The moment I pushed open the door of the telephone booth I started running. It was the last piece of our choreographed Sunday night ritual. My boyfriend Michael would telephone me from some street corner on Long Island; I’d pick up beneath the lights of Mary’s Café in St. Louie Mo. Enough dimes clanked into the slot for a three-minute conversation. After a longer time of gushing “I miss you; I love you” “can’t wait to see you in Florida next summer”, we “kissed” good-by and dashed, fleeing the operator’s rings demanding more coins. I returned to my tenth grade homework and the apartment I shared with my older sister; Michael went to his split level with a station wagon in the driveway and two parents in the living room. It was 1962, decades before long distance romances could be nourished by FaceTime. We had to be creative.
I met Michael during one of my summer visits to Miami where my mother lived seeking the man who got away. Her home was a drab one-room in South Beach, long before the area developed panache. South Beach in the early ‘60s boasted leathery skinned retirees on Social Security savoring 99 cent grits and egg breakfasts, and divorcees seeking yet another husband, or in my mother’s case, a runaway second husband.
Florida was Mother’s playground and it became mine too. I relinquished my body to the salty ocean waves that caressed me like the lover I had yet to know. I danced American Bandstand style at the local teen club on Fridays, swinging on the same scratched hardwood floor where Mother tangoed on Sundays. During those summers, I could almost forgive her for leaving us.
The nearby Algiers Hotel, accessible via an unlocked beach entrance, offered swimming pool, virgin Daiquiris, and flirting opportunities. My first target was Jim, a Tab Hunter look-a-like in boy cut trunks and dock siders. His buff oiled body lay atop his cushioned chaise lounge; a preppy prince resting on his poolside throne. The Florida heat melted my shyness for soon Jim sat dangling his feet in the water next to me. Ooh, was that an intended brush of his calf on mine?
At 15, my dating experience was limited; I had a boyfriend in 6th grade which meant hanging out at recess. Junior high brought unrequited crushes. But that balmy night I sat in a convertible holding hands with a Ralph Lauren poster boy. “I like you,” Jim blew in my ear. I was having a grand time, thinking about all I could write my friend Marsha back home: his wet persistent kisses; stubble brushing my face; the scent of his neck. And then Jim’s hand grazed my A cup breast.
“We don’t do that sort of thing in St. Louis!” pushing away. Jim stared as though I were an alien life form. Oops. Could I take it back? Too late.
I vowed not to make the same mistake with Michael, who arrived at the Algiers that next day. Swimming laps, he finished a free style stroke. “Sorry, did I splash you?” Who cared!
Michael was 16, dark blonde and smelled of English Leather. He was even Jewish. Varsity basketball on his way to Homecoming King, he was the letter jacket guy who would never have given me, a mousey brainiac, a second look had we been classmates. But seduced by palm trees and sunshine, he noticed the teenage girl in a red swimsuit emphasizing a budding chest and long legs. My complexion had bronzed and smoothed. Coppertone had replaced Clearasil.
Michael’s unkempt hair and casual manner were comforting. His trunks bore no designer logo. He was more pool boy than pool prince. So began our week of sand castles, beach volleyball, ice cream sundaes. Evenings were hugging, kissing, touching. The night before he flew back to New York, we “cross our heart promised” to write; plotted our weekly phone calls, looking forward to a same time/next year reunion.
I returned home to St. Louis at season’s end with a tan that disappeared at the stroke of school, like Cinderella’s ballgown. Evenings were spent tackling trig and conjugating French verbs. Social outings were girlfriends only. But each Sunday night the ocean caresses returned as soon as I entered the telephone booth. Our phone calls endured the rains of fall, the freeze of winter, the chirps of spring, until we discovered that our summer trips to Miami Beach would not overlap.
“So long Michael. I’ll miss you too.” I hung up and started running.