Once upon a time, I was sitting on the floor in a bowling alley with my little brother Houdini, watching the pro-shop owner give a seminar to all the junior bowlers. I was 16 years old, and I had been bowling in a Saturday morning league for about two years. I even had my own ball and shoes. Pretty hard core for a 16-year-old. I was throwing that bastard of all bowling balls, a 14 pound semi-fingertip, and holding about a 140 average, which I wanted to improve. The first thing I learned from the pro that day was that my bowling ball had to go. It was too light, and the semi-fingertip was too hard on your fingers, since the edges of the holes rested on the part of your fingers between the first and second joint.
The second thing I learned was that Saturday morning bowling seminars were good for scoping out girls. It was a mixed league, and while I knew a few of the girls there, I was kind of shy so I never really talked to any of them. As I was looking around the room, half paying attention to whatever the instructor was saying, I spotted a very cute girl I hadn't seen before. She had long hair (OK, it was big hair, but this was the 80s), and was wearing black jeans with thin white pinstripes, a white frilly shirt and a bandanna tied around her neck. She also had the biggest, prettiest eyes I had ever seen. I stared for a while, trying not to be noticed staring, and every time she looked in my direction I pretended to pay extreme attention to whatever the instructor was talking about. Finally, I leaned over to Houdini and whispered, "You see that cute girl over there? I'm gonna ask her out. Just watch." I was a bit of a cocky bastard. Or at least I pretended to be when I was trying to impress Houdini, who looked up to me for some reason. I'm not sure if he believed me at the time, because I don't remember if he said anything in response.
Unfortunately, the seminar ended, I lost my nerve, and the girl with the gorgeous eyes left the room without speaking to me.
"I thought you were gonna go talk to her?" Houdini asked.
"I am," I replied, irritated that he called me out. "Give me a chance. I gotta get up my nerve."
After the seminar, we met our coaches. My coach was one of the dads who volunteered at the bowling alley on weekends, and he was actually a pretty good bowler - I think he even had a few 300 games to his credit. He was a good coach but had no patience for you if you weren't serious about the game. He spent just about all of his free time there on the weekends, helping the kids who really wanted to learn to be better bowlers, and he bowled in a few adult leagues during the week. Everyone called him Chuck, and I did too.
Until, that is, he introduced me to his daughter. Suddenly calling him Chuck became a little more intimidating.
Probably to his dismay, his daughter and I hit it off immediately -- but when I found out how young she was, I was less interested. Three years difference might as well be a lifetime when you're sixteen. We stayed friendly though, and over time, it became apparent that she had developed a very large crush on me. I called her Fuzz, which was an unflattering nickname that I won't even pretend to remember the origin of, but she didn't seem to mind. I actually liked seeing her every Saturday, but I knew nothing serious was going to come of it because she was such a kid. I'll admit that I played into her crush a little, which wasn't entirely fair, but a 16-year-old boy's ego needs all the reinforcement it can get. My friends busted my balls, calling me a cradle robber, and I kind of agreed. I eventually bowed to the peer pressure and stopped encouraging her. After that, I think she got tired of never getting anywhere and just gave up on me, figuring I wasn't interested. She started seeing a guy her own age, and I started dating someone at school too, and we left it at that. We still talked on Saturdays, and stayed friendly but that was it. She'd tell me boyfriend stories, and I'd talk to her about my girlfriend, and the only time we saw each other was in between frames.
A couple of years later, a funny thing happened. I had graduated from high school, and had broken up with my girlfriend at the time, who was older than I was and going away to college. Fuzz and I were still bowling together, and I began to realize that the age difference between us was nothing, in the grand scheme of things. She was still going out with her boyfriend and from all accounts it was serious, but I couldn't help it -- I suddenly found myself in the odd position of falling for this girl I only saw once a week for three or four hours, who really had no interest in me. She was madly in love with her boyfriend, and at that point I think I knew she was just indulging me because she didn't have the heart to tell me to get lost. The tables were turned, it seemed.
I was in a band at the time, and we did our fair share of original tunes, generally written by the guitar player, Mike, who was and still is a phenomenal player to this day. As the (mediocre) drummer, I was usually left out of this writing process, other than to add the drum parts to the finished tune. Even this, for the most part, was under the direction of the other guys in the band. Mike could also play drums, so he would often get behind the set and say "maybe play something like this." and then kick out a pattern that I would have to wrap my head around. This process was about to change.
In my ridiculously love-stricken state, I naively started working on a couple of songs, directed at the object of my unrequited affection. When I thought I had something, (I did not) I finally got up my nerve to bring one of the songs to rehearsal and show it to the rest of the guys. To his credit, Mike didn't immediately laugh me out of my parent's basement. Generally, the last thing anyone in a band wants to hear from the drummer is, "Hey guys, I wrote a couple of songs." That sentence is usually followed by long and painful groans.
Instead, he read through my lyrics and listened to my basic melody and took it home to work on it. At our next rehearsal, he played me what he had come up with. It was much better than I ever thought it could be. He had taken my angst-filled, melodramatic lyrics and turned them into an actual song. I gave it my blessing, and he recorded a rough cut of it into a little cassette recorder and handed me the tape so I could practice putting a drum part to it. I couldn't wait for Fuzz to hear it, so I took it with me to the bowling alley the following weekend.
I clearly remember that she was sitting on a stool at the closed bar, drinking a soda. I walked up to her, Walkman in hand, and said, "Hey. I, um...I wrote a song for you." She looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and pity, but even so, she took the headphones from my hand and put them on. I pushed play, and waited with my heart in my throat.
When the song ended, she took the headphones off and looked up at me with tears in her eyes. "I don't know what to say," she said. But it wasn't "I don't know what to say because the song touched me so deeply and I'm speechless." It was more of a "I don't know what to say because I don't want to break your heart into a million little pieces." As you can probably imagine, that wasn't exactly what I had wanted to hear. Had I expected her to jump into my arms and declare her undying love because of one stupid song? Perhaps something like that. When you're eighteen, music can be a powerful force in your life. Hell, it can be a powerful force at any age. But when you're eighteen and the music is something that came from your own ragged heart -- well, that seems like something that could quite possibly change the world. To have that music rejected, especially by the person it was written for, hurt deeply.
"You don't have to say anything," I replied, popping the tape out of the player and handing it to her. "Just take it. Listen to it once in a while if you feel like it." Then I walked away, feeling incredibly stupid and kicking myself for being an idiot.
Months later, I remember being in the kitchen at home when the phone rang.
It was her mom. "She needs you right now," she said. "She and Brett broke up, and I think she could really use a friend." I thought it was a little odd, but I agreed to go. We hadn't said a lot to each other since the song incident. I wasn't sure what I was going to do or say, exactly, but I drove down to her house anyway. She was glad to see me, mostly I think because she wanted someone to talk to, and as far as talking went, we had a bit of a history there. She told me that she still loved him. She told me that he had dumped her, suddenly and brutally. She told me a lot of things that were hard to hear. I wanted to hurt him for doing this to her. I think it was the first time she had had her heart broken, and that's always a hard thing, especially when you're sixteen. Unfortunately, I knew just how she felt. I also couldn't help but feel that if I did what I could to make this easier for her, we might have another shot. It seemed I wasn't quite ready to give up.
I kept being a friend to her, and eventually she came around. I asked her to a concert, just to test the waters, and she said yes. Then I tried dinner and movie. She said yes again, and I started to feel like we might actually get a second chance. I was trying hard not to rush her into anything, but we seemed at ease with each other, and things seemed to be going well.
I remember the first time I said "I love you." I also remember the first time I said "I love you" and she said it back. The road between those two first times was long and hard, but worth every second.
About a year later, we were going steady. I was in my second year of college at the time and she was a senior, and we spent every moment we possibly could together. I picked her up after school almost every day, we went on many more dates, and we knew it was serious when we started spending the holidays with each other's families. One Christmas eve at my parent's house, I asked her to marry me and she said yes.
About 13 years ago, we were out seeing a band we both liked, and she decided to offer up my web design services to the lead singer. As a result, I ended up doing their website and mailing list for a number of years. They were (and still are) called The Badlees, and they were touring on a top-40 hit at the time. The lead singer Pete and I became close friends over those years, and we still hang out as often as our schedules allow. I count him as one of the best humans I know, and probably the best friend I have. I never asked for any money to do the website, but once, about ten years ago, I asked him to do me a small favor. I had stumbled on an old cassette of the song Mike and I had written, and I asked him if he would be willing to record a version of it for me as an anniversary gift to my wife. He agreed, and I e-mailed him an mp3 of the song. A few hours later I got a phone call.
"Dude, are you sure you sent me the right song? he asked. "Maybe it's just me, but these lyrics don't sound like it's the right song."
"Trust me, it's the right song," I said, then laughed. "It's kind of a long story."
A few weeks later he and his wife came up to visit and he and I sat in his car and listened to the song, and it was brilliant. The song itself was still hokey and sentimental, but it was well done and sounded amazing considering he and his guitar player recorded it live into a portable hard drive while sitting in a ratty hotel room somewhere on the road in Pennsylvania. I explained the history of the song, and then he understood.
"You're either going to be a hero, or this will end in tears," he said, laughing. I thanked him again for doing it, and tucked the CD in my pocket.
A month or so later, I gave it to my wife on our anniversary. It ended in tears, but I'm 95% sure they were happy tears. That song, for those of you who stuck with me this far, is here. It's a little embarrassing, but also a part of our history, and as such, I thought it was worth sharing. Hopefully Pete won't mind.
It's hard to believe, but this past year marked our 25th wedding anniversary. We've had our share of ups and downs like any couple, but we've always managed to come out on the other side of whatever trouble we've faced stronger than we were before. I just wanted to take this time to tell the wonderful woman I fell in love with a lifetime ago that I wouldn't trade our time together for anything in the world. She always says it's about the little things, and I thank god for that, because I'm nothing if not a middle-sized white boy.
Happy Valentine's day, Fuzz. Thanks for sticking with me. I'm glad we finally decided to like each other at the same time all those years ago.