New territory 

Since the 30-year reunion last summer, my high-school boyfriend writes me e-mail now. Just a line from time to time, when someone we both knew shows up in town or to describe his business to me or to compare notes on our kids.

Back then he was a skinny kid -- popular, well liked, a little on the wild side, mostly by association with a rock band. High school was a wasteland for him, a place where teachers gave him D's and ignored his talent, where art, his passion, meant filling ceramic molds with plaster of Paris and giving the finished product a good paint job.

Back then I was the new girl in town, testing the territory of our big city high school, bouncing around socially from the jocks and cheerleaders to the rock and drug crowd, eventually settling on the intellectuals.

In 10th grade, I was his first love and he was mine.

After some wild times, a car wreck that almost killed him, a failed first attempt at college and, finally, an art school that knew its business, he emerged a successful graphic artist with his own business, a happy man with all the trimmings -- great wife, great home, great kids.

We greeted each other easily at the reunion -- both of us thicker around the middle, stunned and disbelieving at how old we are, how it just doesn't register in this fog of middle age.

Now he writes that his 17-year-old daughter is in love with a guy who seems OK, but every time they leave the house he looks at her and thinks of us, sneaking out the back door of my house, hopping the fence to the long, grassy field behind the Methodist church where we spent many hours discovering, hmmmmm, our bodies, ourselves.

It's new territory for me, he says. I guess payback is hell.

I try to think of how to respond, knowing, of course, that a mother with sons can't know the panic of a loving father watching his daughter walk away with the boy she loves.

I remember the night our daughter first went out on a date with a boy who was driving. Her father greeted him at the door with a hearty handshake, looked the kid straight in the eye and said: "Don't kill my daughter."

The poor kid looked like he'd been shot. Our daughter was mortified.

I tell my old friend that it is only natural for him to worry, but not to worry too much. His daughter has known his steady love and isn't going out looking for someone to verify her existence. She has enjoyed -- OK, maybe tolerated -- smart, modern parents who've told her what's what. She most likely understands that this is just one of many adventures in her life, full of wonder, full of possibility.

I tell him that I have teen-age boys the same age as his daughter, and that they're great, that they respect women in a way that thrills me, in a way that was new and foreign when we were kids.

What I don't say is that the memory of that grass field, surrounded by tall trees, the unmown grass slightly undulating in the moonlight, perfect and unperturbed, is one of the signposts of my life. That rarely in all the years since then have I felt as safe as I did then -- lying on my back, a lanky boy wrapped around me, beneath the eyes of God.

I remember that, in fact, we were relatively careful and safe and mostly just exploring. I remember that he had an outspoken older sister who worked for Planned Parenthood, a rarity in 1970. I remember that he wore soft, worn, starched cotton shirts. I remember the warm burn of my cheeks when we said goodnight under the carport awning. I remember watching his back as he walked away until he turned the corner for home and I could no longer see him.

I wonder if his daughter or my sons have a place where they can lie beneath the stars, unscathed, trusting, unafraid, conscious only of their breath, the wind, themselves and the ones they love. I don't tell him that if I could give them that time and place, I would.

I tell him that I worry more whether the girls my sons drive off with are good drivers with safe cars. I tell him his daughter is lucky to have a loving father and that he can never tell her how much or enough.

I take my cup of coffee out to the front porch. It's an unusually warm January morning. A teen-age boy with headphones and a backpack pedals his bike down the street toward school. He is whistling. His hands are stuffed in his pockets.

He approaches a stop sign and keeps pedaling. He barrels through the quiet intersection, never looking right or left. He turns up the volume. He doesn't miss a beat.

-- kathryn@csindy.com


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