Al and the Levecar
"What a stupid thing to do. You're just asking to be hurt," said Joyce with a
mixture of pity and exasperation. Joyce was my co-worker at the records office in Fargo Clinic, my friend, and I valued her opinion. She was older than me, about 35 I guessed her to be, and I was 20. She knew a lot about life and love, having been married twice but even so, I wasn't going to let her change my mind.
"I don't care if it is stupid. I want to see him again. If he doesn't want to see
me it doesn't really matter." I knew I sounded pathetic, even to myself, but I also felt compelled to carry on with my plans. The whole issue was over my going alone by the midnight train that night to Minneapolis to see Al in a play. I'd told Joyce all about Al.
I met Al in mid March four years before at the regional Science Fair which was being held in our high school. We both had projects entered in it. His was
on the Levecar - a sort of flying cakepan. Mine was on Cobalt - just pictures, samples and a written report. All the competitors had stalls set up in the cafeteria and on Saturday we had to tend our projects and answer the questions of interested passers-by. It was fairly late in the afternoon when I happened to make my way to Al's project, but as soon as I saw him and heard him speak, I forgot all about science and just looked at him.
He was about 5'11", well-built with dark wavy hair and brown shining eyes which danced with excitement. His voice was rich and deep and dramatic. He was magnetic and marvelous. He had huge hands with which he gestured all the time he was talking. It was as if he were always on stage - theatrical with his voice and body. He oozed self-confidence and pride. I was mesmerized and if I failed to learn anything about Levecars, I'm sure that was because my brain was supersaturated with Al the person. When he finished speaking to the little bunch of us standing around about his project, he turned to me and said, "How's your project going?"
I was amazed. It turned out that not only had he noticed me but that he had listened to my talk. He then grinned and said, "You told us it was electrons but I think you must have meant neutrons." I'm sure I blushed, and then laughed. Science wasn't my forte. But our friendship started then. I was so flattered that such an Adonis should be interested in me. I was the exact opposite to him - plain, shy and lacking in self-confidence. I was wearing a gold and brown plaid dress that I had made, with a huge gold key-pin on the collar. I wore flat shoes because I was worried about being tall. I was also skinny with a small bust and hardly any hips. My hair was medium-length, brown, which curled reluctantly with a perm and the aid of rollers each night. My best feature was thought to be my eyes which were dark brown, but since I had to wear thick glasses, about
all that showed above the frames were my very heavy and unruly eyebrows which my sister said looked like crewcuts. I had dimples in both cheeks and in my pointed chin. I never for a moment considered myself attractive and my lack of success in dating thus far seemed to confirm my opinion.
After we became aware of each other, Al and I spent the rest of that day together. Everyone looked at me with new respect, I thought. When evening came, nobody was surprised to hear that Al's project had won first prize. I had managed to get an honourable mention. The winners were to come back to our school in April for the State Science Fair. Al made an arrangement to see me again then.
In mid-April, the day for the State Fair finally came and I arrived at the school early, anxious not to miss a moment of my time with Al. He hadn't
contacted me at all during the month, which disappointed me somewhat, but with living 50 miles away I decided that it wouldn't have been easy for him to do so. I'd forgot to give him my address, after all. When he finally arrived at the front door of the school carrying his project, he sort of half-grinned at me. There was an older couple helping him which I assumed to be his parents. He continued into the hall without saying a word to me and I was immediately flattened. All my dreams all my hopes, and he couldn't even say "Hi."
He set up his project and soon was going through the same process again of
explaining it and showing how it worked for the many interested people who were attending the fair. I worked up my courage and went over to him. He seemed very natural and happy to see me again. It was as if the intervening month had disappeared. He was as friendly and attentive as he had been before and I glowed. It must have showed because one of my teachers, Sister Eileen, called me aside and said, "Stop making a fool of yourself. You're wearing your heart on your sleeve." I didn't care. Not a bit. It was just like the number one hit song at the time by Johnny Mathis, "Wonderful, Wonderful". We again spent the whole day together and when it came time for the banquet in the evening, I arranged to sit next to him. I had a new, very pretty dress for the banquet, Cobalt blue, appropriately enough, but Al said, "Why haven't you worn your
checked dress with your beautiful key-pin?" I was a bit hurt at his criticism but at the same time pleased that he'd remembered what I'd worn the previous month. When the awards were announced, Al again was declared the winner. His prize was a trip to Indianapolis for the National Science Fair in early May. My science teacher Sister Maxamine, being the head of science in the host school would be going with him.
"You'll send me a postcard, won't you?" I asked Al when the day was finally
"One?" he said, excitedly, "I'll send you half a dozen."
The rest of the month crawled by, and although I didn't hear from Al, I thought about him all the time. One of my friends said she'd seen him in town with a girl whom he seemed very attached to, but I decided she must have been mistaken. If he'd been in town, he would have contacted me, I knew. Just before the day when they were to leave for the National Fair, I bought a good luck card, and had all of my friends whom he'd previously met at the other science fairs to sign it, and gave it to Sister Max to give to Al.
I received one postcard, and then another and another until I had my promised six. I was elated. I could hardly wait to talk to Sister Max when she
returned to find out all about it and him. But before I had a chance to, she had told her morning chemistry class all the news and they were delighted to pass it on to me. "Your so-called boyfriend hasn't won but he had a good time. His steady girlfriend, who is a Lutheran minister's daughter, was his major topic of conversation. He wrote to her each day and called her every night. What a joke on you," they said. I was hurt, but having such a poor opinion of myself to start with, I suppose I wasn't really surprised. He had just been friendly and kind to me. That was all. But before I got him out of my system, I decided to send him another card to thank him for the postcards. On the bottom I put, "Give my best wishes to your Lutheran minister's daughter girlfriend." I wanted him to know I
knew all about him, and after I mailed it I felt a bit better.
I didn't forget Al however, and after months of hearing nothing I'd given up any hope of his having remembered me. Then out of the blue, the next Christmas I had a card and letter from him. He was at at Wartberg College in Iowa. I wrote back, immediately, but then nothing happened. The same thing happened the next Christmas and the one after. Twice he tried to call me, but each time I was out and he never followed it up.
The next summer I went to answer the door one day, and there he was. Al was bigger, stronger, darker and more wonderful than I'd remembered him. “I
wonder if I could borrow your library card," he said by way of explanation for being there.
"Of course," I said, and went to the library with him.
Later he said, "I have tickets for a play tonight. Would you like to go with me?"
“I'd love to,” I said, not adding my thoughts which were, “I'd go anywhere with you,” but I expect my look said it for me.
“I'll pick you up about seven," he said and drove away. (to be continued)