The Mysterious Matthew
...So said Matt Zuniga on the day when I admitted to having gone out with a girl. It was the first such instance in the seven months or so that we had been hanging out as co-workers and frustrated, exiled drummer wannabes. But really, it was more the first time in my nearly 19 years that I had gone out with a girl, with any hope of it turning into anything of a relationship.
Matt had a very unfiltered manner of speech. By the time I met him, he was already 20 and I was a newly minted 18 year old. He came on like a total character. Since I never saw him as a younger fellow who might have been tempered by the presence of his folks, he came out of nowhere and blindsided me with some of his outrageous comments and behavior. I think I've told some of those stories on this journal, and you might do a search for Matt Zuniga if your curiosity is so perverse.
Being a pretty uptight kid myself, and being hopelessly optimistic about my um, prospects with Shelby Duncan starting on December 18th, 1988, I didn't really look long at other girls. She too exploded on the scene for me that evening and by the time of this date in 1992, the essential parts of our 12-year drama were written, rehearsed, and nearly mastered. We were never an item; rather she kept me at some distance and we never did so much as a kiss. That is, outside of my imagination. But make no mistake, I was as committed to her as anything, particularly during the period shortly after our graduation from high school in 1991. (She was at Mission Bay and I was at Madison. We were also peers separated by just nine days in October—me on the 12th and her on the inverse of those numbers, the 21st, so that lent some poetic air of closeness too, possibly in lieu of the real important stuff.)
Melissa, the Patient One
In the background, there was Melissa. She's the daughter of Mark, a younger friend of my old man's from the days before either Melissa or I were born. Mark and my old man worked in the same factory at Solar Turbines and the social times carried on for some years. They used to live in Clairemont and I do recall faintly some times when we were at their house. They moved to the suburban tract of Mira Mesa in 1984. At the time that was on the fringe of civilization, or so it seemed. Melissa, about two and a half years my junior, was a play pal on some occasions when our dads got together to kill time, nothing more. Because Mira Mesa, just nine miles away, but about a world away to those of us growing up in our little suburban zones, was so far out, I basically forgot about Melissa for years.
Then sometime in early 1991 she called me at home, apparently having raided her folks' address book (that piece of technology preceded such items as we now take for granted, like smart phones and iPads. It was made of paper.) I guess that as a 14 year old, she was just curious and excited when she recalled I was a sometimes playmate. At the time, I was about to play a talent show at school and I might have mentioned it. She might have come down. At any rate, she did manage to notify me of a time when her grandmother, a singer in the Sweet Adelines (a barbershop style singing group for women) was to be singing at some flag waving rah-rah fest at the school football field not long after the first Gulf War came to a close. It was one of those times when she wanted to sneak around the back side of the bungalow where no one was looking. I don't know if she really had an agenda. She was way too young and even a year or two later did not seem ready to act on that kind of impulse. But it was clear she wanted to get closer somehow. And that kind of weirded me out.
First off, there really wasn't anyone but Shelby on my mind at that time, and nothing was going to pry me away. Shelby was a contemporary of mine and a far deeper personality that even I was intimidated by. She was also impossible to get close to, even at half the distance of Melissa's place in Mira Mesa. I can't say I ran from this attention but I brushed it off as a little misguided. I guess she dropped it. I don't recall hearing from her for over a year.
And then, one Sunday morning at the end of June 1992, I awoke to a thunderous earthquake timed in such a way as to interact with a rather stirring dream of Melissa beckoning me to join her. It was one of those odd dreams when external stimuli (the earthquake) gets integrated into the dream. I shot up bolt upright. It was something of a revelation. At the age of 18, not having closed any deals with the opposite sex—and really, not even dating, it must have been rumbling in the subconscious that something had to change. Was this some kind of advertisement for Melissa being easy? Or was it some message that I need to stop with the Shelby illusion, er, delusion? That day I had to think on what it meant. I guess there was just one thing to do since the message did not seem to leave me to my own devices. I called Melissa. I offered to pick her up and go to the University Town Center mall, a place about equidistant from both our places. I'd pick her up around 11 the next day. I gather she did some kind of happy dance finally.
Was I just acting because this was all available to me? Was I really interested in her? Was I just curious? Yeah, probably all that. Melissa was a slightly rounded girl-next-door type who was into all the girly stuff. She was into fantasy fluff. Endless Disney movies. Radio dedications on the soft rock station. Who knows. Aside from being B students with dads who worked in the same company, I don't feel there was all that much glue between us. Sometimes you have to just leap into the river and see where it takes you.
I had to ride my bike to my grandparents' place about three miles in the other direction so that I could borrow my grandfather's Ford Escort. Their cars were somewhat available, but because I had a car accident at the close of the first month after I got my license, they were a bit shy of letting me drive too much. Well, that was nearly two years before and the caution had faded. Good luck for me because I had a date with destiny.
That week I had some interesting gastronomic issues. My journal is put away nice and good at the moment but it caused me some distress. Eating was not all that rewarding. So I went up to Melissa's place to pick her up, feeling queasy. Or was it just the anticipation for the experience about to unfold? We drove to UTC, about halfway back to my house, and I suppose we strolled the place, ducking in and out of shops like people are programmed to do. I do recall we got to Sears (the one errand I had to make so I could get some new ribbons for my word processing typewriter that was recently worked hard with the production of my first fanzine, the Rhythmic Catharsette.) We were looking about and in some rather unfortunate coincidence, she twirled around with her purse just as some kid went whizzing by. Her arm and purse put a pretty quick halt to his running around. She was profusely embarrassed and apologetic, no doubt because she was putting on her best face for the day, no doubt a long time in the making.
At some point we got to the food court and set about having lunch. Was it a gyro sandwich? A hot dog on a stick? A slice of pizza? Taco Hell? Probably a gyro since that was where I first learned to enjoy the spiced meat and fluffy pita and veggies and creamy tzatziki sauce. We were sitting across the table from one another, chatting the small talk. It was never very deep with Melissa. I mean, she was 16 at that time and still very much under the sway of her father, a rather stern guy who could be loving, but always in control. I suppose he let her go out with me because of our history and he felt he could keep me accountable somehow. But then in a moment, somewhere as we're finding our eyes locking up more, I reached out and grabbed her hands and spent a good while holding them. It was electric. I don't know that it was because I was enthralled with this one girl. It was just one of those threshold moments that would have to happen sooner or later. But it was happening now. It was happening at last. Of course, she was receptive to it all, and I guess the world did get all soft and blurry and slow motion around us. The moment did seem to distort time for a while.
Boys Might Be Boys
I never really obsessed about being in any competition with guy friends about who'd get with a girl first. I never really was part of a crew where that was talked about much. Not until I met Matt, and even then it was more of a one sided thing where he regaled me with his tall tales. I was too uptight to engage in that, even as a matter of fiction. Still am, I guess. But after high school sent me on my way, and after one year taking my community college courses, and having spent time at Subway for about eight months, the sense that time was forgetting that I might need some companionship was upon me. I mean, here I was, nearly 19 and nothing but a few casual times out with a girl or two during high school (that led no where else) was all I had to show for anything of a love life. I was quite aware of it all. That year after high school was one of great alienation. A loss of the barely existent social life I had in school was acute; the distance between me and Shelby (who was by then in Northern California attending school, hosted by her step dad) and Steve Rau (back at home in Germany, where I was set to visit in just about two weeks from this first day with Melissa) was all too much at times. Having Matt around was small comfort. We had no history. He was not even nice to me sometimes. He was so contrary to my sensibilities that I was sort of embarrassed to be seen with him but glad that we spent any time together, else it would be a pretty desolate existence.
One thing that would have been on my mind that season was the insane anticipation leading up to my trip toe Europe on July 14th. It was to be my second trip, and this time around, it was the trip that was by far my own initiative. It drove me to slave away at Subway, and to put up with Matt. In fact, it was one of those things that could well have been the end of all history. I had no plans of what to do upon my return except the vague knowledge that I'd start another school semester, look for work, and go out and play drums with Matt. My trip to Germany was so big a deal that I could have died after that. (I'll have to tell that story in another entry soon.)
Maybe my gray void following the trip was something recognized by the universal powers that be and maybe I was rewarded with Melissa's arrival on the scene. Telling her about plans to fly on the 14th elicited a plea to not go. Ah... the drama mounts. My heart began to know conflicting desires. But really it was a no brainer. I had already paid for my trip. I had spent a year in agonizing anticipation, hurting at all the experiences on the path to Germany. Sorry, but no girl was going to talk me out of it. The ball was already in play. Melissa's arrival on my scene did of course create a cause to become homesick where for that dark year, all I wanted was to escape San Diego and to get on my big adventure, my first solo trip—to Germany! Of course, it was more important to connect with Steve Rau, who had become perhaps my best friend to that date, doubly notable because he was male. The six weeks that we could spend together on untold adventures had all the gravitational pull of Jupiter.
Eventually our little moment at the food court returned us to real time with crisp colors. But walking out of there, hand in hand, and with a heart racing, was surreal. Driving back in the Ford Escort, it was a good thing I did not have to drive stick, or else the hand holding would have to come to an end. I don't recall if the first day at the mall ended in what became one of our signature half hour goodbyes out by the car in front of her house, but that was soon enough to come. After I left, I went home, no doubt buzzing with adrenaline and hormones. I had a date with Matt and Shelby that evening.
Dangerous Mixing of the Elements
The day before, I took a small drumset out to a commercial area in town called Kearny Mesa. Light industry, warehouses, offices, and all that. I was making early explorations into finding a place to play drums. This building, the Volt building, was the first that held promise and set the standard for places we'd use for a couple years to come. Slightly hidden area to play; AC power outlets for plugging in music to play to; hidden from weather, and unoccupied at nights and weekends. Having found it to my liking on Sunday, I told Matt we should go there together and do some Rhythmic Catharsis jamming on Monday the 29th. I may have only mentioned to him—sheepishly so—that I was about to go out with Melissa.
It was the news of the day when Matt and Shelby and I convened on this Volt building, and before or during some break, in the long daylight of the post-solstice summer days, we were eating some of Shelby's weird vegetarian concoctions and I was expected to give a debrief on the day's events. Matt, ever Matt, decided that my coy answers were not cutting it. How could I kiss and tell anything when we'd not even kissed? So Matt just barged in with the question, "So Ed, didja PORK her?"
That might have been a bold enough question in the company of each other at work or playing drums together, but man...that was a loaded question for me, especially in front of Shelby. I mean, Melissa was just a diversion from my longing for Shelby. And I had not even had my desired experiences with Shelby yet. (Nor was I ever to have them.) Part of me wanted to run from the question. Part of me wanted to smack Matt pretty good. So I gave the only answer I could give: an embarrassed and squeamish "NOOOO." I guess now was not the time to bring up that I was saving myself for Shelby. Meanwhile, Shelby, who never wanted anything of the sort with me, probably saw this as the golden opportunity to offload me onto someone else. I'm pretty sure she encouraged me that way, asking the kinds of questions that would cause me to hear my own voice speaking words of praise and fondness for Melissa, even protecting her dignity in my response to Matt's stunning question. It was almost a trap.
Shelby stayed a while, pretending some interest in what Matt and I played on drums and screamed at the tops of our lungs. Then she left. At least it was guy time again. Time to smack the drums with a newfound energy and passion. Aside from the obvious drama of the day, it was also one of the last times I was to play drums before leaving on my trip and I was channeling that energy. But the thought started to dawn on me that day: there might be a life after Germany after all.
There will be more tales from that summer. Melissa certainly held down the fort in terms of correspondence. I don't know if it's of any value to me anymore but I still have a box of letters she sent me, and a journal she wrote during my trip. I guess I can't complain about having an utterly unambiguous awareness that someone was thinking of me, wanted me, and couldn't sleep at night while I was gone. Coming out of the depressing and alienating year preceding our new time together, that was like fresh air and sunshine in my dark cave. These days I can barely stand to look at the words within (out of some kind of embarrassment that someone's looking over my shoulder, even Matt), or even how they're presented to me in the pen of a 16 year old girl, but there's something so remarkably pure and innocent and renewing in the message. I suppose I could do as I have done with a number of other documents and artifacts of my life, that is to burn it all. The day might come. But maybe in the overall record that has many troubled parts to it, I deserve to maintain some counterbalancing evidence that I was worthy of someone's devotion, particularly at that age, and even if I didn't pork her.
You gotta start somewhere.