I met him in Sea Scouts, which is I think affiliated with the Boy Scouts and was a group of high-school kids, a few adult sponsors and a 76-foot double masted schooner that we sailed from its moorings in the Panama Canal around the Pacific bay that fed the Canal.
I joined Sea Scouts because my best friend Julie and her brother were in it and there was a party one night by Julie's house for Sea Scout people that I went to with her and the boys in Sea Scouts were cute.
Ken was at the party. I don't know why he talked to me. I surely would not have talked to him first because he was a senior and I was a sophomore and he was tall, muscular and cute. Muscular in that "I do useful things with my body and that builds nice muscles" as opposed to the "I waste a lot of time in the gym" muscular. His tan made his blue eyes sparkle like the ocean on a sunny day. Or like something blue that's pretty. I found him online because I am a superstalker and can find just about anybody and his eyes are still as blue as they were over 30 years ago. Based on the woman he has his still-muscular arm (that is attached to his still-muscular shoulder) around, he also still likes slightly chubby blondes. He has a type.
But talk to me he did. We started talking about records. I had a record at home he wanted to hear. Right. Because my musical taste was so sophisticated. Remember I am the one who, during my senior year of high school, took the $42.51 that I got in cash at the back of Woolworth's every Friday straight to the record department to buy a new Neil Diamond record. But maybe he liked ABBA, which was what I had in stock my sophomore year.
I said I could go home and get the record and he said he could walk with me and I thought wow, what's that all about? but I guess he wanted to spend time with me, which was weird. Because he was cute. A cute boy. Talking to me.
He asked me out. He picked me up in a car and drove me to the movie theater at Albrook AFB. The car was a big deal because you had to be 17 to get a driver's license in Panama. Only the Big Kids had licenses.
Not that not having a license was an impediment to getting around. If our parents didn't want to drive us somewhere, we just took the Panamanian bus, aka the chiva (goat and no I have no idea why it is called a goat bus and I really don't know why "chiva" means "goat" because I thought "cabrito" meant "goat" but heck, there are at least four words in Spanish for "tripe" and I know them all because I never ever want to eat tripe again) bus, which was painted with about a gajillion bright colors, had fringe hanging on the windows and usually had a name like "Marisol" or "Luz de Mi Vida" painted in script across the top of the windshield.
It cost about a dime to ride the bus. Our parents would usually drop us off for swim meets but we would take the bus home. It only took one time of standing with Julie at the bus stop in nothing but our swimsuits, shorts and towels to realize that we should probably bring more clothes next time, as we really did not like hearing the Panamanian men shout, !Ay! Chica americaaaaaaaana! and then make that sucky-kissy noise at our half-dressed bodies.
Ken took me to the movies. We saw Animal House. So romantic. And so influential. Who knew I'd have my own Double Secret Probation blog years later? He must have kissed me then, although I do not remember our first kiss. But kiss we did.
He asked me out again. Took me to a casino, which is not as bizarre as it might sound because casinos in Panama were just one more thing that people did. I don't think there was a minimum age to get in. If there was, the authorities were quite willing to look the other way. Not that I cared about gambling. Even then, I had a strong intuitive sense of probability and statistics and knew that gambling was not a good way to hold onto or increase my hard-earned, one dollar an hour babysitting money.
The Panamanian casino wasn't too bad. I didn't see the truly seedy side of casinos until I was forced to go to Las Vegas to pick up a friend on my way to California. She suggested we walk through a casino or two and I was shocked at how tacky they were: people were not dressed nicely (unlike in Latin America, where when you go out, you go out, and in Miami, a decent Cuban woman does not go to the grocery store or an exercise class without lipstick), they were not pretty and glamorous like they are in the movies, and the cigarette smoke just about choked me.
What I do remember from that evening is what I wore: a blue sweater and a pair of white slacks that I borrowed from my friend Barb. And that I stained. And did not have dry cleaned before I returned to her. Oh the shame. Why couldn't I have returned them to her a few days late, along with the apology that I had gotten them dirty and had taken them to be cleaned? It's amazing that she ever talked to me again.
Ken and I quickly moved from weekend dates to necking at lunch behind the chemistry building. I would eat my fried empanada, slug down my Tahitian Treat or Purple Passion soda, then we would sit on the stoop and kiss and kiss and kiss.
Oh it was fun.
Until one day my mom looked at the rash on my chin and asked, "What is that?"
My hand flew to my chin. "What?" I answered.
"It looks like whisker burn to me."
I had never heard the term "whisker burn" before. But I knew as soon as I heard it exactly what it was and how I had gotten it.
The next day at school, I told Ken that he had to start shaving every day or I would not kiss him.
We necked at school, we necked at the Gaillard Cut, we necked on the Amador Causeway. We necked on the Chief Aptakisic, the Sea Scout ship. We necked belowdecks while my dad, who was one of the adult sponsors of Sea Scouts, steered the ship. Ken had to return to his sailing responsibilities when my dad told another Sea Scout to go find his first mate, dammit, and tell him to quit necking with his daughter.
I don't think we talked a lot. I don't remember having many conversations with him. We did not have an intellectual connection, although he is not unintelligent. I think his plan was to go to Texas A&M, which is not anyone's safe school. He must be doing OK now because he seems to spend a lot of time sailing on a very nice yacht. Oh yes cyberstalking is one of my pastimes. Fake names, people. Fake names online. Unless you want a high-school girlfriend finding out about your life 30 years later. And I suppose if you aren't doing anything to be ashamed of, then being found wouldn't be so bad.
But he was nice. He was a nice, cute, high-school boy and when he told me two weeks before the prom that he didn't want to go out with me any more - we were sitting on the steps in front of Balboa High school, a beautiful building with a pillared porch and red roof tiles - I was wearing a purple gauze skirt with a purple and green floral pattern blouse with gathered shoulders, both of which I had sewn myself, and yet he wanted to break up with me! maybe if I had been wearing the green crinkle cloth sleeveless jumpsuit with the D-ring fastened belt instead? - he was not taking any pleasure in the conversation. I have had men - grown men - just stop calling, so Ken had more guts than some others.
He broke up with me. I wasn't going to get to go to the prom. He hadn't actually asked me, so I should have been a little suspicious, but I didn't know how these things worked and had just assumed that because we spent our lunch period necking that we would also go to the dance together. We had gone to the Sadie Hawkins dance the month before, but I had asked him. It's possible that he realized that just kissing wasn't enough to carry a relationship and he wanted to go to the prom with someone he could actually talk to and who would be able to talk to his friends. He was a Zone kid, which means he had been born in the Canal Zone and gone to school there his entire life. He had longtime friends. I had been living in the Zone for under two years.
There was this girl in my gym class, Frieda, who had long red hair but was not that cute. I was cuter. Really! She was a senior. She would always ask me, So how is Ken? and I would wonder why she was asking me this stuff because what was it to her and it wasn't like she was my friend or anything.
He took her to the prom.
I took grim satisfaction in the rumor/news later that he had spent the night in jail after being pulled over by the Panamanian cops for something probably really minor. Haha! That's what you get for breaking up with me.