While puberty’s puppet shadow fantasied about attractive boys, I was boy shy. I avoided them even if they tried to talk to me, embarrassed of my back ground, full lips, big teeth, skinny body and enlarged breasts. If they tried to talk, I assumed it was because of these plus my long neck. They wanted to mock me. My siblings already assured me I was ugly. I didn’t need additional reminders.
Then again attending an all-girls school meant there just weren’t that many boys I met. My good grades, ability to cook and sew, helping run the house I had my self-assurance niche. I was better than others if not beautiful. I wouldn’t degrade myself to seek their attention. I didn’t need physical contact. Their image or a movie scene was sufficient in the shower.
Mom and I rode the bus to her work and my school in the morning. We caught the bus at 7:15 AM and rode back together in the afternoon if we met at the downtown bus stop. Public transit back then was not just for losers but in hindsight perhaps I just assumed Mom and I were not losers.
On a cold January afternoon in 1966, we walked the 2 blocks home from our Story Road bus stop. Just before our house I met my future husband. He was 21, I, 16.
His family, in a step down, had recently moved next door. They were white. On his driveway, he was washing his car, a 1957 Chevy hardtop. As Mom and I passed, he looked up, a wash rag in his hand, the hose in the other and smiled openly. I assumed his smile was a smirk about us being Asians or my appearance and pretended not to notice him. Mom smiled back.
The next day, walking home alone from the bus stop, I saw him on his front porch. It was again a blustery cold January day. A few discarded Christmas trees lay along the curb waiting for pickup. I wore a hand knitted sweater over my school uniform blouse. As I approached I shifted my books and Pee Che folder in front for defense. I pretended not to see him and hoped to pass unmolested.
Instead, when nearing his house, he boldly stepped on the sidewalk, blocked my path and asked when I tried to pass.
"What school do you go to where you need to ride the bus?"
Who does he think he is to speak to me without introduction?
I hugged the books and Pee Che, my breast shield, closer and looked down at my feet then back up to face him.
He knows where I go to school by my uniform. He knows why I rid the bus. What makes him think he can block my path?
His hair’s blond almost, cut short, not a crew cut, just short with a little wave in front. He’s just short of 6 feet, not a lot taller than me. Crystal blue eyes, he has crystal blue eyes.
Glancing away I responded meekly.
Wishing I said.
"It's none of your business!"
"I go to San Jose State in the morning. You know, the college, its downtown, near Norte Dame, I'll give you a ride in my car in the morning."
More affronts, asking me to drive with him and not even asking my name then admitting he knew about Norte Dame.
"No, I can't. I ride with my mother."
Relieved I had an excuse to get away.
"I'll take both of you".
"I know her answer, no!"
I walked past him to my house without replying to his asking what my name was. In my room, I was pleased I had at last summoned the courage to put him down. After setting my books on the dresser I wrote on my Pee Che, "Crystal Blue Eyes" then scribbled it out. I didn't tell Mom what happened.
After dinner, he showed up at our front porch and asked to talk to Mom.
When she came to the front door he introduced himself.
"Hi, just moved next door and drive to school, to San Jose State in the morning. You take the bus. Would you like to ride with me instead?"
"No, I leave early to work at 7:15 and go with my daughter."
"That's when I leave, we can all go."
Mom thought about saving our dime bus fares.
"What are you charging?"
"Free, I just don't want to see you wasting time and money on the bus. You can buy gas if you want but don’t need to. It’s a free ride."
“I'll think about it. I’ll ask my husband."
She closed the door on him without saying more. He stood on the porch a moment then realized she wasn’t coming back and walked away. Her saying she was asking Dad was her
excuse to get rid of him, her polite no. The next morning, however, his car was waiting in our driveway.
With no reason not to, we climbed in the back seat and exchanged names. I expected an agenda such as charging a dime each or snide comments but he simply chatted about the cold weather and possible rain, then dropped me off first saying.
"Study hard Eleanor."
He sped off with a pop of the clutch to take mom to work. Girls standing around by the curb asked who he was.
“He’s just a neighbor.”
The pattern was repeated but after a week when I got out of school he was waiting for me.
“Eleanor, over here, I’m here to pick you up. Hop in. We’ll go pick your Mom up. Come on, I’m not going to bite you. I promise.”
I stood next to the passenger door as he coaxed me in through the rolled down window. I was nervous riding alone with him. I’d have to sit on the front seat. It would look stupid to ride in the back as if he was my chauffeur. Disconcerted, hesitant, I got in and scrunched next to the door. Classmates looked amazed seeing my getting a ride, a ride with a man, yet one young enough to be interested in.
Mom was walking toward our downtown bus stop when we caught up with her. She smiled seeing us, got in and forced me next to him. For the first time I could smell him, a hair pomade scent with a hint of vanilla.
The next morning, we sat in the front with Mom sitting next to him. I became relaxed on the afternoon trips and scooting next to him if we picked up Mom. I enjoyed the envy of classmates.
At 16 I was old enough to get a driver's license. After being chauffeured awhile he showed up at the house front porch on a Saturday morning. When I opened the front door, he asked.
"You want to get a driver's license?"
Nodded yes, he replied.
"I'll get a learner's permit application and test study booklet for you. When you pass the test, I'll teach you how to drive."
Putting a hush finger to my lips, worried Mom would overhear and say no, I nodded excited agreement, closed the door and told Mom he came to say he would pick us up as usual Monday morning even though he would be on his college spring break. She was beginning to worry about his interest in me but still counted the dimes saved.
With San Jose State’s spring break the week before Easter and Norte Dame’s the week after I went to school while he didn’t. He insisted, however, on still driving us with the excuse he needed to study at the library. Monday on picking me up after school he handed me a learner's permit application and study booklet before we met Mom.
I hid the application in my Pee Che folder. In the security of my room I filled it out and read the study booklet. Tuesday during school lunch break, I walked to the county court house and got a copy of my birth certificate from the county registrar. I learned my mother's maiden name; I was born at home and was relieved my father's name was on it.
My next door driving instructor got an affidavit for my parent's signature to allow me to get a license as a minor. I shuffled it among school papers for their unquestioning signatures as neither ever read what the school had them sign. With papers completed I subtly told him while driving to school with Mom.
“I’ve study it. I’m ready for my test.”
She assumed I was referring to a school exam.
That afternoon, before we picked Mom up, he asked when I could take the test. I told him.
“Meet me at the old civic center park downtown on Friday at noon. On Good Friday, the nuns troop us the half mile over to Saint Joseph's Church for the Stations of the Cross. I’ll sneak out and hide by the big aspen tree at the corner.”
As a condemned sinner, I no longer cared about church orthodoxy. If the priest knew my soul status on taking communion with Mom I’d be excommunicated in my mind.
As students gaggled over to the church, herded by vigilant nuns, I drifted back. As the group passed the park I dropped out and hid behind the aspen tree. Soon he drove up to the curb. I scrambled in his car and escaped undetected. Free, we drove to the Department of Motor Vehicles where I passed my learning permit test.
At 6:30 the next morning, before anyone at home was up, I went next door to his already running car for my driving lesson. I climbed in and as usual sat scrunched next to the passenger door. He smiled and called me his little mouse.
I thought at least I am not his duck or bean pole but then thought he was commenting on my Oriental nose and then his saying I was his. He smiled and patted the seat area next to him. I scooted over, the biggest move in my life.
He drove to a small hill and parked with the car facing downhill, got in on the passenger side and eased me behind the steering wheel. Sitting close he explained starting, the parking brake, brake, clutch and gas foot pedals and shift lever, all confusing.
After explaining the mechanics my first lesson was starting the engine and turning it off with parking brake on, the gear in neutral with the clutch in. After I mastered this he put my hand on the shift lever, his right hand on mine and guided me through the gears, our first physical contact.
Then, with the car running in neutral, he had me push on the brake pedal, release the parking brake, push in the clutch pedal, shift to first gear and ease off the clutch until the car wanted to lurch forward the ease off the brake and let the car start to move, then push the clutch and brake pedals back in to stop. I kept killing the engine and wanted to just fail my test but he kept me trying.
With a few more stalls I got the hang of it as his hand guided mine. On the level stretch at the base of the hill I repeated the procedure but also eased on the gas pedal as I let off the clutch and brake pedals until I could get the car moving after a few jerks in 1st gear and then stoped. Once I could do this confidently he made me shift to 2nd then 3rd as I raced to 15 and then 25 miles per hour.
My palms were sweaty, the steering wheel and shift lever wet when finally, I was free to change gears without his hand guidance. Confident I was capable, he had me drive back to face the hill upward. There I struggled again until I could get the car into gear and moving without stalling.
He kept me driving until I could do stop signs and stop lights but after 3 hours I panicked. I had been gone longer than intended and knew my absence would be questioned at home. They would want to know why I was not there to make breakfast.
He dropped me off at the grocery market on Story Road where I bought a bottle of maple syrup. Everyone was up and stared at me when I walked in. Mom demanded to know where I was. My weak explanation was.
“I’m late because I met my friend Julie. We talked catchup. She has a new hair style. Cut short and bobbed in the back. I told he to stop by the house.”
As a condemned sinner lying had become easy. I learned to present what was false as obviously true; then believing it to avoid a tongue slip up.
I also learned a lie is best swallowed with general ambiguity plus dashes of specific diversion spice. Julie did have a new hair style, a sprinkle of truth I already knew which they could verify if interested but of course they wouldn’t. It was also obvious I did buy a bottle of maple syrup. Lying by keeping dashes of diversions of truth cuts off listener inquiry. Verification of true details is proof of your credibility. If your lie is brought up in conversation or questioned later only remember the true details and forget the rest. The excuse I talked too long was forgotten as they gulped down the overdue pancakes. The pancakes became the topic of conversation not my tardiness. They exclaimed I made them perfectly. Proof hunger is the best sauce.
The following week was my Easter break from school. Each day in the afternoon I walked to the market and we met for more lessons. He was a good teacher. I was a good student. Monday morning after spring break he stood next to the car in the driveway and announced to Mom as we approached.
"Guess what? Eleanor’s driving today."
Mom didn't believe him but he had me pull my learner's permit from my purse. I got behind the wheel and started the car while he sat next to me with Mom stuck next to the passenger door. Adroitly I backed out of the driveway without stalling to her amazement and muttered protests. Once on the street her confidence in me grew to the comfort level. As I pulled up to school the girls nearby again stared in amazement as I hopped out and he took over and drove Mom to work.
Soon afterwards I went with him, chaperoned by Mom, for my driver's test. With my rabbit’s foot talisman as backup I passed without difficulty and was issued a California driver's license with standard issue deer in head lights picture. My dark face, slanted eyes and big lips stared back at me. I treasured it, my certificate of becoming an adult. My family status rose significantly. Dad let me drive the Buick to run errands.
Mom, however, worried about, "the boy next door", as she called him and started warning again about pregnancy and being boy crazy. Dad referred to him as, "white devil", "yáng guǐzi" in Mandarin or as "guǐlǎo", in Cantonese if on a second bottle of plum wine.
Until getting my license we were just neighbors. Soon after teaching me to drive he came by on a Saturday morning when Dad was on one of his weekend escapades and asked me to drive to San Francisco. Mom protested but with insouciance I got in the car, backed out of the driveway with him next to me and drove away, our unofficial announcement he was my boyfriend.
I drove the Bay Shore Freeway, (aka US 101 or "Bloody Bay Shore" without a divider back then), to San Francisco where he had me park at the base of a steep hill. I had sweaty palms from driving the freeway and then in the city's confusing streets. He didn't let me rest. He told me to drive up the hill and stop at the crest.
After many attempts with his prodding I succeeded in not stalling at its crest and other steep hills he selected. By the end of the day I could stay stopped on a steep crest and make the light when it turned green without killing the engine. My legs ached, were even shaky, but I was proud.
He then guided me to Fisherman's Wharf. There I assumed the next lesson was parallel parking but instead he had me park in an easy diagonal slot and turn off the engine. Turning to him questioningly he leaned over and kissed me on the lips, my first boy-girl kiss.
Before I could respond, he got out, came around and opened my door and took me by the hand to Alioto's Restaurant. Exhilarated, I tried to act sophisticated with a boyfriend old enough to drink even though my driver's license said I was a 16-year-old girl. I ordered cioppino, the first suggestion of the waiter.
Afterwards he drove home. I sat close, next to him. In front of my house he kissed me again only longer and harder.
Giggling, he asked what was funny. I told him I was sixteen and had never been kissed, opened the door, ran in the house. I showered and lay in bed with one hand cupping a breast and the other feeling my lips in wonderment. I had a boyfriend.
Author Notes: Shy Asian girl meets older white man who moves in next door.