Though fifty years have passed since I’ve said good-bye to Melisa, not a single day passes when I think of her. It was my first day in fifth grade, when I first laid eyes on her. It wasn’t her looks at drew me to her, but her last name: Howells. It so happened that Melisa’s older sister, Becky, was my sister’s best friend, and when I heard her name called out when Mrs. Funk, the fifth-grade teacher had roll call, I turned to see the face of that familiar name. The moment I laid my eyes on her, I was enraptured. Her soft brown eyes and light brown hair accented her budding breasts. It was at that moment she stole my heart.
Now a normal eleven-year-old boy would at least say hello to a girl they liked, but sadly to say, I wasn’t normal. To put it simply, on a scale from Hermit to Casanova, I made the hermit look great. So, for the entire fifth grade, I sat glued to my chair, occasionally glancing back at Melisa, ever wondering how we could meet.
When sixth grade came around, I found myself eyeing other girls, fascinated by how they physically developed and changed from having cooties to becoming the center of my attention. Even with these new distractions in my life, I was still only drawn to Melisa.
Life went on and I continued to only sneak glances at the girl of my dreams. Then one day, something changed. A week before the last day of school, I happened to glance back at Melisa and found her giving me dreamy eyes. As I turned my head to meet her face to face, she shot her head down and stared at a book on her desk. My heart skipped a beat as I thought to myself, “She likes me. She actually likes me.” The best part was, I had the whole summer to figure out what to do next. At least that’s what I thought.
The Fourth of July came and soon after, news I didn’t want to hear. Melisa’s mother had died from cancer. I felt terrible for her, figuring she lost the only mother she had, never to have another. All the plans I conjured up to talk to her went out the window and decided to replace them with improve.
Summer vacation came to an end, and I found myself in seventh grade. I’d grown two inches over the summer and began to grow hair in various places. Even though my body has taken a step closer to adulthood, my mind was still that of a child’s, and thus still afraid to talk to Melisa.
One day, in the cafeteria, I saw Melisa talking to her friends, and recalled what happened to her mother. Without thinking, I walked up to her and said, “I’m sorry to hear about your mother.” She thanked me and as I left, her friends asked her how I knew about what happened. Before her voice disappeared in the crowd, I heard her explain how our sisters were friends with each other. After that, seventh grade was a repeat of sixth grades, but before summer came again, I formed a new strategy.
Along with a sister, Melisa had a brother, Kevin, who was one year older than her. So, in wanting to get closer to Melisa, I decided to befriend her brother.
It was a simple matter of getting to know him. Kevin was a smart, sociable person with one minor quirk. He had all the makings of a hippie. Long hair, outdoorsy, bicycle riding freak, he was a fun guy. Now I just had to get to know him outside of school.
As soon as summer vacation came, I rode my bike to Melisa and Kevin’s driveway. Their house was in the middle of nowhere, and the driveway extended deep into the woods, leaving their house invisible from the road. Not having any idea of what I should do next, I decided to wait.
Two hours dragged by before I heard someone walking up the driveway. I jumped on my bike and pretended to pass by when I saw Kevin step into sight. We greeted each other and he invited me to his house. Part A of my plan worked out perfectly.
Knowing Melisa’s house was in the middle of nowhere, I assumed it would be an old farmhouse at best. I couldn’t have been more wrong. What lay in front of me was a well-kept two-story colonial house with an attached garage. In front of the house was an inground pool and to the left was a ski lift ascending a hill. But the most exotic thing there was an indoor squash court to the right of the house.
Before I could sample any of this, Kevin led me into the house and introduced his family. Paul, his father, had remarried to a woman named Katie and of course, Melisa was there. I’ll never forget the first words she said to me. “I bet you were waiting for someone to invite you here.” Was she joking or was my plan so obvious? As of today, I wonder what the answer was.
Now that the ice was broken, I became a regular visitor. Though Kevin thought I came to visit him, it was Melisa I really wanted to see. So, along with hanging out with Kevin, I spent as much time with Melisa as I could.
During my visits to the Howell’s house, I learned to play squash. Most times I could play with Kevin, but my most memorable moments were those when I played against Melisa. Still, I can recall her form, her strength, her beauty, as she swung her racket at the ball. Her heavy breathing was music to my ears, and if I fell flat on the floor, her laugh elated me, encouraging me to try again.
And then there was the pool, where we dived and swam together. Each time she jumped from the diving board, I could only see a beautiful swan dressed in a black bathing suit, wings extended, cutting through the water, allowing her body to follow. It was the most wonderful summer I ever had, but like all good things, it had to come to an end.
Eighth grade came and still I held back from talking to Melisa in class. Only when I went to her home, did I dare to speak. Like before, we would spend time swimming or playing squash, but when winter came, it was time to go skiing on their hill.
Being a poor country boy, I had no idea how to ski, but I refused to let that stop me. Kevin lent me a pair of skis and instructed me on how to use the lift. It was a simple device consisting of a rope with handles tied to it and a pulley system at the top of the hill. Ascending the hill was easy enough, but going down was another story. By the time I finished skiing for the day, I wish I had a pillow tied to my butt. The frosty air burnt our cheeks leaving them bright and rosy, but Milisa’s cheek glowed with happiness and joy. When I gazed upon her beautiful face, I wanted so badly to kiss it, but fear strangled my desire. Instead, I went home only with the memory of a wonderful day skiing.
For the next few years, it was a repeat of the last. I grew in body, but emotionally, I was stuck. Other classmates would pair up and declare themselves as boyfriend and girlfriend, but for me and a few others, we were destined to live alone. So, I thought until twelfth grade arrived.
As for Melisa and myself, it would be our final year in high school. As for Kevin, who was a year older than me, went away to college. Now when I went to visit the Howells, it would be only Melisa and myself. We didn’t play squash as much, instead we spent our time talking to each other or riding bikes.
As autumn fell upon us, Melisa and I decided to ride our bikes one more time before the weather turned cold. Melisa led me to a place I hadn’t been before. It was an old ruin of a house surrounded by trees. We got off our bikes and looked beyond the ruins to the setting sun. We stood there, side by side, motionless, gazing at the wonderful sight. The moment had come. All I had to do was put my arm around her waist or touch her hand, and she would reciprocate. A kiss would surely follow and from there our love would blossom. A simple movement and touch, but like a statue, my arm laid still at my side. The moment passed and we returned to her home. How cruel time is, never leading us to the past, always thrusting us forward. Graduation came and new horizons stood before us.
One Saturday night in August, I went to visit Melisa. While we were talking in the kitchen, her father came in for a moment. When he was finished speaking, he all but said I could spend the night with Melisa, if I wanted to. He said good night and left us alone. The room was lit by a single light, leaving long dark shadows on the wall. We continued our conversation and it turned to drinking and smoking. Again, opportunity arrived and again I failed to act on the moment.
That night I went home and as it turned out I never saw Melisa again. She went to college on the other side of the state, and I went to a local college. Life went on and I found another love in my life, and that time, I didn’t hesitate. We married and lived a wonderful life. During that time, I attempted to find out what happened to Melisa, but it was as if she never existed. No marriage announcements or obituaries. Her father passed away and Katie remarried and disappeared. I did find Kevin's whereabouts, but I decided not to take a chance of tainting my memory of her. I am thankful for my relationship with Melisa, for it prepared me for the woman who is in my life now, by making realize nothing ever happens unless you take a chance. Thank you, Melisa, for coming into my life. If you ever read this story, remember, I’ll always love you.