God that sun scorched sand on my “yet to be callused protected by sneakers or dress shoes all year white as the ghost of Elvis” 11.5 inch feet was brutal. But I wasn’t about to waste any more time with digging out those sandals from the Accord we packed like a Uhaul truck and it was only 50 yards or so to the beach and a coconut lotion ocean breeze! I shrugged and looked at Dave “Screw it. Let’s do this”. “I didn’t think you had it in you” Dave said through a gleaming Aviator smile . Girls LOVED Dave. I mean like flocked to him. And, I mean almost like he had some level of mind control over whomever he targeted with that smile that seemed to be straight off of a Hollywood set.

So I took a deep breath, each of us grabbed a retractable cooler handle one on each side and we headed across King’s Highway from the ABC store where a fake ID got us the best local micro brews we could afford. “My God Dave! It feels like we’re carrying a dead body in this damned thing!”. “Make that two dead bodies” he said casually. I was carefully dodging shattered glass and other crowded asphalt street dangers and once we got through the parking lots we approached the final stretch of sand where there should have been a long deck or platform but apparently there was a miscommunication and someone delivered an order of sand so hot it must’ve been imported from the third level of hell. Dave looked at me and said “You ready?” I knew he had the only logical solution…both of us would run with the cooler as fast as we could until we got to the moist sandy stretch of beach with the ocean water to cool my soon to be blistered feet.

We got all the way to the beach with me mostly laughing but partially wailing in pain. Dave as cool as ever of course. And then right as we approached a row of umbrellas and beach towels one of my toes cramped and I lost my balance. Yep I went down face first…which was witnessed by at least a hundred people (some of whom applauded) and while I was on the ground searching for any shred of dignity I could find I looked up over the edge of my favorite Ray Bans and that was the first time I ever laid eyes on Jennifer. “That was quite an entrance” she said sitting under a rented beach umbrella relaxing on a large quilt of beach towels in between her best friends Shannon and Heather who all had perfectly tanned bikini bodies like they’d been preparing for a Sports Illustrated photo shoot.

I rolled onto my right shoulder and stared into the most beautiful hazel eyes I’d ever seen.

It was the first but definitely not the last time I would fall for Jennifer.