Lightning in a Jar: Saturday in the Park with James



photo credit: Jean Marcelo

Chapter 10:

I will never forget that day in the park with you and Sam.

A clear, warm day in May, filled with the scent of black-eyed Susan and primrose flowers.  We sat on the grass, and you plucked two puffy dandelions, handing me one to make a wish upon. How many wishes did we make that day?  I remember mine, and refusing to tell you, even when you tickled me until I squirmed and cried uncle. I so wanted my wishes to come true.

I wished that day would never end. I wished you’d kiss me, and ask me to be your girl, and I wished us to be okay, unfettered by the perceived thoughts of others.

I also wished I could be as good to you as you were to me. Kind, sincere, James. I fell hard for you that day, as we wandered through the park, aimlessly chatting. Sam seemed happy, too, ignoring our flirtation and, instead, he kept cracking us up with his jokes.

There was much laughter that day. Laughter and mirth.

But stop for a moment and think. Did you know? Could you see what I was harboring inside? Not all the time, mind you. Sometimes I was truly happy, as I was that day in the park, and I could forget. But it was always there, James. Inside me. I was crumbling, finding it hard to cope with–




moving on

It was the moving-on part I was dreading most, what with senior year looming for me. But, first there would be summer and all that it would bring. After that, the thought of what lay ahead–the unknown of it–was frightening. I wanted things to stay the same, but with each passing day, that appeared less likely.

Sometimes I felt as though my skin was made of tempered glass and if I moved the wrong way, I’d fall and burst into a million pieces. Other days, I’d stay in bed, fearing if I stood up, I’d find my feet sinking into quicksand.

But then I’d go to school and smile and kid around, like the best of them, feeling happy and joyful, seeing you and my friends, and singing. How I loved to sing! I’d flit through the day, dancing like a sprite, and singing. And sometimes, the sadder I was, the louder I’d sing.

There was also George. Silly George. Drab George. Why did he keep coming back for more? He had a crush on me, I don’t know why, and I could feel nothing in return. Though I tried, I really did.

But, that was a good day, our day in the park with Sam. A fine day. I remember noticing the sun on your hair, flickering like stars flitting about your head. Your skin so pale and smooth, your black, soulful eyes, inviting, and your smile that still gave away the layer of shyness beneath. I drank them all in.  My heart pulsates, remembering.

I was punch-drunk giddy that day, for you brought out the best in me, and I was deliriously taken with you. We were happy, James, the three of us together, bantering, teasing, and you, no longer shy around me.

I won’t forget how every conversation and every story I shared, I’d use as an opportunity to impishly touch your hand, your shoulder and yes, even your leg, on the pretense that I was making my point. I’d leave my hand on you longer than needed, for I craved the feel of you.  And, you smiled, all the while, knowing what I was up to, reminding me of a Cheshire cat that had swallowed the fish whole. Ah, the folly of it all, we were kids in a game of love.

When it was time to part, we lingered as long as we could. A sideways glance, a forlorn gaze–now I knew why I disliked goodbyes. Out of earshot from Sam, you softly said,

“Meet me here next Saturday. Just us.”

Eagerly, I nodded. Without hesitation.

The following weekend was even more magical. We met soon after breakfast and, meandering through the park, you took my hand. It felt so right, talking about everything, except the future. Only the now. When we reached a clearing, we stopped and sat on a bench.

And, that’s when you looked at me. I mean, you got all serious and looked at me, and I felt my blood rush through me. A little scared, a little sense of anticipation. Right then, I wanted to say, I love you, James!

But, the words hesitated on my tongue, held back by a fleeting fear. And, that is when you kissed me. Your lips brushing against mine, delicately and sweetly at first, then more intense and I lost myself in the moment.

That day would be the beginning of a relationship filled with sultry kisses, looks of longing, and endless passion. Oh, yes there was passion, James–and joy. But, there was also pain. We’d meet after school, most often at your home, in your bedroom, in the shadows of our solitude. Wrapping ourselves in each others arms, you were my panacea, for all that ailed me.

And, yet…

When I’d head home, I’d be overcome with guilt, and the next day I wouldn’t show up. You’d wait for me and I wouldn’t come over. You were a tenth grader, after all, and I was too mortified to tell a soul about our relationship. And, that was adding to the ache gnawing inside me. You must’ve felt it, too.

Loving you, James, brought me unbridled joy. It also chipped away at me, exposing the rawness beneath. Though you swore age didn’t matter, it did, James, which is why I kept you a secret.

I was leading a double life, and I needed to make things right. For this reason, I accepted George’s invitation to the prom.

Only I couldn’t tell you, James.

Secrets. They sure can mess you up.

(To be continued.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the page, Lightning in a Jar: High School Years.

Lightning in a Jar: The Walls of Jericho


Another year of school was winding down. Pretty soon it’d be time for finals and the Regents Examinations. But first, there’d be the senior prom. For months, I imagined I’d be going to the prom with Jake. We’d hold each other tightly while slow dancing, and when it was over, we’d end up on the beach, as most revelers did, making out beneath the glow of the sunrise. The one time when talk of curfew would be excused.

Jericho always had the best apple cider bar none.

Jericho Cider Mill. The best apple cider, bar none.

It promised to be the perfect night. Me, on the arm of my boyfriend, wearing a long flowing dress sewn by my mother and her Singer sewing machine. That had been the plan, but now Jake would not be taking me, but rather, his new girlfriend, who seemed to always look like she’d swallowed a bag of prunes, pits and all.

Two months had passed since spring vacation and the devastating breakup. Two months of uncertainty and hurt burrowing inside me, taking hold like a vice constricting my body. Two months that found me sometimes doing well, sometimes so high I had to lay perfectly still to keep my head from spinning, and sometimes longing for a boy who I knew was too young for me. I couldn’t help but wonder, how different things might have been if we hadn’t moved here at all. Jericho. For better, for worse, it sometimes felt as though the walls were tumbling down around me.

Located on Long Island, in the Town of Oyster Bay, Jericho didn’t really start to see a boon until after the Second World War. Like all suburbs, the houses there looked immaculately pristine, with only slight variations to tell them apart. We were a traditional community, where women mostly stayed at home, and men caught the Long Island Railroad from Hicksville, the next town over, to their jobs in the city, which was about an hour away. We kids had our run of the neighborhood, but often you’d find us hanging out at the local shopping center, springing for a strawberry or chocolate parfait at the Gertz department store. Our version of the soda shoppes of yesteryear, I suppose.

Once, Jericho had been a haven for Quakers, who ended up giving the town its name. I imagine that then it was nothing but farmland and gentle hills, nurtured by the sun, and the rains of a thousand storms, with earth rich with minerals and nutrients, giving forth to tall oaks, maples, rambling roses, untold brambles and foliage that grew darkly rich and plentiful.

I never gave much thought to how we ended up leaving Queens for Jericho, but knowing my father, he probably bought the first place that came on the market, sight unseen. It was a split level with a large backyard, and the front yard was caddy corner to an off ramp of the Long Island Expressway. With no fence to protect our plot of land, cars speeding too fast as they exited the highway were known to end up in our yard, leaving tread marks across our lawn and my mother’s daffodils.

For a little while we planted roots, if only fake ones, because when push came to shove, there was no tying my family down. My parents, having left their home in South America 20 years earlier, were nomads and we kids, were along for the ride. Seems fitting that we lived so close to a major thoroughfare, as we were constantly on the move and nothing, not even owning a home, could keep us tethered to one place for very long. Seemed we were always about leaving.

I was 12 when we moved in, 14 when we sold it, and 16 when we bought a similar house on the same block, this time facing a different highway, the Northern State.

I lived on the west part of Jericho and James lived on the east, with the main thoroughfare being the dividing line. On the west side was the neighborhood park, where we’d spend summers at the pool, and winters at the ice skating rink. There was also a drive-in nearby, which we never went to as my parents didn’t like sitting in the car to watch a film, and the Ho-Jo’s, a family sit-down restaurant, where every Monday featured all you can eat fried chicken.

On the east side was the public library, the Waldbaum’s supermarket, and the Jericho Cider Mill, which served cider so flavorful and naturally sweet, you felt like you were tasting a little bit of heaven. The high school was down the road a ways, along the main thoroughfare, and just beyond it was the Catholic Church. The synagogue was located above the firehouse when we first moved to Jericho, but later moved to a building of its own, still close by, so that devout congregants could walk, not drive, to services on the High Holy Days, as was expected of them.

I came to know my town well and the surrounding ones, too. Eisenhower Park was about six miles away, which is why I figured it was a better place to meet James and Sam, rather than the park down the street from where I lived. I feared that the park by my home would increase my chances of running into someone I knew, and I couldn’t fathom having to explain what I was doing, or who I was with, to anyone.

I woke up late on the morning of our outing. After trying on several outfits, I decided on a floral top and shorts. At precisely 12:05, I pulled my bicycle out of the garage. It would be about a 30-minute ride to the park, but I was too excited to wait another minute. I wanted to be sure I was on time, since it wasn’t in my nature to be late for anything. As I straddled my bike, with my right foot on the pedal, I heard my mother open the front door screen. Cupping her hand to the side of her mouth, so she could be heard across the traffic din of the highway, she shouted.


“Quién es?” I asked, hoping she could just take a message for me.

My mother shook her head. “No se. Un muchacho.”

A boy. Could it be James calling me to let me know he was going to be late or worse, that he wasn’t coming at all? Yet, I didn’t remember ever giving him my phone number. Something told me to take the call just in case. Leaning the bike against the garage door, I ran inside, and headed down to the basement to take the call there, out of earshot.

“James?” I said hesitantly into the receiver.

Click. My mother hung up the line in the kitchen.

“I was just getting ready to leave. What’s up, Kiddo?”

“That’s what I was going to ask you. You haven’t been retuning my calls and maybe I’m wrong, but you seem to be avoiding me at school. Keep it up, and I might reconsider inviting you to the prom.” I heard a hint of sarcasm in his laugh.

It wasn’t James at all. It was George, Jake’s pal, whom I hadn’t seen since the night at HoJo’s, when we ran into Jake and Miss Pinched Face.

“And, who the heck is James, anyway?” He added, with a certain bravado in his voice.

Something told me I was going to have to back peddle pretty hard to explain this one.

(To be continued.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the page, Lightning in a Jar: High School Years.

Lightning in a Jar: Love Unexpected

“My head keeps spinning,
I go to sleep and keep grinning,
If this is just the beginning,
My life’s gonna be beautiful.
I’ve sunshine enough to spread,
It’s like the fella said,
Tell me quick,
Ain’t love like a kick in the head?”

Lyrics to Dean Martin’s Ain’t That a Kick in the Head


They say love comes when you least expect it. Like an unanticipated visitor seeking refuge in the warmth of your hearth. Or, a spray of lilacs hidden beneath a winter’s snowfall. In an instant, a cloud of darkness can give way to bright, sparkling love, moonlit promises, and a treasure trove of memories.new_library_outside

But, sometimes in the blush of youth, we confuse lust for love. And, sometimes we never know real love at all. And, as in my case, there are times love opens its arms and we walk away for reasons that later we cannot comprehend.

Like the refrain goes, love’s like a kick in the head. Perplexing and illogical, it’s safe to say, we never learn about love from the mistakes of others. Which is why, the song and dance of love is one that is repeated often, throughout the course of history.

Or, as Sonny and Cher would say, “And the beat goes on.”

Meeting Jake was unexpected. Gregariously handsome, he had all the right lines, which he’d flick at you in rapid procession so that when you fell, you fell hard. Still, if Jake was unexpected, falling for a mere underclassman like James was even more so. James had a soft, youthful quality about him, which is why it was so easy for me to scoff at the thought that there might be anything between us. Too young to consider dating, he seemed more like one of the kids I’d babysit for on the weekends.

Yet, with each passing day, James impressed me with his intelligence, crackerjack wit, and genuine compassion. Unlike Jake, he didn’t have a come-on line. He never tried to be sexy or prove anything he wasn’t. He was just James, a boy who was exactly as he appeared.

In the days that followed my breakup with Jake, James remained his usual self. In other words, James was as attentive as ever. He’d greet me with his usual ray-of-sunshine smile, copy down the homework assignment for me if I skipped out on class—which I did on two occasions—walked with me to my next class, without even asking if it was alright with me, and generally gazed at me when he thought I wasn’t looking. But, I was.

James was always there. Reliable. And, while I appreciated the little things he did to lift my spirits, my mind had been dizzily racing elsewhere. I’d needed something—a spark, a change. I wanted to be reckless and wild, and not the sweet little girl most assumed I was.

But, until the moment that James drew me out of study hall, willing me to give him a chance, it had never occurred to me that the change I needed, the high I craved, might be found in him. That night, I thought about our conversation behind the school—how he looked and how exhilarating it felt to be touched by him. How he held my hand so assuredly, as if it was something he did all the time. And how the recollection now electrified me. I got little sleep that night, playing our encounter over and over in my head.

The following morning, I knew what I had to do. I was going to take the next step, I thought excitedly, as I pumped my legs, riding my bike to school. James wanted me to give him a chance, and that’s exactly what I planned to do, eager was I to discover what he was made of, and what it’d be like to spend time with him outside of school. It was do or die, and put your money where your mouth is, and I was more than ready.

Okay, maybe cautiously ready. After all, there was still the matter of the age difference. What if my friends were to learn about this date I was planning with a sophomore? Would they laugh and make me the butt of their jokes?

As I made my way past Waldbaum’s supermarket, through the parking lot, bypassing the local library, I found myself feeling unsteady. What was I thinking? I was willing, wasn’t I, to give him a chance? Suddenly, I was uncertain. As I eased my bike onto the school grounds, I found my second thoughts were turning into third and fourth ones. I was caving.

I can do this, I told myself.

No, I can’t. No way, no how.

I walked down the hall toward Geometry. The second bell, marking the start of class, had yet to ring, but Mrs. C was already writing on the chalkboard the problems we’d be working on that morning. James and Sam were there, too.

James’ face lit up when he saw me, and I felt my cheeks burn. I can do this I said to myself as I took my seat in front of them, and turned around to face them.

James must’ve also been thinking about our rendezvous the day before, for he asked, with a mischievous grin, “So, did you end up making it to your last period okay?”

I nodded. The words I’d been planning to say stuck in my throat. I can do this. I can invite him on an outing for Saturday. Piece of cake, if only I’d stop backpedaling.

“What are you talking about? Why wouldn’t she make it to her class?” Sam interjected.

“No reason. Just asking,” James quickly replied, realizing he’d nearly spilled the beans.

I’m crazy to invite him anywhere. People would definitely talk if we went out. If I’m seen alone with him, away from school, they’ll wonder. Unless, unless…a thought came to me. No one would say anything about three friends hanging out. Three, not two.

Practically choking on my words, I began to sputter, only to be interrupted by James, who lowered his voice and spoke directly to me. “Hey, any interest in going on a bike ride with me tomorrow? I was thinking we could head out to Eisenhower Park.”

Yikes. His invitation, while pleasing, caught me off guard. I can’t do this. Not without Sam.

Nervously, I brought Sam into the conversation. “Great idea! What do you think, Sam? Can you make it?”

James was puzzled by this turn of events. Clearly the invitation was for me alone. He said,  “I think Sam has plans with his folks.” He paused, then added, “Am I right, Sam?”

Sam didn’t take the hint. “Um, not really. I can make it. What time?”

A flood of relief came over me. I’d be seeing James but, in case we ran into anyone, it would be obvious it wasn’t a date. There was no way I could be seen dating a sophomore, plain and simple.

Still, to make doubly sure we wouldn’t be seen together, I said, “Actually, how about I meet you both there? Is 1 o’clock okay?”

“Sounds good,” said Sam. A sullen James looked away.

“James?” I said wistfully.

He seemed deep in thought. I knew he wanted it to be just the two of us, and was starting to feel bad about my decision to include Sam.

Say something, James. Tell me you cant wait to see me, anyway. Tell me youre as excited as I am. Tell me you understand. Its better this way, dont you see? Were friends, the three of us. Friends, thats all, JamesJames? Why cant you say something?

Sam pressed him. “What’s wrong with you?” The second bell rang, signaling the start of class.

James finally looked up and sighed, “Sure, 1 o’clock is fine. We’ll meet at the park.”

Only I could see the flash of confusion in his eyes that seemed to be asking me, ‘What are you afraid of?

Everything. Falling for you. Being with you.

Hurting you.

The truth.

I was afraid of myself.

But, frankly, I hadn’t a clue.

(To be continued.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the page, Lightning in a Jar: High School Years.