‘I think I’m starting to have feelings for Casey.’
It’s a pretty devastating thing to hear. Not to mention somewhat emasculating. She’s with me, after all. I mean, I didn’t pursue her. The fact that we were dating was a result of her stating we were dating and me nodding in aggreement.
‘What does that mean?’
It was a sincere question. Straightforward as well. I had a sense that something bad was happening but I honestly didn’t understand the phrasing. That said, I knew enough to feel queasy and a little nervous asking. I’d hear and speak both parts of this conversation and variations on it for years to come, but this time, this was the first. She was trying to be nice and I was trying to be cool. I was on my Schwinn Predator, which was a pretty badass set of wheels for an almost 11 year old so I was able to retain a certain amount of pride, even while being dumped without knowing it.
We only dated for the summer. It was 1984 and as a 10 year old I was pretty much free to do anything I could with a bike and a full day of sunlight to mess around in. Kelly was almost 14 I’d guess, at least 13. She was going to be in eighth grade in the fall and I was entering fifth. Needless to say this was a coup that my friends my own age, well my one friend, marvelled at. I was confused by it. I seemed to get some sort of credit for engineering something and I accepted the accolades, but I knew I was a fraud. I certainly enjoyed the make out sessions we’d have in garages and alleyways. The garage was the shed that sat behind my house where we shared floor space with bikes and yard tools and needed a flashlight to see and the alley was the alley behind the Main Street shops that ran between King St and the police station behind the Studio theater. It was as urban an environment as my little town had to offer and I loved being there. It was dangerous and cool.
We were the kids that ran back there that summer. We had claim to the place because Kelly’s mom owned Hairport, though I’m not sure it had that name yet, which had a back door out to the alley. We’d ocassionally go upstairs to the apartment they lived in and watch TV. But mostly we’d all be outside, trying to inhale cigarettes and trying to get into more and more trouble without getting caught.
My older brother was dating her older sister and by the end of the summer there was even flirtations between my younger sister and her younger brother. I think they even joined one of the epic games of truth or dare that were excuses to kiss, with tongue, for longer and longer stretches, always timed by whoever was around. That’s what dating was and it was awesome and terrifying and sad and joyous. Not a bad harbinger, actually.
There I sat, one foot on the pedal, the other on the ground in as cool a pose as a ten year old can take, with no idea why she took me down to this end of the alley to talk. I thought it was cool that she was discovering feelings. I could see why Casey might feel something for her. She was pretty and a good kisser as far as I could tell, though I had nothing to compare her too. I guessed she was telling me that I should keep an eye on Casey, not that I’d know what to look for or what to do if I saw something.
When she started walking back to the group of kids huddled around the steps at the back of the shop she probably thought I wasn’t going to follow. I say that now, at the time I thought I was doing what I was supposed to. When I pulled up and took my place in the loose ring of town kids who were cool she still hadn’t seen me and was leaning on Casey’s handlebars. It felt like a betrayal, but maybe I was being a little kid about it.
‘Hey Joey. How’s it going?’ Casey asked.
Kelly snapped her head around and looked confused. It took her a minute and I am so thankful to her for not speaking out loud what she must have been thinking, but eventually she must have put it together that I didn’t get what happened. That was okay. She may have said something or may not have, but whatever she did she was nice about it. She must have realized that I was 10. I sure as hell realized that Casey was 15. At least. He sat on his bike like a man. Both feet on the ground, knees bent and arms free. To fold. Cool and imposing.
Before long everything was back to normal and it was just a group of kids hanging out, drinking pop and eating candy. Surely someone had some loose cigarettes and someone knew where there were some beers hidden on the towpath, but looking back it was all so innocent. Boys would drift around popping wheelies and trying tricks. The girls were listening for their favorite songs and singing along as long as they could resist laughing and falling into each other. My wheelies were tight so I was good. But it was coming together. I was seeing what had happened. What was happening.
‘Oh my god. Have you heard this yet?’ Kelly said, not to anyone in particular.
‘No.’ I said.
‘It’s Prince. There’s a whole movie that goes with the album.’
‘The 1999 guy?’ I asked.
‘Yes. This is amazing.’ She said as the song was rewound and played again from the start.. Dearly Beloved…
‘I don’t really like it. To electronic.’ I said. I was trying to be cool. Boys in my town, we listened to WCMF. Classic rock. This was that poppy PXY stuff. It seemed unmanly to like it and I was just learning the script and was eager to throw around my wisdom, however newly discovered.
‘I don’t know man. There’s some tracks on here that will make you sit down and think Some that can make you emotional. I don’t think you’re giving it a full shot.’ Said Casey.
It was over. If Kelly never fully put it together that I was just 10, I sure did. Right then. At least I had the smarts not to argue the point. I stuck around for a bit longer, surely. I didn’t want the world to see me slink away. But time and the topic at hand moved on, some kids had gotten enough together to get a couple of the huge slice’s at Papa Joe’s and I decided to head back to my house to shoot some hoops.