I was a senior in high school in the fall of 1969. I had just returned from a summer as a camp counselor at the Lake of the Ozarks. I was restless. I was ready for a change, but I didn't know what. It was hard to go back to high school one more time, to sit in class. I felt like I was just marking time.
The highlight of the day was concert choir. This audition-only group met for an hour very day around noon. I was so excited to be part of this exclusive group. There wasn't a lot in my life at the point that made me feel special, but choir did. I wasn't one of the best singers, but I was a reliable alto, that could sight read well, and blend my voice with the rest of the group. The music we sang was interesting and challenging. I looked forward to that hour every day.
Early in the year I started noticing a boy that was a tenor in choir. Bob had dark curly hair, and a beautiful voice. He was new to our school. Who was he? Normally to get into choir you had to try out the year before, but Bob must have tried out when he enrolled at the start of the year. I started watching him from afar.
Bob was also in a drama class I was taking. One day we were split into groups to practice scenes. Our school had open courtyards and Bob's group was practicing their scene out in the courtyard. I still had not actually spoken a word to Bob. I was just watching him. He seemed kind, friendly and sometimes funny. During the course of the scene Bob ran around, laughing and waving his arms. He was wearing a red plaid jacket and a strange thought entered my mind. "He looks like a big plaid butterfly," I thought. And then I had an even stranger thought. I'm going to tell him that!
I think you have probably figured out by now that I was a very socially awkward teenager. Looking back on that confused lonely girl, I cringe in embarrassment for her. Most of the time when I write about stuff in my blog I don't really think about who might read it or what they might think. But it's hard to write about my seventeen year old self without wondering what other people might think of me.
Because yes, you guessed it. A couple of days later, one day after choir, I walked up to Bob. "Remember that other day in drama class?" I said. "Well, you looked like a big plaid butterfly." Before Bob had a chance to say a word I turned and walked away.
I don't really remember the first real conversation I had with Bob, but sometime soon after that incident he started talking to me. Before too long we started to become friends. Many people would have decided I was just a goofy girl and not spent another minute talking to me, but Bob decided I was worth his time I guess.
And it didn't take much longer before I had a terrible crush on Bob. I would go over to his house and he would take out his records of famous opera stars and play them for me, alternating with Joni Mitchell and The Incredible String Band. We would be listening to all this wonderful music and it would be all I could do not to lean over and kiss Bob right then and there, but he never made a move, and I was way too shy to take the first step.
Bob introduced me to some of the people that he had met. I went to a very large high school; there were 600 people in my graduating class. So in spite of the fact that I had been in this school district since 8th grade there were plenty of people that I didn't know.
Bob had met a group of kids that could be called the hippies of my class. I don't really know what made these kids so different from the rest of the teenagers around them. Maybe they really weren't that different. But they seemed different and exciting to me.
What did we do with ourselves that year? Memory is a very strange thing. I remember going over to Stephanie's house and sitting around, listening to music and talking. I remember one evening when the big event was going to Howard Johnson's en masse. I remember a sunny day walking around in Babler State Park.
But mostly I remember Bob. Driving down to the Central West End, walking around the fancy stores, talking about who knows what. Standing around in the hall before choir as Elliot ran up to us, waving the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album, shouting, "You have GOT to listen to this!" Going over to Sandy's house and meeting her evil stepmother. Watching Bob eat baby applesauce because it soothed his throat. Sitting on the curb in front of my house, crying together over Bob's first true love.
Because Bob was gay, and it was not an easy thing to be gay in the late sixties. I think Bob knew all along that he was gay, but he just didn't want to admit it. He liked women a lot and had lots of girl friends, and sometimes even a "girl friend" but he had never been in love before he met Mark. We were crying because things with Mark weren't working out, because Bob was gay, because I knew he would never be mine, because I loved him, because life seemed so tragic.
That last year of high school was over very soon. Bob went off to Denver University, majoring in voice. I went off to the University of Missouri, trying to grow up. We still saw each other occasionally. I went out to Denver a few times and of course Bob came back to St. Louis too.
But then Bob's parents moved again. I saw him one last time on a visit to Denver. He was slowly coming to terms with his sexuality. He had met a boy and seemed happy. He kissed me for the first time and for some reason I started laughing. My desperate crush was over, but the love was still there, the love of a true friend.
I lost track of Bob for many years. During the AIDs epidemic of the mid-eighties, a friend went to one of the AIDs quilt demonstrations and heard Bob's name read aloud (he had a very common last name). For a long time we thought he was dead.
In the late 90's however, I received an email. Bob had found me on the Internet. He was living in New York City, working as a paralegal, had a steady boyfriend and a English Bulldog. He had started his own small opera company and still sang upon occasion. He sounded happy and content. I was so glad to know where he was and what he was doing. It was great to know that he had made a good life for himself.
When we moved to New Hampshire we started traveling to New York occasionally, seeing shows, shopping, eating, enjoying the city. Sometimes we would meet Bob and Steffen for dinner. Our dogs even had a play date one time! We had a good time together, reminiscing and talking about our current lives.
The last time I saw Bob was about a month ago. We had dinner on a Friday night. Lee had a meeting in New Jersey on Monday. On Tuesday I flew back to New Hampshire, and Lee went over to Asia to work for a couple of weeks.
Wednesday morning I received a called from Steffen. Bob had died in his sleep the night before.
I am still somewhat stunned by Bob's death. He had really only recently become part of my life again in any real sense, and it just seemed so strange to think that he was gone. The teenager with a crush on a cute boy couldn't fathom that he was dead, and really neither could I.
The boy with the curly hair and the angelic voice is gone. I'm so sad, sad for him, sad for Steffen, sad for everyone that knew and loved him. Rest in peace, Bob. You will be missed.
Hi Lynn, Your story moved me to tears. I remember you as a little girl vividly in my mind on Uncle Al's shoulders the day we took you to the zoo. Our Hanukah celebrations were special at Dena's house, or as the years went by at other family member's homes. And then it seemed, everyone grew up and got involved in their own lives. I miss those years together, but I am so happy that we are able to reconnect when we visit Mark & Amy.ReplyDelete
You are truly the muse of our clan. How lucky both Bob and you were to have this wonderful friendship.
Lynnie, I am so sorry to hear about your friend. What a shock that phone call must have been. I remember that story, back when we all stayed up late and talked about everything. Miss you dearly and wish I was there to give you a hug. xoxogailReplyDelete
Very nice tribute Lynne. Did I know Bob? I went to Central that year too, but was just as socially awkward as you describe.ReplyDelete
Thank you Gailie and thank you Aunt Ray.....ReplyDelete
Hi Lynn, I saw your post last week, but haven't had the courage to read it till now. This month has been very, very difficult.ReplyDelete
I was very moved by your words, and I'll never forget that we had dinner with you and Lee just a few night before Bob died. I only remember how comfortable I felt at dinner with you, Bob, and Lee. And then less that a week later Bob's life was over.
I'm having a memorial service for Bob on Saturday November 10 at 4 pm. It will be at Holy Trinity Church, 20 Cummings Street in Inwood. The following Monday I will be going to Denmark for 2 weeks. I'll be back by November 27th.
My beautiful dog Teddy is sleeping on the floor next to me, the cat is on the bed under a blanket. I have to be here for them and everyone else we know.
My regards to you and Lee,