So here for your perusal is a story of my misspent youth, when the most important thing in my life was . . .
At 17, all I wanted in life was a car and to impress Heidi, the casually stunning and serenely self-possessed young woman who seemed to make it her life’s work to overlook my existence.
Heidi went to my school but was from white-collar, college-bound suburbia and I was rural working-class so, even though we spent every Wednesday afternoon sitting in the same biology class, we occupied different universes. To make her notice me was going to require more than a box of chocolates. I, therefore, spent my senior year admiring her from afar and dreaming up unlikely and unsuccessful scenarios that would merit both her attention and admiration.
The weeks ground on bringing no inspiration. Then graduation day arrived and, despite my many distractions, I managed to receive a diploma. The next day I was off to Mexico to do volunteer missionary work with my church group. We were away for six weeks, and among the many adventures I experienced on this amazing trip was an introduction to a quaint Mexican tradition.
One night, I accompanied a group of local boys as they walked through the village streets to a house near the outskirts of town. They were in a jocular mood and one of them had a guitar slung on his back. When we reached the house, the boy with the guitar started playing and singing, accompanied by his friends. Naturally, I panicked; I was certain the Federales would swoop down on us and I’d be writing home from a Mexican jail, but the door soon opened and the parents came out, not to scold us, but to invite us in for hot chocolate. The object of the boy’s affection was suitably coy in her nightgown and robe, the parents beamed and I was just glad to avoid incarceration.
Recalling this event upon returning home, I realized it would be the perfect way to impress Heidi. There was absolutely no downside to it; it reeked of culture and romanticism, it was steeped in tradition and, best of all, wouldn’t cost me a dime. I recruited two of my friends and, at 1 o’clock on a Saturday morning, parked my ’65 Chevy on the deserted street in front of Heidi’s house. We crept into the back yard and positioned ourselves beneath what we hoped was her bedroom window on the upper floor. Then we launched into song. I don’t recall what we sang; something fitting the occasion yet suitably romantic, I expect, like “La Bamba.”
I kept my eyes on the window above, expecting to see Heidi open it and lean out, perhaps to blow me a kiss or toss down a flower. Instead, the back door opened. It took a few moments to recognize Heidi’s older sister with her hair done up in curlers and her face white and puffy from sleep. She held the screen door in one hand and clutched her robe protectively to her with the other. A single look silenced us.
“Good night, boys,” she said.
My guitar, my friends and my ’65 Chevy were back home in record time. I was too chagrined to go near Heidi’s house again and the next week she left for college.
I never found out if I impressed her. In fact, I can’t be sure she even heard us, or whether her sister told her about our midnight visit. I liked to believe she did, however, and imagined her occasionally reminiscing about my brave, though somewhat inadvisable, attempt at cross-culture serenading, secretly wishing her current boyfriend was as romantic and imaginative.
But, overall, I didn’t worry too much about it; I mean, at least I had a car.