Few loves are more true than that of a high school sweetheart. Sophomore sessions of kissing on sofa were upgraded to petting during junior year and pledges of eternal devotion for the final year of high school. I was lucky enough to find myself in such a situation in the Spring of 1970.
Kyla Rotta was a cheerleader for our local high school football squad. Our hometown was south of the Neponset River. Boston lay to the north.
We had met during a CYO trip to the Montreal Expo in the summer of 1967. Our romance had outlasted the eternity of the late-60s with good reason. Kyla had a pixie haircut and lively eyes. Her figure rivaled the pin-ups on the Playboys hidden under my older brother’s mattress. Better still her mother was a divorcee and dated a Portuguese composer. They stayed out late at night, so Kyla and I spent hours on her living room couch in a state of disarray.
On more than ten occasion we achieved sin without losing our innocence.
One night I stayed past 2am. I walked home through the quiet streets of our South Shore suburb. The stars above chanted a symphony of love, until my father flashed his highbeams in my eyes. There was no running from him. We were going the same place. He opened the passenger door and said harshly, “Get in the car.”
I sat in the Olds 88 and he backhanded me in the face.
It was the first and only time that he hit me.
He was angry for a number of reasons. My mother was worried that I hadn’t called. It was a school night. He ended the tirade pulling into our driveway. My parents’ bedroom light was on. My mother was still awake. She had a hard time sleeping. My father parked the car in the garage.
“Go upstairs and kiss your mother good-night.”
“And secondly I pray that you’re not doing anything stupid with that girl. Kyla is a good girl. You remember that.”
My father was talking about going all the way, which was something I wanted more than anything else in the world. My father had converted to Catholicism to go all the way with my mother. He knew the price of that pleasure. They had six kids.
I didn’t tell anyone about how I got my black eyes. Kyla had her suspicions, but she liked my father. He was a good-looking man even in his 40s.
We were close. Our dates were movies, long walks, and dinners at the local dinners. Neither of us talked about the future. I was going to Boston College in the fall. She was attending UMass. We were still months short of 18 and time was measured by the change of semesters.
In April prom season fell upon us. Everyone was favoring Kyla and me to be King and Queen at the event. She asked me to the prom at church on a sunny April morning. I wasn’t a believer, but pretending my faith was easier than telling the truth.
“Well?” Kyla had a clear voice. She was in the choir. Some people said she sang like an angel.
“Well what?” I was surprised by my asking this question for the answer was a foregone conclusion.
“Well, are you coming with me to the prom?”
Yes was the only answer to the boy who existed before she asked the question.
“No.” I said the two letters, the one word, that no one had expected me to say, almost as if I wanted the world to shift on its axis.
“No?” Tears squirreled in the corners of her eyes. Saying ‘yes’ would wipe them away. Telling her that my refusal had been a joke would put a smile on her lips. She deserved both gestures. Instead I rose from the pew and walked out of the church never to take communion again.
My older brother later asked me, “What is wrong with you?”
My friends thought that I was crazy.
My mother yelled at me.
Everyone loved Kyla. I couldn’t tell them that I loved her too, because that admission would brand me cruel instead of stupid.
She called several times that afternoon.
“It’s not you.”
“No, it’s not.” Julie was the perfect girlfriend.
“Is there someone else?” Heartbreak rained in her voice.
“There’s no one else.” Kyla had saved me from the priesthood in my junior year by playing LED ZEPPELIN’s first LP at a monastery. COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN and her hand bringing mine to her bare breast exorcised my final attempt to reconnect with Jesus. I owed her big time and said in all honesty, “I have looked at another girl the entire time we’ve been together.”
“Then why are you ending us.”
“I don’t know.”
“Fuck you. You know you know why, but you don’t want to say.” The phone slammed down in my ear.
I called several times to tell her that I didn’t know why I wanted to end it with her.
It didn’t make any sense.
That night I didn’t sleep a second. Kyla and I were made for each other. I had told her no only to see what the world would be like without her. I was miserable.
In the morning rose out of bed at dawn. My father was sitting at the kitchen table. He didn’t have to ask where I was going. He had loved my mother at first sight.
I walked from my house by 128 to her home by Route 3. Several of my friends on their way to school offered me a ride. I refused, for my walking was a sign of penance. I showed up at her house before 7:30 and knocked on the door.
Kyla’s mother opened the door.
“I’d like to speak with Kyla.”
“About the prom.”
“Then you’re a little too late. She asked Pal Johnny to the prom.”
“Pal Johnny.” He was the quarterback and had won a scholarship to the state university. She was going to the same college.
“Yes, so do Kyla a favor. Leave her alone. You’ve already hurt her enough.”
“Yes, m’am.” I knew when I was beaten and beaten by myself. I left her street and headed back to my house. No one was home. I sat downstairs in the den and put on Led Zeppelin. My hands touched the air.
I’d never touch Kyla again.
I deserved nothing better for making a prom queen cry.