We've All Had Our Lauras...
© Copyright 2015 by Carl Winderl
. . . and we have all been Laura. To someone. To perhaps several someone’s.
And I was to one someone in particular, in high school, during my senior year. Unbeknown to me, for she never told me face-to-face, or otherwise: to Carol Campbell I was her ‘Laura,’ in a manner of speaking.
But before Carol Campbell, or during the time I was Laura to Carol, I already was a Laura to Cindy Greco and Julie Rivers, and I suppose also to Lynn Van Ness.
Of course, my own personal Laura was Cathy Dix, ever since early October in my junior year at Pompano Beach Senior High School (PBSHS), in the fall of 1965.
This is not to be about my Laura but about me being someone else’s Laura. Several someone’s actually.
At the time I had a pretty good idea I was being Laura, but I hadn’t known then about the “original” Laura, Petrarch’s, until I was growing through the 2nd half of my college experience, middle of my collegiate junior year or thereabouts as I was realizing that poetry could be found in others. And to be found, surprisingly enough, in me.
Poor Petrarch. Look up the phrase “unrequited love” in the American Heritage Dictionary; find next to it a woodblock print of Petrarch himself; somewhere at the end of the definition should be listed something like this: c.f., Petrarch’s “Sonnet Sequence to Laura.”
As a follow-up, look up “smitten,” “hooked,” “inflamed,” “moonstruck,” “enraptured,” “pussy-whipped,” and “besotted.” Next to all of them can be viewed again Petrarch’s same doleful woodblock-etched portrait. Appearing there too among the definitions should be this further elaboration: “366 sonnets were composed by Petrarch to the celestial beauty and unattainable love of Laura.”
Also should appear in that list is “obsequiously uxorious” – that one provided by an NYU Ph.D. in Creative Writing.
Yeah, I would know that one last addition too, from back in the days of my Laura-ness to Cathy. Mostly so because of my unique spiritual gift for hyperbole.
How ironic too: the first and only places Petrarch saw this Laura was at church. She was slightly older than him and considerably much higher than his social station. That didn’t deter him from being hopelessly in love with her, pining away and mooning over her night and day, and committing pen to paper to compose and set the standard for all love sonnets to come.
Yeah, he was most definitely “hooked,” etc., et al.
Hook, line, and sinker.
Me too then.
I wonder how many he’d have written to her, about her, for her, if he & she’d ever talked. Ever touched, held hands.
Ever consummated their love. Especially in a nuptial way.
Evenso, he became the father of – the sonnet. From il sonneto: Italian for a little song.
He indeed set the standard, and he set the Standard High.
Equalled perhaps only by the one and only Shakespeare.
Though many have tried, nearly all have faltered. Many have sought to succeed by altering slightly, or a lot, the 14-line form mandated by Petrarch, and matched alone only by Shakespeare.
Both men and women have tried to measure up.
I though have shied away from the task, to let someone else enshrine Cathy Dix thus; that’s something her husband, Steve Zimmerman, should be responsible for. I’ll be content to simply let her immortal goddessness rise on scattered rhymes here and there: and here and erstwhile there.
As uncomfortable as I have been in that projected role, moreso I have been, and still am, most uncomfortable to know I have been someone else’s Laura.
In fact, my discomfort increases with each passing year.
In high school I was as unaware of Petrarch’s existence as I was of my own existence as someone’s Laura. Not until I was smack dab in my senior year, about the time I hit for 34 points in the 3rd game of my senior season on the PBSHS varsity basketball team did I begin to realize I might be the object of someone else’s affection-to-be.
Til then I’d been too self-concerned with my own daily survival skills, strategies, and meager success.
Despite my overt denial at the time, I know now I was severely retarded in my social skills; in typical Church of the Nazarene fashion I lagged far behind my unchurched peers in the developmental stages of my maturation.
I also blame my mother, and of course my largely absentee alcoholic dad for my attendant retardation and social dysfunctionality. Ironically, my mother’s well-intended efforts to “get me ahead” in school and life by starting me in kindergarten 1 year early actually put me perennially behind, or so I felt, in the rear of my peers, me – always trying to play catch-up in school – while my dad’s chronic absences left me in a perpetual state of wonderment for how to relate and connect to male authority figures.
Of course my all-time most difficult to understand and worst to get along with male-authority figure was my high school basketball coach, Tucker Morris, who would have succinctly, scornfully, and colorfully responded to my self-inflicted woe-is-me sadness and pitiful & pathetic plight thus: “Tough titty.”
That is, Coach Morris reigned supreme in that distinction until I struggled mightily with my all-time great male-authority nemesis: Donald Young, academic dean during my first collegiate faculty appointment. I eventually gained the upper-hand in that relationship too.
With all that as background and as backdrop, no wonder it took me so long to play my role as “someone else’s Laura.”
Cindy Greco perhaps first clued me in that I was Laura to her. But Patrice Williams’ revelations to me about Carol Campbell’s choice of me as her Laura cemented firmly and eternally her homage in print to me.
I, of course, did not catch on until too too late. For either of us, but especially for her: Carol.
Until now, maybe.
But first, Cindy tipped me off.
Cindy sat behind me, directly behind me, in Latin in Mrs. Creech’s class – the same Mrs. Creech who was a whisperer to me before I dropped out mid-year from her Advanced Junior English class. In her Latin class, I was a senior while Cindy was just a sophomore, an impressionable one to be sure, and somewhat of a child prodigy in Latin, having been introduced to that dead language by her aunt, also a Latin teacher, while Cindy was in 7th grade. She had studied privately under her aunt’s tutelage until she found herself the only sophomore in Mrs. Creech’s class, surrounded mostly by seniors and a handful of juniors.
I was to be Cindy’s hand-full. Literally. One day in class I felt Cindy’s diminutive hands and fingers at work kneading my neck and shoulders: she served willingly, eagerly, and happily as my Latin masseuse just about every day for the rest of my senior year.
Especially once I knocked down 34 points in a single game, outscoring singlehandedly the other team and my collective teammates.
Cindy and I also prompted each other during class when Mrs. Creech allowed us to co-operate as “study buddies.” I rather excelled at Latin, acing the course during most marking periods, but Cindy was every bit my equal.
Except in stature. By the time of my 34-point performance, I stood at 6’1” – but Cindy barely tip-toed into the classroom at 4’10”; we made mutt & jeff look like mutt & Jeff. She was 3” shorter than Patrice Williams, and 12½” shorter than Cathy Dix.
But because of my head-start in school a year early Cindy was almost as much younger to me as I was to Patrice and Cathy. And Carol.
Gee, thanks – Mom.
Cindy and I never dated in high school, but she started writing to me my freshman year away at college. We only had one date, during Spring Break my freshman year. We’d both changed. Too much. For one thing, I’d reached my adult height of 6’3½”; she was still and always would be 4’10”. For another, I’d been dating college-age girls, some even a year or 2 older than me, and Cindy, just a junior in high school, knew we were even more different. In another 4 or 5 years those differences would not have been so great, but by then I’d’ve moved on from my role as Laura for her, while no doubt she had become someone else’s Laura. Good for her. She deserved that.
Julie Rivers didn’t help Cindy’s appropriation of me as her Laura.
Julie sat next to me in Mrs. Jensen’s Trigonometry & Analytical Geometry, my 1st-period class my senior year.
Unlike Cindy, Julie sat across the aisle from me, right next to me on my right, in the back right corner of the classroom, on Mrs. Jensen’s right, because she was an “R” and I a “W.”
Julie and I didn’t have a “touching” relationship, like Cindy and I did, although knowing now what I do I feel fairly certain Julie would have, based on the fact that we exchanged occasional light, swift kisses in the high school library on a few scattered nights, usually when a major test was impending in Trig & Analyt, as long as the next day wasn’t a game-day for me.
Julie and I never exchanged letters like Cindy and I did, although that too would have appealed to Julie no doubt, I now also know.
But in Trig & Analyt, I couldn’t keep up with Julie; it was all I could do to keep Julie’s muscular behind just in view. Even as a junior, Julie was one of the aces on the women’s tennis team; as a result her well-developed glutes made her easy to keep in sight. And she was a sight, indeed.
Unfortunately I was almost always in Julie’s Trig & Analyt rear-view mirror.
I never could keep abreast of her, despite my best all-around efforts to catch up and keep up. I think in those days I 1st began to realize that in life it’s always far easier to keep up than to have to catch up. Again and again. And again.
I was also not her equal socially, financially, nor familiarly – family-wise, that is.
Julie was in the Cool Kids’ Club for the junior class; she lived in the very fashionable section of ultra-trendy Lighthouse Point and drove a brand-new, shiny-white Mustang convertible; and her father was a sometime business executive-type shuttling back & forth to numerous big-time corporate-level meetings up & down the Atlantic Seaboard.
I never could quite get myself into a mode or frame of mind to connect with Julie on some romantic plane; I could tell she wanted to, and I sort of wanted to as well, but obviously our comfort zones never overlapped nor even touched enough to qualify as Venn Diagrams.
I should have made an effort.
Maybe it had something to do with the height difference: I was about a foot taller than her too, in high school, and of course would have added a couple or so inches if we’d tried to connect during my college days.
It might have, could have, happened then, because in college I’d learned to erase that vertical differential by going horizontal.
Probably, it’s just as well we didn’t try it that way. Otherwise, I couldn’t have remained Laura for Julie. As a result I can write of her from a bittersweet perspective, whereas those few for whom I started out as Laura in college but fell out of that role – I now recall them with a somewhat sour taste in my mouth.
While in the mouths of those others in college for whom I ceased to be Laura but became their lover, I’m sure their aftertaste is bitter.
However, one other for whom I served as Laura in high school, before I reflect upon Carol Campbell, was Lynn Van Ness. Actually my role as Lynn’s Laura started in 9th grade at Deerfield Beach Junior High School (DBJHS).
Even though I was the Scrub of scrubs at DBJHS, moving gracelessly through the sports seasons from 4th-string fullback to the last cut on the basketball team to the first cut on the baseball team, Lynn Van Ness asked me out to the annual Sadie Hawkins Day Dance: back in those days a girl’s one and only chance all school year long to ask out the boy of her choice, or of her dreams. Or her potential nightmares.
I didn’t even know Lynn Van Ness knew I was alive.
I assume her twin, Robert, did, since he and I labored away in Mr. Heffner’s 9th-grade electronics class.
That must have been the connection.
And I was asked out via the usual invitation format du jour in junior high: a folded-over piece of notebook paper hand-delivered by one of her friends, whom I didn’t know knew I was alive either.
Lynn’s friend found me out one day after-school while I was just settling astride my 75¢ cheap-ass 3-speed bike bought for me by my Grandma Brooks at Salvation Army.
Sitting there on my cracked and worn fake-leather seat I was mortified.
To think that Lynn, and her friends, knew enough about me that I didn’t know they knew to seek me out there, in the 2-wheeled parking area behind the junior high along the sports playing fields and outdoor basketball courts, among the ultra-cool motorbikes, slick 10-speed English Racers, and my own dilapidated one-of-a-kind ramshackle almost falling apart bike. The least I should have done to the bike was to strip off the fenders and install a banana seat and Easy Rider high handle bars. But I could barely afford the purchase price. In fact, I didn’t; my grandma & Pop put up the 6 bits for it. Just 1 of a number of things she and my Pop provided for me, in lieu of their absentee alcoholic son-in-law’s purchasing power.
So there I sat, astride my bike, perched prominently on its cracked and worn fake-leather seat, holding unopened Lynn’s note to me in the patient staring presence of her friend, smiling benignly down at me, from her casual aplomb stance on the raised wooden boardwalk next to me.
In retrospect, I might have been more inclined to accept the invitation to the dance if it had been from her instead.
As it was, no way on God’s green earth would I be going to any dance in those days: thanks to and courtesy of the Church of the Nazarene’s stricture against dancing. In the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene in the section “Covenant of Christian Character (‘General Rules’),” Section 27.2.8; and in “The Covenant of Christian Conduct,” Section 34.4: dancing was strictly forbidden.
That would be my out.
But first I’d have to open and read the note to know I’d have to exercise that option.
Lynn’s friend waited patiently, smiling beneficently upon me from the boardwalk seeming loftier by the passing moment, as I held the still unopened note in the palm of my right hand, while the after-school crowd of mostly guys milled around and clambered aboard their various ultra-cool 2-wheeled vehicles to Varoom! or speed away from school: free at last, free at last, as I stood astride my broken-down 2-wheeled steed, chained in place by Lynn’s not yet opened invitation.
Her friend finally at last benignantly cajoled me, “Carl – aren’t you going to open it? aren’t you going to read it? don’t you want to know what it’s about? – WHO it’s from?!!”
With her last rejoinder ringing through my ears and head, I assumed it wasn’t from her.
So I slowly unfolded it, as if a bud in my hands, petal by petal, til I unfolded it flat in both my hands. I immediately skimmed to the bottom, read Lynn’s name there, then looked up, apparently not enthusiastic enough to measure up to her friend’s great expectations, for she quickly asked, “So, -- Carl – what do you think? Do you wanna go? do you wanna go?” her eyebrows and voice rising in concert and tandem, as if connected by the same string in the hands of the grand puppetmaster.
“Uh, no, – no – I haven’t, uh, read it yet. All the way through, that is – uh, I mean, – ” I brilliantly stammered.
I returned my attention to the note, to read it all the way through. For real.
At the first mention of “dance,” I’m sure I reddened, for I knew then what my answer had to be. But I read on. No, I soldiered on.
I finished reading the note before I looked up, wisely pausing to ponder a stall, before I was forced, expected to reply.
When I did look up, Lynn’s friend imperiously demanded by her look, everso hopeful-like in her go-between role for her best friend Lynn, as if she were the spawn of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, “So? So – Carl? What do you think? “Huh, – huh?”
For once I did brilliantly respond, “Uh, well – really – uh, since Lynn asked me, uh, in a note – then I think I should respond likewise. Uhm, – uh, don’t ya think?”
Wow, I uncharacteristically cleverly bought some time.
There was to be a glimmer of hope for me.
Unsatisfied though, Lynn’s friend trudged away. As I followed her retreating figure, I did wish it had been her instead.
But it wasn’t; it was to be Lynn Van Ness. Lynn, Robert’s twin.
Who, at that stage of their physical development, were indeed identical twins. Truth be told, if they’d traded clothes at some point during the school day, I honestly don’t think anyone would have known the difference.
They were both short, with frizzy dirty blonde hair, and had matching acne faces.
I, of course, was no prize either in any of those 3 categories.
Except I had dark, dark brown hair.
Fortunately, we all got better looking before high school graduation: they much more quickly and efficiently than I did. Robert grew to be quite handsome and thinned out by our senior year, and Lynn also grew to be most shapely and attractive, with no trace of any complexion problems
I should have fared as well.
But in 9th-grade my church was my out. As it would be numerous, multiple times throughout my life – especially my senior year in high school.
The one time I didn’t exercise one of those Nazarene Church “options” occurred toward the end of 9th grade, in Phys. Ed., when the boys’ and girls’ P.E. classes met for the only time all school year for 2 weeks of mandatory, required, and involuntary social dancing. Because I didn’t exercise a church-ready option, I learned that in all future situations when the Church of the Nazarene offered an “out,” I should jump at the chance to put that option into play.
Leap would probably be a better verb choice.
For those 2 weeks of 9th-grade social dancing I should most definitely have opted out.
Who talked me out of exercising the church option, ironically enough, was my pastor, Rev. D. Eugene Simpson.
As soon as I learned in P.E. that I would be required to attend all the co-ed dance classes, for 2 weeks, and would be expected to fully participate in all the mandated activities, I first asked my mom – no use to ask my dad, living off God knew where in some far far away state address unknown to us – she passed the buck and said I should ask Rev. Simpson.
And so I did.
After the next church service I attended, a Wednesday night prayer and testimony meeting, I asked him beforehand if I could ask him a question after church. He said, “Why sure, Carlie – you can ask me a question anytime.”
So after the service, he listened thoughtfully then in essence offered the following advice.
That it was ultimately my decision, even though the Nazarene Church strictly forbade any kind of dancing any place at any time. He felt that with all rules though that sometimes extenuating circumstances required us as believers to be “wise sa serpents, guileless as doves.”
That scripture, found in Matthew 10:16 of the New Testament in the Bible, spoken by Jesus Himself, bothers me even to this day, because sometimes snakes can be dumber than a hundred chickens, as my olde sometimes Sunday School teacher Archie Willoughby would have intoned, and male doves have been known to tear weaker male doves to shreds. Might as well then be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or a sheep in wolfskin.
I have found that parable handy to put into play as well.
No wonder some folks throw baby Jesus out with the rinse water.
Rev. Simpson amplified his interpretation of the holy rules of the Nazarene Church Manual explaining that he thought the “no dance stance” was meant to keep church members away from places where people drank alcohol and smoked and did other non-church, commandment-breaking activities. He also delicately stated that some churchgoers believed that dancing led to unwholesome acts between consenting adults.
Or as my good friend Roy Merritt once asked me, “Carlie – do you know why the Nazarene Church has a rule that says you and your wife can’t make love standing up?”
I remember being totally stunned by Roy’s question, which I know now was just one of his attempts to mentor me and give me another ‘heads-up’ on what to expect in my life yet to come, but I’m sure I was speechless and reddened at the question. I’d yet to become sexually active myself, and during my senior year in high school knew I wasn’t going to draw close enough to someone for it to be even the remotest of possibilities. And it was, and I wouldn’t be for years to come until during college days.
So, I’m sure I just shrugged in response to Roy’s question, which I knew to be a joke of some kind; I probably also did my best impression of the deafest and dumbest of pantomimes.
“Well, Carlie,” Roy started to finish up, “the reason the church doesn’t want you to make love standing up is – they don’t want anyone to think you’re dancing.”
Of course, typical Roy, that was his impersonation of a down-home Ariche Willoughby witticism that just about put the lid on Rev. Simpson’s can of paint.
What took Rev. Simpson 20 minutes and half-a-dozen or so trips around Robin Hood’s barn to explain Roy did in about 25 words or less.
But I could tell that Rev. Simpson didn’t want to go all “birds ‘n’ bees” on me, and as I recall I honestly did not want him to either. That’s why Roy was such a good friend, older brother figure, and mentor in my life when I most ever needed one.
In essence, Rev. Simpson finished by saying that if I wanted him to he would write a note on my behalf to my P.E. teachers asking that I be excused from the dance classes based on my religious beliefs.
After he let that option sink in, he followed it up by musing that that might be embarrassing and cause me more turmoil and ridicule than necessary.
I had to agree, and nodded as much.
He concluded by saying that since the dancing in P.E. would be chaperoned, would not take place where drinking and smoking would occur, and that lewd behavior would like as not not be a result, then I should go ahead and participate, but I could pick and choose how enthusiastically I could or could not be involved.
Rev. Simpson knew my home situation, perhaps all too well, and he knew me: especially my social retardation, my awkwardness in mixed company, my emotional IQ, all largely because of my home life and the resultant distorted perception of male role models. I knew the good, the bad, & the ugly side of male parenting. Especially the last 2 attributes.
“Ultimately,” he finished, by saying, “the decision is yours to make, Carlie. I have confidence in you, Carlie, that you’ll make the right choice – that God will approve whatever you do – that what you think is the right thing to do.”
Why couldn’t I have a dad like Rev. Simpson, I wondered to myself, as I walked away to the parking lot, where my grandma & Pop and sisters awaited me in their faithful, tried & true olde white-on-white 4-door Chevy Biscayne.
Before I walked away though, I told Rev. Simpson “I’d think about it” – and I’m sure I said as well, that “I’d make it a matter of prayer.”
Even then I was up on all the churchy clichés.
And I did.
And I do.
And I went to P.E. class, and I danced like a fool – not as one possessed, like some kind of whirling dervish, but as one who didn’t know any better.
Nevertheless, I learned from those 2 weeks’ experience, and I learned so well that I never attended a dance ever – Ever – either in 9th grade, or at all in senior high, including the Senior Prom.
I skipped that Dance of all high school dances to go to District Assembly held the very same weekend instead – a statewide gathering of Nazarene churches from all over Florida for 3 days of church business & governance meetings, evening church praise & worship services, and various district-wide youth activities. What a Perfect Out for me.
My senior year District Assembly was held in Tampa; we even stayed in hotels and ate out all our meals – a Really Big Deal, for me. Fortunately, my home church paid for my expenses; otherwise I couldn’t have afforded to go.
I was such a religious doobie in those days.
In those days? . . .
Thus, I exercised the option, in writing, to respond to Lynn’s invitation that I couldn’t go to the Sadie Hawkins Day Dance (or what would have been for me the Marquis de Sade Day Dance, had I attended) with her because my church didn’t believe in dancing. What a dunce I was to actually write that down on paper.
Why can’t I have forgotten that I really did write her that.
What a weirdo she must have thought I was.
And yet, throughout high school she not only became more and more friendly, but she also had the temerity in January of our senior year to try to twirp me during Twirp Week, even though Patrice Williams and I were still more or less going steady during those tumultuous post-Christmas & New Year’s Holy-Days. No, mostly ‘more’ since Patrice and I were still sporting each other’s senior class rings.
Too bad though I didn’t exercise that option during the mandated and 2-week social dance classes the spring of my 9th-grade year.
Left to my own devices, I became self-imprisoned by my decision to not use a note from Rev. Simpson to excuse me from being required to dance, and as a result I proved both Rev. Simpson and the Church of the Nazarene absolutely right: dancing does lead to lewd behavior, and left unchecked will eventually break the 7th Commandment.
At first though, the dance classes seemed innocent enough. We were ‘broken in’ slowly, introduced gradually the 1st week to basic ballroom dancing, the box-step, some fundamental square-dancing moves, and on that 1st Friday a couple of contemporary “fast dances” to Top 40 songs: inspired no doubt and aided & abetted by the girls in the class, as always light years ahead of the boys on Frederick W. Coons’ “The Developmental Tasks of the College Student,” as prefigured in the various stages of adolescence.
Undoubtedly and unexceptionally in the earliest stages for me. Those nascent teen years proved nearly terminal and unescapable in my life.
The 2nd week, once we guys knew we could probably survive intact 5 more days, the pace quickened. More fast dances were introduced, and all the guys seemed reasonably comfortable, except for me, who had only been exposed to polkas growing up. I was actually quite pleased, and relieved, probably the only time I felt that way the entire 2 weeks, when I realized we would not be taught nor be expected to do the polka. I was sure as sure of anything I’d ever been certain of that no Little Frankie Yankovich & the Polka Boys would not have one of their records in the stack of wax next to the record player.
Even so, I proceeded through each P.E. class period exercising undue and overdue caution, a shrinking, wilting violet blending in as much as humanly possible with all of the other wallflowers in the class, vying for honors to always be the last guy to take to the dance floor.
On the 2nd Thursday, the next-to-last day of our social dancing unit, we were introduced to the “slow dance,” much to the barely disguised squealed delight of the girls and to the barely suppressed moans and groans of the guys.
I was not prepared for what we’d learn that day and what would transpire on the next.
Our last class day, the 2ndFriday of our social dancing mandate, we were informed was to be like a “real dance”: there’d be no instruction; the P.E. teachers would just play music all class period; and we were to ask each other to dance to the various songs and tempos and styles.
And all dances were to be “ladies’ choice,” as well as the regular protocol of guys hemming & hawing over their choices, before dragging their feet to them.
I should have followed my instincts, my intuition, my rare occasion of better sense, and just skipped school that day.
But I didn’t.
And because I didn’t, I became intimate with Leslie Clark on the dance floor that day.
Not the cutest girl in the class, nor the most popular, and probably not yet a member in good standing in the 9th-grade Cool Kids’ Club, although she’d be a full-fledged member in very good standing in high school, was Leslie Clark.
What Leslie had going for her in 9th grade was her adult body. At 14-going-on15 she had amazing long blonde hair, large full Steve Miller “settin’ up firm ‘n’ high breasts,” and way better than average legs that she did not hide at all beneath average length skirts; no, she showed off her legs, taunted tantalizingly in her mini-skirts. She grew and wore her blonde hair long and uncomplicated, and she stood straight up, shoulders back, and chest out.
She was a girl to make a guy’s mouth go dry.
At least mine did.
And she chose me to dance 3 times with her on that last social dancing class day.
At the beginning of class, Leslie and I danced a fast dance; in the middle we danced another fast dance; at the end, the last dance of that Friday class, the last dance of the 2nd week, and the very last-chance dance of the required 2 weeks of social dancing, was a slow dance.
A painfully so slow dance. For me.
For the 1st fast dance, Leslie crossed the floor over to me where I sat, not blended in well enough among the flowers behind me on the wall, so that she led me by the hand to be almost the 1st ones onto the dance floor ready to shimmy or shake. I forget exactly which it was we were to fast dance as. What I do remember is that from the very 1st note Leslie leaped into action shimmying and shaking both at the same time while also probably mash-potatoing too for all I knew to Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels blasting out “Too Many Fish in the Sea!”
I can still see myself standing there so stiffly in place, slack-jawed and mouth agape at Leslie in full-tilt gyration mode before me: long blonde hair flouncing & flying about her bobbing & weaving head; legs, calves, thighs, & hips in perpetual motion as if the goddess muse of inspiration herself for Marcel DuChamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase”; and Leslie’s more than ample adult breasts being worked as if the Farmer in the Dell were rotating his crops.
While I stood still performing my best Cigar Store Wooden Indian imitation.
I had yet to take a step or move a muscle. I was in awe of what was transpiring a mere arm’s length away.
I also remember the highly amused and bemused looks on the faces of Coaches Weigel and Edwards, the boys’ P.E. teachers, and Miss Meyers, the girls’ teacher: their smiles and adult smirks at my naïve, innocuous, & transparent amazement at Leslie’s poetry in commotion, right there – before my very eyes.
Our 2nd fast dance together in the middle of the classroom dance floor Leslie spiraled, sprong, & gyrated all over the place in space again, but I at least moved a little bit better or ‘some’ at least from time to time, although I focused more on keeping my mouth less agape and my eyes less wide-open.
Leslie could have turned a gyroscope into an hour-glass, and made it blush in the bargain.
But the 3rd dance, the last dance of the day, of the week, and of the mandated 2-week unit, the slow dance, that would convince me that the Church of the Nazarene was absolutely right: dancing was “of the devil.”
With the other few or less other girls I’d slow danced with in the previous 2 class sessions, a mere handful of 8th- and 9th-graders – practically no 7th- & 9th-graders ever danced together the entire 2 weeks, as I recall – I’d observed strictly and perfunctory and socially acceptable distance measured by an arm’s length away from each other as dance partners. I was okay with that. In fact, I preferred it that way.
But when Leslie found me and fetched me from my usual position in the corner where I was semi-protected by the extra flowers because 2 walls joined forces there, she held my hand differently than she had when she pulled me toward the center of the floor for the 2 fast dances.
Her hand felt warm and squishy in mine, soft and tender like, and we walked side-by-side, not me all hang-dog trailing her, like before.
And when we reached the center of the floor she turned to look at me, eye-to-eye, her 5’7” to my 5’7”.
We assumed the starting positions: her left hand in my right, arms angled slightly away from our bodies; my left hand against the back of her right shoulder blade, her right hand between my 2 shoulder blades; and our bodies maybe a foot apart.
But at the music’s mood-setting 1st langorous & luxurious downbeat and the 1st lilting strains of Dionne Warwick’s sultry, soulful exhale of “What the World Needs Now,” Leslie slipped her body close up against mine, tight; her left hand guided my right hand in tight too, closer & closer to tuck our arms up against each other, and the inside of my right elbow came to rest gently against the outside of her left breast; her right hand slid down to the small of my back, and she pulled us closer than ever together, gently but firmly.
Then she laid her head down on my left shoulder, and nuzzled into my neck.
Never in my entire life had I been that close to a girl. Ever.
My jaw dropped, my mouth went all agape again, and my eyes once more widened to their openest.
That wasn’t all.
I grew excited.
The music continued its desultory sultry pace, and our steps changed from 1-2, 1-2 and moving, inching around the floor, to just the 2 of us, practically as 1, swaying together. In place.
I grew even more excited.
I’d never been so totally close together ever before with a girl. And wouldn’t yet for the longest of times to come.
We swayed, and we swayed.
Leslie didn’t say a word, just kept her head nuzzled into my neck, breathing deeply and warmly against me, and swaying.
Later in college, after I’d started being intimate with girls, they confirmed what I suspicioned on that dance floor in 9th grade: that a girl – a woman – could tell when pressed close up, tight against a boy – a man – when he was excited.
And that momentous day, in 9th grade, during that dance, and after, I was very excited.
Unlike nearly every other dance during those entire two weeks when I’d prayed fervently for the dances to be over quick, as very soon as possible, I prayed that that dance would last forever.
Englebert Humperdinck’s prayer probably wasn’t answered either.
However, I wanted my last dance to last forever because I was trying to figure out a way to not be so excited once the dance was over.
I was afraid for what state I’d be in, once the last soulful notes of the Warwick’s sultry voice wafted off into nebulon.
Providentially, no doubt, I was to be disappointed though, because that prayer was not really answered either.
The dance did end; Leslie did lean away from me; she still held my left hand in her right, still all soft and squishy, gentle and tender, as we walked slowly side-by-side off the dance floor; and parted, she to her place, and I to mine, in my corner.
I know my cheeks were flushed and reddened, burning up from inside, but what I feared was everyone in the class, especially the coaches and teachers, that they all weren’t looking at my face – but were gazing at my excitement.
The dismissal bell rang, and saved us, at least me I felt was saved – literally, if not figuratively – as everyone hurried off to the next class. And Leslie and I truly parted, forever.
And that’s my only ever memory of her; I don’t have a single solitary remembrance of her in high school, not even from our senior year.
Even so, Leslie’s impact on me was indelible, figurative, if not literal, because from that one experience with her: when I’d come to embrace with blind acceptance an allegiance to the Church of the Nazarene’s doctrines, dogma, strictures, rules, and regulations, as if from its Congregatio de Propagandae de Fide.
It’d take me years to move beyond their programmed rightness and wrongness, all the this-ness & that-ness, their either/or, neither/nor, and their full-bodied yes-ness & no-ness. But I would get there, eventually enough.
Not before or during my senior year. Only after. Well after. Long, long after.
Evenso, Lynn Van Ness would be an occasional reminder that, anonymously to me then, she was an erstwhile Laura; and she’d remain so, largely because she would never be a full-fledged or even peripheral member of the Cool Kids’ Club.
But then neither was I. Talk about a Double Standard.
Throughout my entire senior high school experience that was my one and only criterion for someone to potentially date – and I especially adhered to it everso strictly during my senior year.
It figured in crucially as my way out & my way up on the PBSHS Social Ladder, as if it were my own personal “up from slavery” strategy; my own Andrew Carnegie adaptation for “How to Win Friends & Influence People”; my own Horatio Alger rags-to-riches storyline, starting with my own pulled-up boot straps.
Plus, I just couldn’t shake what I’d had and would continue to have drummed into my too easily influenced and ever malleable little head by the Church of the Nazarene: if you date outside the Church, you’ll marry outside the Church.
And I knew too too well what a violation of that admonition foretold: I had to look no farther than my own homestead, where my good little Nazarene-raised mother had at 18 procured her own rebellion by up & marrying my 20-year-old lapsed Catholic father.
That too became Plan B in high school, behind the Plan A Cool Kids’ Club membership requirement, for why I dated practically no one at all during my high school days, and daze, at PBSHS.
Patrice Williams had the claim to fame as the singular exception to my long gone but not nearly forgotten enough senior year at PBSHS.
So, if Lynn Van Ness had been in the Cool Kids’ Club, then I’d have ceased to be a Laura for her, and she would have possibly been a Laura for me.
Like Cathy Dix came to be in her own way Laura for me.
How so very well then I should have known how Carol Campbell felt about me, because I had it bad for Cathy Dix, except Carol must have had it so much worse for me, since Carol kept a scrapbook on me.
While all I ever kept on Cathy was her Seventeen magazine cover story. Especially the cover, with her goddess smile of regal winsomness.
As Weird Al Yankovich would say, “Worse Enough.”
Fortunately for Carol and especially fortunate for me, I didn’t find out about Carol’s solitary torch-carrying and pining away for me until both our senior years were nearly over.
At the time, I wasn’t sure why Patrice waited until then to “tell me” about Carol’s long-suppressed hero worship of me. Now I know though: she knew I’d feel bad about Carol and feel bad for her because I’d so ignored and lived my senior year so joyfully & so blissfully unaware that Carol lived, breathed, ate, slept, dreamed, and would have died for any the least crumb that fell off the smorgasbord of my basketball star-studded senior year of living my life large, extra-large: far larger than I ever had before.
Maybe XXL in Carol’s eyes.
Yeah. If she’d only known.
But Patrice only told me when she did to get back at me.
She and I’d broken up at the end of January, engineered by Coach Tucker Morris, my high school basketball coach. And it became final, through our own volition and by my own premonition that Patrice and I wouldn’t last as a couple much beyond basketball season anyway. If we might have even made it to the season’s end.
And I was okay with that.
For in those days I felt freer to hope against hope that somehow I might make some serious progress with my own Laura – Cathy Dix – and I did, so to speak, but the progress turned out to be barely semi-serious.
Patrice’s revelation then to me about Carol’s long-suffering solace and silence – she no doubt hoped – would impede any progress with Cathy.
Patrice was wrong.
I was too callous and hard-hearted and uncaring in my own role as Laura to Carol to be so unselfish as to consider the least bit of even the teensiest particle of Carol’s unrequited and tragically plighted adoring care for me.
Carol might have thought, wished, hoped, prayed that she and I were star-crossed, but as far as I knew and felt and understood she and I circumnavigated in separate universes.
Afterall, that’s what Lauras do. And do best.
I knew Carol, and she knew me, because she lived just one street over from me, on the next block, but mostly because her older brother Ronnie and I became very good – if not best friends – until his life was tragically though heroically severed short at 19: a Viet Cong mortar splattered him up against the turret of his tank while he was idling it at a re-fueling station near Bien-Hoa while he was a very short-timer in Viet Nam.
Before that, Ronnie’d started as defensive end on the same 9th-grade football team I was the 4th-string fullback for, had learned to skin & scuba dive together and poached lobsters together off of Deerfield Beach’s 2nd & 3rd reefs, and had gotten saved together for the 1st – not the last – times at the Pompano Beach 1st Church of the Nazarene.
So, I had lots of opportunities and lots of time, more than ample time, to be over at Ronnie’s house and thus by extension too his sister Carol’s, though she was closer to my age than he was, because he’d been held back one year sometime in elementary school.
But I literally took his advice with regard to her that he’d admonish I take toward his father, usually comatose in an alcoholic stupor in his favorite worn-out & bedraggled overstuffed chair: “Pay him no nevermind.”
And so I paid that to Carol also.
It didn’t help that he called her a “cow” and manhandled her with not-so-loving love-taps that were far less harmless and hurtful than his words.
To his defense, she was a little plain-janey, and tended to be a little, truthfully, on the bovine side. But she had a heart of gold, disproved the adage that beauty was skin deep but rather shone from within, and deserved to be taken by someone far less ignoble than me.
How Patrice lowered the boom on me was with the details of the scrapbook Carol had been keeping on me.
Patrice was in the Cool Kids’ Club, senior class chapter, for all our senior year; Carol was not. Their point of intersection then was in the Girls’ Chorus: they were both altos. And apparently after some choral event, Patrice offered Carol a ride home, not knowing at the time how close Carol lived to me. Of course, Carol knew Patrice & I were at that time thick as thieves, off & on, still mostly on, but apparently in her heart of hearts – as all of us Laura-worshippers know: Carol assumed Patrice & I would never last, and we didn’t. And into that vacuum – hope against hope – I, Carol’s Laura, would invite her to fill that void.
I suppose, sometimes, in theory – or in a book, or a story – that works, but in reality: Petrarch never realized his Laura.
Rarely, if ever, are Lauras attainable.
If they were, they’d be named someone besides Laura. Like Cressida, for example. Or maybe Daisy.
So Carol invited Patrice into her house and thence down the hall to her bedroom, after first passing no doubt Mr. Campbell in his comatose alcoholic stupor and receiving the obligatory “no nevermind” admonition. There Carol, in the inner sanctum of her bedroom, according to Patrice, revealed to her not only the scrapbook she kept on me but the folder with back-up copies of the articles to the ones pasted in the scrapbook and also the diary that was more like a daily log of Carl Winderl “sightings” at school or in the neighborhood.
Patrice took delight in regaling to me the details of Carol’s precise descriptions of me: the day, the month, the time of day; the exact location at school, the classroom or covered walkway or the specific cafeteria table; who I was with, if anybody, including Patrice – or some other undeserving interloper; what I was doing; what I was wearing, how I appeared to her, what I was “all about” at the time; and most importantly did I look her way, make eye contact, even wave – or speak to her. Any recognition whatsoever, of her, by me. From me. To her.
That she was even alive.
Her favorite ‘treasure’ – Patrice was oh-so careful to point out – was The Scrapbook. There Carol kept in chronological order carefully & meticulously any & all newspaper clippings about my senior year’s exploits on the men’s varsity basketball team. Fortunately for Carol I’d be the 2nd-leading scorer on the team – 1 small step for a player, 1 giant leap for the team – since I’d been the 12th man on the 12-man squad the year before as a junior.
Carol had collected every clipping she could find, religiously scouring The Fort Lauderdale News, the Sun Sentinel, The Miami Herald, & the PBSHS newspaper for any the least mention of my name in a story. If the article only mentioned my name once, the entire article still had its place of honor in The Scrapbook. Little scalloped & feathered arrows in the margins next to the line where I was referenced marked “the Spot.” Patrice said “bunches of articles had all kinds of arrows ‘pointing’ everywhere.”
Carol’s favorites, she said, featured a Black & White photo of me, no matter how grainy or poorly reproduced.
She also included programs, like from the 4-day, 3-game Christmas Invitational Tournament that I’d been the MVP of. Ticket stubs from away games Carol had attended also dotted the pages.
Patrice really wanted me to feel everso really bad for being such an over-the-top hyper-insensitive uncaring self-epi-centered jerk.
But it didn’t make me feel quite bad enough though at the time.
Not that I was so self-centered that I couldn’t have been the Cadillac of cads – I could have been; I was just too too deep down inside so insecure and too too busy layering myself like a 3-pound Visalia onion to let anyone see what lay fetally isolato at the core.
Except for maybe my Laura: Cathy Dix.
I still remember though the absolute very last time I ever saw Carol. Sometime during college, about the time I was to graduate, I think, I happened to be walking through Burdine’s Department Store in the ultra-new and uber-chic Fashion Square Shopping Mall on Federal Highway, not that far away from good ole PBSHS, on the site of the former Pompano Beach Municipal Golf Course. I was for whatever reason probably window-shopping my way around the mall, hoping no doubt to meet someone I know, maybe by chance running into Cathy Dix, or even sighting Patrice would have been a kick
I rarely if ever bought anything at that high-priced, over-priced, pre-‘price less’ North Broward County shopping spot, so I must have been cruising the mall, like guys in the 50’s used to cruise the olde downtown Pompano town square lookin’ for chicks.
Anyway, I was the one who was seen, before I saw: Carol Campbell herself was crossing through the women’s shoe department as I was approaching the Exit to the parking lot. Even across the store I could tell she worked there, because of her white name-badge pinned over her heart.
We made eye contact, and neither of us looked away. She walked with a bounce in her step, and her shoulder length hair swayed around her face: she hadn’t changed much at all, not like I had: grown a couple inches and them some from high school, added 25 or 30 pounds, so that I was at my adult height and weight, and sported a huge Afro – I’d finally let my naturally curly and preternaturally selected frizzy hair do “its own thing.”
Nonetheless, she knew it was me, and I knew it was her.
I slowed in my walking down the main aisle toward the Exit, but Carol maintained the pace of her bounciness, heading, I’d eventually realize, toward an ‘employees only’ doorway leading to somewhere out back.
Her smile of recognition turned eventually to one of smugness, and she was the 1st and only one of us to look away.
She did so, and then slipped through the doorway leading to wherever I don’t know.
I slowed down all the way to a stop, where I paused at the pair of Exit doors, before I pushed through them, and the second set, to walk over to my car, get in, and drive away.
And that was it.
I’m not sure I was her Laura anymore.
If I was she’d’ve walked over to me, tried to engage me in some kind of conversation – I would assume. Because that’s what I’d’ve done if I’d seen my Laura: Cathy Dix.
But I never saw Cathy Dix again – in person – after our one and only date.
And Carol Campbell did not deter nor divert herself from one step out of the path she had taken to the doorway out back and out of her life and mine.
Probably how it pretty much ended for Petrarch. And the 1st Laura ever.
Scrawling these words, first time out of my head, with a blue Pilot G-207 gel pen on a yellow/blue lined Office Depot legal pad, before “typing” them onto a Word Document titled “We’ve All Had Our Lauras . . . ” to be saved in my A Senior Year to Forget folder, I wonder if Carol’s today even alive, after all these years, and if once upon a time should these words be made available in a more public format, to her – and to any others – but to her in particular: might these words and images of mine ever be seen by her.
Although what should I care, really, since afterall how much effort did I expend so long ago, during our senior year, whether or not I knew or cared to know if Carol then was even alive.
How appropriately ironic and fitting. And unfair.
I now know.
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Carl's story list and biography
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