Updated: Jan 10, 2022
The Summer of 1987 is one I will never forget. Married With Children made its television debut, and every girl on the planet was talking about Dirty Dancing. My favorite movie that year was Good Morning, Vietnam. In one month and three days, I would be old enough to drive. It wasn't movies, TV, or Michael Jackson's Bad that made my summer special. It wasn't even the fact I would gain a tiny bit of independence with my driver's license. I'll remember the summer of 87 because I fell in love for the very first time.
Let's get something straight. I never claimed to be the sharpest tool in the shed. I may have left for MTSU on a month-long, fully paid scholarship to study with the brightest kids on the planet, but do not be misled. I had two things going for me. I was incredibly charming. My charm paid off big time when it came to getting letters of recommendation for the program. Secondly, I could act. I mean, I could memorize a two-hour script in two days and pretend to be someone else like nobody's business. I missed the boat when it came to math or science. The large-brain kids went somewhere different. I believe sixty of us were chosen out of several thousand to study theater.
On the drive to the university, I thought about dodging Coach Horsey on the last day of school. He used to bug the heck out of me to play football. I had some pretty massive shoulders, but looking like a football player did not make me a football player. I did play in middle school, but that was the extent of my sports career. I ducked down in the hallway and used a few tactics I learned on the field to dodge the conversation bullet. Of course, I ran into my buddy Scott who lectured me as we made our exit for the final time that school year. "You are leaving school today, and then you are turning around and going back to school in a week," he said. He then looked at me with a concerned and confused stare. I'm not sure I was ever able to explain how important this opportunity was to him or any of my friends. They felt I was giving up my summer with them, and I would regret the lost time. I guess it was nice they tried to convince me to stick around, but I'd made up my mind.
We arrived on campus; I said goodbye to my brother and made my way to the dorm room. I was the second to arrive. Chuck had already claimed the bunk by the window, so I made do. Chuck was a painter who spent most of his time in the room. The art kids painted 4 hours a day, while theater students like me built a set, studied lines, took classes, did improve, and studied mime, yeah, mime. Chuck pretty much had the room to himself.
A realization hit me the second day like a moon pie and RC Cola-induced heart attack. Dorks surrounded me. I was never the most popular kid back at school, but everyone was just like me in this new world! It was the strangest, most beautiful situation.
I took a seat on stage on the first day of class, and the room mysteriously froze. My body was floating in a warm pool while sounds were muffled by the water filling my ear canals. It was as if a beam of light shot from my eyes and landed directly on Jeannie's face when she smiled and had a seat beside me. I was smitten with her big brown eyes that matched her hair. It was like waking from a dream when she spoke; her voice was faint at first, then began to build with each syllable. I assumed it was an introduction because her hand-stretched, waiting for contact. As soon as the tips of our fingers met, I felt an extraordinary rush; Imagine an orchestra playing Sweet Child O' Mine. Instead of the melody flowing through my ears into my brain, the music took on a different form. Cold and hot infused with the lyrics forcing their way through my skin, into my bloodstream, and finally into my very being. "Hello," I said. We were inseparable after that.
After several long hours of training and rehearsals, I walked Jeannie to her dorm. It was one of those sticky June summer nights. She was strikingly beautiful, so the glow of the street lamps enhanced her petite outline and bounced from her soft skin as we strolled. I remember so many details of that first evening with her. The half-moon filled any surface the lights chose to ignore, but somehow Jeannie still managed to stumble as we turned a corner, and she stepped from the sidewalk. It was an excellent opportunity to hold her tightly while heroically saving her from a fall. We kissed. I told her goodnight and made my way back to my room. The whole way, I thought about how I was in the perfect place, doing my favorite thing, and I thought about that kiss.
We rehearsed, studied lines, and ate with each other. We walked to classes together, and I took long strolls with her each night. We both had the same interest, the same hopes, and dreams. I was her leading man, and she was my leading lady. Fate must have brought us together. The conversations we had while doing laundry were remarkable. She spilled all of her secrets, and I unlocked mine.
The curtains closed on our final performance. We all took in the applause and felt like kings for those few seconds. We had rehearsed, learned our lines, built our set, and made sure the show went off without a flaw. That's what happens when you gather the best in one place and give them a purpose. For those few moments, I had forgotten what was lying heavily on my heart. I would have to tell Jeannie goodbye soon.
I walked Jeannie to her room one last time on July 9th, 1987. We both snuck out and met at the laundromat later that evening. The rain came down hard as we sat under the ledge outside. We were both drenched, doing our best to convince morning to hold off a bit longer. The sun began to rise, and we knew it was time to leave. We promised never to lose touch. I kissed her goodbye for the final time.
(Hear me tell the story)
The last letter I ever got from Jeannie was two summers later. She had moved out and went straight to New York. She landed her first part in a paying gig in the Big Apple. I remember being very proud of my friend. I can even remember being a little envious. She was going after her dream while most of us settled and did whatever we were "supposed" to do. Life is full of so many "what ifs."
I'm not sure if I ever really loved Jeannie. I kissed a couple of girls over the course of the next two summers. Each one gave me a strange tiny magical feeling for sure, but I can tell you none of them had the same glow as the light bounced from their soft skin. My first kiss will always be a part of who I am. Thanks for that, Jeannie.