[At the conclusion of Part I, my friend, Desiree (not her real name), had introduced me to the first three boys in a foursome and was about to introduce me to the last one.]
I turned to greet the fourth Boy.
“And this is Moose,” said Desiree, with aplomb.
I should mention, at this point, one of the powerful bonding rituals she and I shared: if she met a new boy or group of boys when I wasn’t with her, she always gave me the low down afterward. Which meant I’d already been briefed on the notable facts about each of these guys. I wonder if it would ever have crossed their minds that they were objects of our scrutiny. (The NSA could probably take a few tips from adolescent girls…)
Thanks to Desiree, I had been fully prepped for Introduction Number Four:
- Name: Art Dyer
- Nickname: “Moose”
- Age: high school junior
- Family: two brothers – one older, one younger
- Locale: Kansas City area
- Why he’s definitely cool: drummer in a rock ‘n roll band
You’d think advance intel would have calmed my nerves, but I still had butterflies.
“And this is my friend, Linda,” she continued.
Neither of us was at all prepared for what happened next. As he shook my extended hand, Boy Number Four said…
“Oh, Linda, Linda… will you marry me?”
[I am not making this up. He said EXACTLY that.]
I don’t know which raced faster, my pulse or my thoughts. Oh my, how easy it would be to completely blow the next move and expose an epic level of uncoolness!
I instinctively glanced toward my trusty friend, hoping she was ready to toss me a lifeline. If ever I needed her worldly wisdom, it was now. But could a mere facial expression adequately communicate to her my life-and-death question:
“How do I even respond to that?!!”
She did recognize the wild desperation on my face. Leaning toward my ear, she whispered, “He’s just kidding — say yes.”
What?!! Has she lost her mind?
Somehow consenting to a marriage proposal — even one posed in jest — from someone much older — whom I was meeting for the very first time — did not seem like a good idea. I mean, I was only thirteen and a half! But I was drawing a blank and knew the brief but awkward silence must not be allowed to continue. So I turned to the overly confident Boy in the red and black letter jacket and defaulted to Desiree’s recommendation.
“Sure! Next time I’m in town,” I quipped, with a sly little grin. The Boys all chuckled. And so did Desiree. Suddenly, my face flushed. Convinced that I had just uttered the most ridiculously uncool reply ever spoken to a Boy by any Girl in the Annals of All Time, I teetered on the brink of a meltdown. And in that moment, to be in Desiree’s shadow, rather than the spotlight, didn’t seem like such a bad thing, after all.
With all eyes on me and my crimson face, adrenaline triggered my fight or flight response. I chose flight. Quickly muttering something about being glad to meet them all, I split. Desiree lingered a little longer, then joined me in the parking lot, along with Earl and Jenny. Even though it made an indelible impression, memory of The Encounter gradually faded, as surely as the blush that had reddened my face.
Fast forward about a year and a half, to September 1967.
Desiree and I were sitting on her patio on a warm Saturday afternoon. She read a letter aloud to me from her older sister, a student at our denomination’s liberal arts college in southern California. When she read that these same four guys had been accepted to the college as freshmen, we began chortling. It was a well-known fact in the Girl circles we ran in that the Boys from the Kansas City church were on the wild side. (And the main reason I found the introductions so titillating.) The notion that these Boys could last more than a semester in the conservative Bible college environment was was a real knee-slapper. But after the laughter subsided, I didn’t think about the Boy in the red and black letter jacket again for a couple of years.
Then, in late August 1969, I arrived on the very same southern California campus. Being a brand new student with virtually no contacts, I was desperate for a familiar face. I suddenly remembered the Letter Reading Episode on Desiree’s patio and the introductions made at a basketball tournament in Columbia, Missouri, years ago. I began asking around if Art Dyer was still there and soon learned that he was.
On Day Number Three of my freshman year, I had the good fortune of sitting next to his former roommate at an assembly. I told him I’d met this guy a few years ago and wanted to say hi and did he know a guy by the name of Art Dyer. I learned that, not only was Art Dyer still in college, but he was thriving. The roommate must have been a little offended by the slight smirk on my face as I asked. But, based on previous intel, the odds weren’t in favor of him still being around. I quickly found out that the roommate held him in rather high esteem, and I got my ears pinned back as he set the record straight about his buddy’s scholarship, leadership and character. I was distracted throughout the remainder of the assembly, intrigued by this complete reversal in reputation. Now I wanted to meet up with this guy again.
And hopefully, it would be soon.
[CONTINUE TO PART III, Conclusion]