After his initial chauffeuring, subsequent driving lessons, his hanging around my house, and eventual kissing, it was official, I had a boyfriend. I couldn't believe a man, someone old enough to drink, a college student, was attracted to ugly me.
Weeks flipped past while we got to know one another but it was chatter talk, not intimate conversation. We talked about songs movies, public affairs, our families but at the surface level. It was not like with Julie who I blabbed everything to, including the kisses he took, none of which were longer than three seconds. It was puppy love, me the puppy.
At the end of my junior year, on my seventieth birthday, he asked me to see the musical movie, Camelot, at the California Theater on downtown’s First Street.
He showed up at the front door wearing a tie and sports coat. An elusive premonition overcame me as I changed to more formal attire. Re-dressed, back in the living room, my perplexed conjecture was the evening included a special birthday present.
Downtown, he splurged and parked in an attended parking lot rather than drive blocks to find a free space as normal. When the attendant gave him two quarters in change for his dollar, I checked to see if they were silver which were disappearing from circulation. Double luck, both were. I proffered a half dollar replacement, but he simply gave them to me. Instead of requisitioning them as additions to my silver coin stash, I decided to convert them into a Kennedy silver half dollar for Mom.
Double luck, but why squander fifty cents to park? Is he treating me like a queen for my birthday? No, he’s afraid for his car. Downtown’s seedy now. Even Heart’s Department store’s closing.
The theater, subsequently restored, had sunk into disrepair. The "old days", of ushers with cone flashlights guiding patrons to their seats a distant memory. In its faded glory, however, the theater's stereo speakers, big-screen presentation, opulent art deco décor, and opera-like balcony provided a presentation not experienced at a drive-in or on a television screen. They lack a grand movie theater's dark, intimate connection with fellow viewers, a mystical connection only vaguely captured in modern multiplex theaters.
There was, however, smoke. Each seat had its little ashtray on an armrest for those who smoked. To ask them not to would be met with an incredulous look, of.
“What’s your problem?”
Looking up, the projector’s flickering light passed through the haze on its way to the screen creating a kaleidoscope of hues.
Seated together with popcorn and drinks, my mind wandered into the world of the movie.
The music, songs, it’s about love, love’s betrayal, dashed happiness.
What do the simple folk do?
It’s a Cinderella tale. Guenevere’s an idiot. What more does she want? How can she be such a fool? Sir Lancelot’s a liar and a betrayer. I’d be loyal to my king.
I never imagined I’d be a fool too.
After the show, we strolled, hand in hand, among the First Street throng to Original Joe's, a popular Italian restaurant landmark. The movie’s lyrics flitted about in my mind as melody residue.
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
Tra la! It's May!
The lusty month of May!
That lovely month when ev'ryone goes
I find humility means to be hurt
It's not the earth the meek inherit,
It's the dirt
I hummed songs and concluded my inheritance was dirt.
Down the street, a WWII era searchlight scanned the sky in front of a war surplus store, the hum from its diesel generator audible. Its light beam pierced the night sky in a rotating pattern, seeking shopping moths, not the enemy bombers it was built for.
Dad took us on a family searchlight adventure. He drove us, packed in the Buick, to its source which announced the momentous event of a new furniture store.
How about me? I yearn for a beam to pierce my night sky. Like Dad, I look for hidden meanings. Does the beam foretell an omen? Is it predicting domestic furniture for me?
He had a reservation at Original Joe's. With name confirmation, we were led from the crowded entry to a red leather upholstered booth.
I’d eaten lunch there a few times with Mom when I was flush with cash. She’d come over from the hotel next door and I walked over from school. It was the first time I was there for dinner. Seated, we smiled in silence at one another across the booth table. The waiter came and handed us menus.
I noticed things cost more at dinner time versus lunch. He ordered their signature custom made ravioli dish for us. It was more expensive than spaghetti, an omen the night was special
Our order taken, we returned to staring at one another as the waiters, with a white towel draped over one arm, rushed to and fro. Pasta at Original Joe’s came with a sniff of sophistication. We piled on parmesan cheese to ensure we got our money’s worth. With bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, we ate our ravioli and mulled mundane observations about the movie.
I drifted into thoughts of Mom who worked as a maid next door.
Mom works so hard. She saves her Kennedy silver half dollars but never manages to fill her little stash box. How I love her, her and her maids naughty guest tales.
Interrupting my musings of silver and Mom, he asked.
“Penny for your thoughts.”
What’s he thinking? Why me? What’s he like about me?
“A penny, aren’t they worth a dollar, a silver dollar?”
Silver was stuck in my mind since the quarters.
“Worth more than that. So, what do you think?”
“I can’t believe I’m seventeen and going to be a senior.”
He kept staring, as if trying to say something but stuttered something inane about King Arthur. It was as if something eminent was up. At last, I said.
“You want a picture of me?”
He returned his attention to his pasta, dusting it with more parmesan cheese.
Getting dressed up, paid parking lot, silver quarters, movie theme, searchlight beam, Original Joe's ravioli were omens. I didn’t connect them.
Parked in front of my house, he kissed me, kissed me again, longer, as if for reassurance. He pulled away, looked at me oddly, reached to the glove compartment, opened it, fumbled about, and took out a small jewelry box. He handed it to me but said nothing. Opening it I saw a ring, its little diamond light beam in a silver setting beaconed up.
Without taking it out, I turned and asked incredulously.
"You want to go steady?"
"No, I want you to marry me."
Closing the box, I looked down in confusion, a tear in my eye and said nothing.
"Are you saying no?"
A few months earlier I’d never been kissed. Now I was facing a marriage proposal, one by a man hardly known. I sat silent, then asked.
"You want to marry a skinny, just seventeen, Asian, still in high school?"
My question, in truth, was to me.
Me, poor, high school girl, just turned seventeen, Asian, marry a white man, five years older, graduating from university?
"When I first saw you, I wanted to marry you. We won't marry until you graduate. I’ll have a good job. I know I can’t offer Camelot but give me time. Just nod yes."
I wouldn’t graduate for a year, a forever time to me then. Confused and seeking a diversion I replied.
"You need my parent's permission."
I gave back the ring.
"I'll ask them in the morning,"
He kissed me passionately, for the first time. My breasts pushed up against him. He interpreted it as my consent to marriage. Breaking free, I ran in the house. On my bed, I tossed in confusion, still, a girl, life-changing too fast but wanting out of my house. Then I realized, it didn't matter.
My parents will say no.
The next morning, Saturday, he came over. Dad atypically was at home for the weekend. I stayed by the stove, looked down, absentmindedly cooked breakfast and pretended not to know the purpose of his visit.
He knew enough to ask Dad first and motioned him to the backyard with the house too small for a private conversation. Dad, glad for an excuse to smoke, got his cigarettes and followed with his cup of tea.
I assumed Dad would say I was too young, still in school and he was not letting his only daughter marry a white devil. After Dad's cigarette and tea, they returned.
Dad nodded to me and smiled, his blessing.
I was in shock.
Next, he took Mom. It took longer and she returned crying but also nodding acquiescence.
Suddenly everything had changed.
He told them we wouldn’t marry until I graduated, he had a good job, and he would "honor and protect" me.
As I mulled their responses, I suspected Dad's agreement was due to one less in the crowded house and the potential of a son-in-law to borrow. I concluded Mom's tears of my not going to college were offset by my marring someone responsible, unlike Dad.
My brothers were excited at the potential of having their own bedrooms. No one asked if I agreed as they congratulated me while I served breakfast, stunned at the spontaneous change of my status.
So, it was, that Saturday morning, the day after my seventeenth birthday, my fate was decided. I was engaged, a girl, already taken, who in a year would leave home and school to become a man's wife, a man hardly known. It was as simple as that.
Suddenly, home and school, my focal points, no longer mattered. They were temporary lapses until marriage and having kids. I was "promised to another" and expected to be an adult but was still a girl. The parking lot, quarters, movie, searchlight, restaurant were omens. I just didn’t connect them and mused.
What’s a simple folk girl to do? I’m engaged, a simple girl is getting married, that’s what I got to do. Hopefully, it isn’t the dirt.
Author Notes: Unexpectedly her parents consent to her engagement and suddenly her life is changed.