The Writers Voice
Michael L. Russo
It was warm. It was unexpectedly and comfortably warm. The winter was no winter. For spring had arrived way too early for mid-January 1981. I remember it being unseasonably warm, in the 50's and 60's through the early part of that winter. I was in high school. A senior, mid-way through my last year. A few months earlier, I had just landed a steady job at the Texas II Fish House. I had moved my way up the corporate ladder to Senior Cook, exclusively responsible for steaks. Fish and hush puppies were elementary, but steaks were the ultimate responsibility. I took my position directly behind the owner, who himself cooked some as well but also oversaw the kitchen help like George S. Patton. I remember him as the General, despite looking back now and realizing he was only a young 24 years old.
A steak could be fixed any number of ways and the difference between medium-well and well- done could bring chastising from the waitresses after they themselves were ridiculed by the upper-crust of the hillbilly community of Trinity, North Carolina. Those fortunate enough to spend one payday a month dining at the fish camp (formally Dan's Auto Garage) were not going to tolerate an under-cooked sirloin.
Life was grand for the most part. I knew that high school had become a breeze. I only needed a few more credits to graduate and the fact that my grades were holding up nicely, I knew for sure, high school was all but over. I looked forward to walking in my cap and gown as soon as June rolled around. The tensions of home were more than I could handle. Our house was full with my dad, step-mom, step brother and two step-sisters. My real sister was fours years older than me and had already moved away and recently gotten married. Home life was not what I'd call pleasant. The constant below average grades and overall lack of discipline of my younger step siblings had thrown my father into regular fits of rage and the frustration of witnessing my step-mother sweeping their short-comings under the carpet made my presence scarce whenever possible.
My solution for my late-teen predicament came in the Navy's Delayed Entry Program. I had just recently signed up for a 4-year hitch in the Navy. It was an answer to the nagging question posed by every adult I came in contact with around those times, A What are you going to do when you get out of high school? Now I could say, AI'm going to join the Navy?
One of my fellow employees at our one-star establishment was
Billy. He also had aspirations of joining some branch of the military. He was
leaning towards the Marines, which knowing Billy was no surprise. However, he
was only a Junior and had another year and half to change his mind. Mine was
made up for sure. The economy at the time caused nearly half of our male
graduates to join the military. It was the best thing going at the time, given
the interest rates being in the double digits and the job market becoming all
The later causing the most respect. Billy had a girlfriend. Her name was Madorie. I had no girlfriend, though God knows I wanted one. I was incredibly shy and my confidence level rivaled that of Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith show. I had dated a few girls in high school, but came to find out later that I wasn't forward enough for them. My romantic ideals of dating never included taking a girl to bed. I thought about it, mainly at night in my bed or in the shower. But doing it was well beyond comprehension. I dated one girl in particular whose mother insisted with borderline rage that we not go see an R-rated movie.
The three of us actually sat down with the newspaper and picked out an appropriate film for our enjoyment. However, the daughter stopped seeing me after the first night because I didn't go past first base with her on the first date. Her mother might have intimidated me. Or I obviously watched too much “Leave It To Beaver” in my formidable years and my worldliness had obviously not caught-up with me by my last years of high school. However, in the long run, it hasn't effected me as an adult; at least not that I'm aware of. Billy, however was a much more worldly fellow than I at the time and I wonder today if that has effected him in any way.
My lack of a steady girlfriend didn't get me down too awfully bad, knowing in the back of my mind I was leaving the small town of Trinity for bigger and better things. I really didn't need the ties of romance standing in the way of the zeal and adventure of life in the navy. I was ready to leave home, if for no other reason, then to get away from the stress of my family.
Billy and Madorie's romance was hot and heavy though. Often times she would meet him at work prior to the end of the evening. She was quiet, soft, beautiful and serene. She was short, freckle-faced, and curvy in most of the right places. What she lacked in an under-developed upper torso, she personified with a full, extra padded, round backside. I tried not to dwell on her established, enticing attributes, especially in the presence of anyone else-primarily Billy. I liked her, despite how much she may have slightly lit my libido. Her personality was pleasant and peaceful and to a shy, introverted guy such as myself, I found it very comforting and attractive.
Madorie was Billy's girl though and he was not shy in letting anyone know it. Their affection was as physical as society would allow in public. Kissing, petting, and stroking were the norm out in the back by the rat-infested dumpster after closing time at the fish camp. At first I wondered about the validity of their relationship and how far the physical supplemented the emotional when they weren’t together.
Near the middle of our school year and work year, Madorie
would recognize me between classes and smile at me and wave a hand of
acknowledgment to me as we passed in the hallway. I liked her wave and her smile
simply because she saw me and knew I existed. That was a far cry from what I
normally was used to with the female form in high school. All of my friends in
school were for the most part guys and I had no aggressive plans to make the
first move with any attractive girl I may have dreamed about the night prior.
The usual conversation amongst young men had to do with some sort of profanity or public scolding of one of our teachers because of a lengthy assignment they may have hit us with recently or a grade we didn't deserve. Sometimes our conversation was halted by the unanimous stare towards a voluptuous young lady. The follow-on sounds of, A mmm or A oh, yeah...I'd like to get me some of that would undoubtedly be the bridge that led us losers to our next subject after she was once again out of sight.
One morning near the middle of the school year, I found myself alone holding up the wall near the cafeteria. Another bus in a long line of buses stopped in front of the school. Halfway through the precession of kids climbing off, Madorie made her appearance and began to walk near the cafeteria right in my direction. A Was she headed my way?” I asked myself. A Would she acknowledge me? No, instead she walked right up to me, dropped her books on the other side of the tall trashed can I was supporting and asked, A Hey, have you seen Billy?
I said, A No, his bus hasn't gotten here yet. I was petrified! I wasn't sure what to say next. However, she rescued me and began small talk in which I was honored to follow with. Within what seemed to be 30 seconds, we said a few words and smiled a couple of smiles at one another. Then, as if scripted, Billy's bus arrived and he strutted off like a victorious prizefighter after a successful bout. He strutted up, gathered up his submissive girlfriend and together they disappeared around the corner. The next day followed nearly in the same fashion. However, Billy’s bus was delayed by a few minutes and our conversation proceeded with a few more sentences.
As the days went on, this morning meeting became somewhat routine. For some apparent reason, Madorie’s bus started arriving much earlier than usual. My friends must have taken a cue and failed to muster themselves along the cafeteria wall. As well, Billy’s bus took longer and longer to arrive. The first few days and weeks, I’d pray that Billy’s bus would come quickly, basically due to the fact that I was tongue tied by my awaiting female partner. My nervousness had a tendency to take my breath away. However, as the days and weeks progressed, Madorie’s ritual of getting off the bus and heading right to me began to make me feel more comfortable. We talked.
Then we talked some more. Then we’d talk even more. We’d talk
about our lives, our dysfunctional families, or dreams after school, our likes
and dislikes. It was some of the most comfortable conversations I’ve ever had in
my life. However, after what became approximately our half-hour every morning,
Billy was certain to jump off his bus, walk towards us and break up the
conversation in a slightly obnoxious manner. This was usually followed up with,
“C’mom Madorie, let’s go.” He’d grab her hand and always away they’d go.
We talked more and more about all the things that were important in our lives, and with few exceptions our desires, our wishes, our frailties were very similar. She even opened up some about Billy, but I never felt comfortable about feeding that flame or dousing it for that matter. I’d give Billy just enough rope to hang himself. But, I insisted on letting whatever merits I possessed stand on their own.
On the weekends at work, Billy and I continued to get along
fine. I had no animosity towards Billy. Sometimes, I actually felt sorry for
him. However, my jealousy reminded me it was lurking just around the corner
every time Billy touched Madorie and every time they went off to the back of the
parking lot to kiss and do whatever they did. Billy would often make suggestive
comments surrounding the physical conquests he was able to achieve with Madorie.
This made me more than angry, but at the same time more determined to make sure
I was there every morning waiting for her to get off the bus. It was a comfort I
more than relished and on the few occasions Madorie didn’t get off the bus, it
ruined my whole day.
Her absence was usually due to a doctors appointment or due
to the fact that she got a ride from her father.
Some days, fellow workers or friends would happen by and the group we ended up forming seemed to terminate our personal conversation and bring one or two others in to strike up another. I wondered if she appreciated it when others came by and joined in or if she felt like I did and wished our own talks could go on forever in private. I didn’t want to discourage friends from coming up to talk with us. I just felt that part of our special world was being invaded when they did happen by.
Near the end of the school year, Madorie’s visits to the fish camp at night started becoming less frequent. I wondered how the relationship was going with her and Billy. I certainly didn’t want to be the direct cause of their break-up, if it was to occur. But our meetings in the mornings continued and the comfort among ourselves became second-nature as we started and progressed in our talks.
June arrived and I was somewhat sick with fear, knowing our lives could no longer continue together and realizing I had precious little time to express my feelings for Madorie. I was joining the navy and she was staying in school for another three years. It was inevitable that we’d never really keep in touch and that our lives could never be completely intermingled.
I have trouble recalling exactly which day it was, but I assume it was very close to the last day of my senior year. The day started out like all the rest as I pitched myself up against the cafeteria wall and waited for her to step off the bus. Like clockwork, the bus rode up and she walked up to me, smiled an excepting smile and dropped her books next to the trashcan as always. We talked. Then we talked some more. We laughed. Then we laughed some more. Each time and throughout the conversation I thought how beautiful she looked and succumbed to the empty feeling that we’d never again have these days. All the plans and thoughts of how I could extend my days with her rattled through my mind. But it was not to be. She was Billy’s girl and I was leaving.
Then, out of nowhere it came. I simple notion that flowed from her lips. “You know something? I really like talking to you.” She said it in a determined fashion, and one that suddenly brought a certain acknowledgement of the several months we had together. That it was not all for nothing. I simply returned, “I like talking to you too.” And like the first page of the last act of a play, Billy strutted off the bus. The scene played out, as he came to greet us both. “C’mon, Madorie, let’s go.” Together, they proceeded to depart. “See yah,” she said a final time and turned to walk away, grasping the arm of her suitor. About twenty feet away, as they both marched off toward their homerooms, she turned her head and looked at me and smiled. She kept her head turned long enough to convey the only thought I’d ever need for the rest of me life. She told me through her glance that what we had mattered. She liked talking to me!! That in itself was heaven enough for me.
And to think I never laid a single hand on her. I never
touched her….or had I? Maybe I touched her in a way Billy never had. Maybe I
really had more of her than Billy had ever hoped for or even realized. I think I
had and I knew then that I could leave. I was satisfied in a certain way. For
one, for outdoing Billy. For the other, satisfied in my own mind that I could go
on and live my life, knowing I’d never have her as my own. But knowing also that
I had a piece of her heart for the rest of her life. For a moment I smiled,
turned and picked up my books. It was certainly an indescribable feeling. It was
warm. It was unexpectedly and comfortably warm.
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