Things were different. Coming home for the summer required, unexpectedly, some little adjustments. It was wonderful to see my dear family again. But was it exactly the dear family I had left? There were subtle rearrangements. The dynamics were altered.
I visited Mira Costa High School, also oddly different. School was still in session. I walked up with Patti Ziroli, who was still insisting that her nickname was Z-bomb. Classmates were bustling about preparing for final exams. I visited Mr. Peter B. Smith – everyone’s favorite math teacher. He grinned enthusiastically and asked me how I was faring. So did my art teachers and horticulture teacher. My very favorite teacher, Miss Marks – now Mrs. Echeverria – was tickled to see me. Adults at school were more interested in me. Students less. Students were immersed in their high school world.
The Pacific Ocean had not changed. It remained as I remembered it: immense, changing continually, thunderous waves breaking on the sand. That familiar sea filled my heart with joy. The sky, too, was thrillingly the same – also huge and constantly changing. The slender gray, green eucalyptus leaves still had the same smell after my semester away.
It was grand to be back but I also felt a little at loose ends. Everyone was busy with lives I’d left behind.
I went to some early summer LRY meetings. Liberal Religious Youth. I was glad to reunite with this interesting group. Besides plenty of friendly discussion, two guys from LRY asked me out. These young men provided me the best and the worst dates of my entire life.
Paul asked me to a party given by a guy from Paul’s school. The guy lived in Palos Verdes. My town, Manhattan Beach, was one of the unpretentious beach towns on a shallow bay bracketed by a couple of classy protrusions into the Pacific. Palos Verdes was to the south and Malibu to the north. Paul’s friend’s classy parents were redecorating. For the party activity, guests were allowed to draw and write on all walls downstairs. The idea was outrageously appealing and shouldn’t have been part of the worst date of my entire life.
I have to restrain myself, I suppose, in my complaint. Some peoples’ worst dates are much worse than mine. Their boys turn out to be monsters. Really bad things happen. This was not my worst-date situation. The guy just turned out to be inconsiderate. For most of the whole time he left me alone with people I didn’t know, I couldn’t seem to connect, I didn’t get to draw on the walls, and my feelings were hurt.
This wouldn’t have happened if my date had been with the charismatic Paul from LRY. That was Paul Mannick. Instead my date was with the other Paul from LRY. The Big Jerk. In fact, I think that really was his actual name. Paul Bigjerk. His father, Mr. Bigjerk, was also stupidly inconsiderate. We stopped at Paul’s house on the way to the party. I was wearing a splendid dress that I’d designed and sewn, finishing the hem minutes before the date started. Mr. Bigjerk was appalled by the brightness and shortness of my dress. He criticized it. I was starting to deflate even before I got to the party.
At the party itself, Paul quickly ran into his ex-girlfriend. Their breakup had been very recent and, as it turned out, impermanent. The two of them spent the entire party off somewhere – I didn’t know where – reuniting.
The party house was high up on a cliff overlooking my Pacific Ocean. The sun set into the water. Summertime sunset pink spilled up and down the coastline. Inside the house all those teenagers, who knew one another, had a rollicking good time laughing and marking up the walls.
The magnificent sky and ocean turned to nighttime colors. I deflated so much I’d become tiny and unnoticeable. It’s even surprising that Paul Bigjerk and his girlfriend-again were able to find me. “Time to go home,” said Bigjerk. The girlfriend-again giggled.
In the car, we all sat on the bench front seat. His girl sat between me and Paul. Why weren’t they even embarrassed or apologetic? Anger raged through my whole body but I couldn’t express it for fear of sobbing instead.
They dropped me off at my house. The porch light was on. The sound of ocean waves crashed in my ears. The fragrance of eucalyptus wafted on the nighttime breeze. My parents were waiting up for me. They looked up from their books.
“Did you have a nice time, dear?”
I hadn’t really, but I said, “Yeah. It was okay.”