To the reader: This is a very short tale that isn't your usual First Time story. It's a story about first heartbreak not first love or first sex. So from that you can infer that there isn't any sex in this story.
This story is the result of an exercise from the book Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan. Its purpose is to train the naked eye and the imaginative eye. "The naked eye provides us with sensory, concrete experiences. The imaginative eye opens up other worlds." I was to write a short description of something found in my home or office. I wasn't to describe what it looked like so much as how it made me feel; the memories that it conjured up, the emotions that it invoked, and so on. And at the same time tell a story about the item.
Thanks to jo for editing.
© Copyright radk (May 2012)
On the wall in my office is a framed poster from the 1969 Woodstock concert - '3 Days of Peace & Music,' the poster announces in bold white letters. Under the glass, lying on top of the poster is a single 3-day event ticket, a little worn around the edges but still showing the unused August 15th, 16th, and 17th stubs. The poster is not original but the ticket is. This is one of my most prized possessions and has a place of honor in the center of the wall amidst a lifetime of awards, certificates, and photos of myself with prominent people from the last forty-some years. Everybody knows about Woodstock. Movies have been made about it, books have been written discussing it's affects on American culture, and it's even turned up in our everyday language to define a generation of rebellious and fun loving young men and women: The Woodstock Generation.
Very few people pay attention to the poster but every once in a while someone will ask about it and I tell them this story: Every word of it 100% true.
In the summer of 1969 I was 17 and had just graduated from high school. For a graduation present my parents sent me to stay with my mother's parents in Kansas. From the minute I got there at the end of June, and for the three weeks I stayed there, the temperature never got below 95 degrees. I was miserable, coming from the more temperate climate of the east coast. But what made me more miserable than anything else was that I wasn't with my girlfriend, Carolyn. She was back in Maryland and I was in the center of the American wheat belt sweating from places that I didn't even know I had. All I could do was think about her and see her beautiful face in my dreams. I couldn't run my fingers through her golden hair or feel the touch of her fingers or kiss her soft lips. She was 1,300 miles away, but also there in my heart at the same time.
Now to top off the miserable heat and the heartache of separation, I was going to miss her 17th birthday. I had planned on something quite spectacular as a present but not being anywhere near her put a major crimp in my plans. I figured that I'd do something temporary while I was gone and when I got back I'd spring my big surprise on her. She loved the Beatles so I sent her their latest album with a love letter telling her how miserable I was without her. It wasn't much but it was all I had.
The present that awaited my arrival back home was the idea of my sister. At the time my sister worked as a secretary and office assistant for a local radio station, WPGC. One of the things she was responsible for was the care and distribution of the little prizes that listeners won on the station's on-air contests. They gave away autographed albums, watches, sweat shirts, movie tickets, and occasionally concert tickets. By the way, I had one of everything they gave away thanks to her. Anyway, in July of 1969 the station acquired 40 tickets to a fairly unknown concert in New York called Woodstock. The station management didn't think that the listeners would go for the tickets because the venue was so far away so they decided to distribute them to the staff instead of offering them as prizes. That's how my sister came into possession of two, three-day tickets to Woodstock. She wasn't interested in going so she asked me if I wanted them. I jumped at her offer.
Let me say right now that I wasn't what you might call a long-haired freaky gnome, or a pot-head, or anything like you think inhabited a 1960's rock concert. I was more of a momma's boy but I loved the music on the radio. Carolyn and I would spend hours listening to WPGC. We loved The Beatles, the Stones, The Doors, CCR, and dozens of groups that have fallen into obscurity over the years. Our favorite song was While My Guitar Gently Weeps by The Beatles. We would sing it together in harmony. Now if you ever heard me sing then you would understand why no one ever wants to hear me again. Back then it didn't matter. Carolyn loved when we sang together.
When my parent-imposed vacation was at an end I came home and prepared my surprise. I wasn't sure if Carolyn's parents would let her go 350 miles from home for a weekend, but I was determined to make the offer and try my hardest to convince them to trust us. Convincing my parents was going to be another matter, but one step at a time I figured. Maybe I'd end up making the offer but not going. I knew she'd love the gesture anyway. Today we call it a win-win situation.
When I got home from the airport that evening I called her on the phone and we talked long enough for my mother to yell at me to "quit hogging the phone." We talked about my trip and other trivial matters. I told her how miserable I was without her. I wished her a happy birthday again and said that I'd be over the next day with a big surprise, another birthday present. She didn't sound as happy as I had expected.
When I called the next day to say I was coming over she rocked my world by what she said. She said that she didn't want me to come over and she didn't want to see me again. She said that she would bring my ring back some day but I wasn't to come over or see her ever again. I didn't know what to do so I did the only thing I could think of: I got into my car and drove over to her house as fast as I could.
When I got there I saw a little black VW beetle parked in front of the house that I knew didn't belong there. Carolyn was standing on the porch and there was someone standing beside her. I walked up to her and saw that she had this hurt expression on her face. Maybe it was more of a worried expression, but her beautiful smile was definitely gone. The guy next to her put his arm around her waist and stood there staring down at me with a stupid smirk on his face. Carolyn told me that this was her new boyfriend and she was breaking up with me. She held out my ring. I wasn't thinking straight and didn't know what to do or say. She just stood there with a worried expression and he just looked down his nose at me smirking. I did the only thing I could think of and got nose to nose with the guy and said something stupid. I don't remember what I said, but I do remember exactly what he said back to me. He said, "Don't Bogart me around." I wasn't sure what he meant and I'm not sure he did either. I looked over at my now ex-girlfriend and she was silently mouthing the word "Please" over and over. I interpreted that as her not wanting me to start anything physical right there in her front yard so I did the only thing I could think of, I turned and walked away. I can still remember to this day, more vividly than a lot of things in my life, the sound of her new boyfriend laughing at me as I walked to my car.
I was devastated, crushed. You can't know what's it's like to have the love of your life rip your heart out and shit all over it right there in the front yard. And the sound of his laughter as I walked away haunted me for years. I went home and sulked. I was sitting on my bed feeling sorry for myself when I saw the Woodstock tickets on my desk across the room. I got up took one of the tickets and tore it into a thousand pieces and threw them all over the room. The other ticket I stuck in a drawer and promptly forgot about, until years later.
My girlfriend never knew what I had planned.
A month after being dumped and a week after Woodstock I turned 18. I celebrated by driving to the drug store and picking up a couple magazines and the latest Batman comic book. The magazines had a few pictures of Woodstock but it was still mostly articles about the Apollo 11 moon landing. On the way home I drove past my ex-girlfriend's house but I didn't see her. Hell of a way to spend your 18th birthday, stalking someone.
I had a reunion of sorts with her a few months later. I met her at school one day and at the end of her classes we sat in my car and talked and listened to WPGC. Yes, I was stalking her at school. It was almost like old times, but somehow different, more subdued. Somehow I convinced her to come back to my house for a while so we could talk some more. I knew my parents weren't home yet so there was the chance of a little more than talking. To make a long story short we ended up in bed. Afterwards I drove her home knowing that the little sex we just had was either a rekindling of what we had before or sympathy sex. It turned out to be the latter, and worse. She was comparing me to her new boyfriend and I didn't measure up, penis wise. She said so!
A while later I learned she had an abortion. I don't know if the baby was mine or not but I do remember we didn't practice safe sex when we were together that last time. Not knowing the answer has always bothered me. I also wondered what her new boyfriend knew.
Over the years since the summer of '69 I've bumped into Carolyn on a number of occasions, all quite by accident. By then I was way past stalking her, I had moved on and found a new love. But, it was as though some cosmic comedian was constantly rubbing my face in those painful summer memories, not allowing the past to die away. Pain goes away slowly, but it does go away. I just didn't need reminders to pick away the scab.
The Woodstock poster and especially the 3-day ticket, serve as a reminder of what was lost and what might have been. I might have gone to Woodstock and maybe had a life changing experience, or at the very least I would be sitting here in my old age telling my friends truthfully that I went to Woodstock. Maybe things would have been different between Carolyn and me, and I wouldn't have lost someone who I loved so dearly. Maybe we would have stayed together and even gotten married. And just maybe now the sound of laughter behind my back wouldn't dredge up heartache and pain. At least I wouldn't have a bunch of crappy memories about the summer I turned 18.
If you look closely at the bottom of the poster you will see a small yellowing piece of paper stuck in the corner of the frame. It's a poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken. For me, Woodstock was the road not taken.
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.