Beatty Woods was a brand new neighborhood in the suburbs of Philadelphia in the early 60’s. The “suburbs” was a new concept then, and my family had just moved into what my parents thought of as their dream house. To my 6 year old self, the neighborhood seemed like a vast place compared to our previously tight-knit, narrow, row-housed one. The move seemed huge at the time and whether I was conscious of it or not, it meant navigating a new lifestyle, new school, new friends.
On one of the first days there, I was hanging around outside the house trying to imagine where all the people were. It seemed this neighborhood’s people kept themselves indoors quite a bit more. I was probably digging in the dirt with a stick, when I looked up and saw a boy about my age coming towards me on his bicycle. He confidently wheeled up, introduced himself, and said he lived on the next block. Then, he boldly asked me if I wanted a ride on his handlebars. I decided right then and there, that he was the most adorable human I had ever seen with his tow-headed buzz cut, cowlick, and sparkly blue eyes. And of course I wanted a ride on his handlebars. This isolated exchange was the beginning of an unrequited love that lasted almost through high school.
He grew up to be the boy every girl in town wanted. With his all American looks, tight body and football star status, he was a natural Romeo. Since we lived in the same neighborhood, as we grew, we often saw each other on Lawrence Drive where all the kids met nightly for games of dodge ball and ring-up. I was so quiet and shy in those days and felt I could never let on how much I liked him even though he was the first boy with whom I discovered that stomach—in—your —mouth feeling followed by a head to toe shiver when you are in the presence of your beloved. Alas, to him I was just one of the neighborhood gang.
When I was around 11 or 12, his parents hired me to take care of their sweet collie dog, Bonnie while they were away on vacation. The first day I let myself in with the key, I did what any 12 year old in love would do. I went into his bedroom. I felt like I had entered some kind of sanctuary as I inspected his things. It was as though I was doing something forbidden, and therefore exhilarating. As much as I hoped I would, I can’t say I discovered anything secret or exciting in there, but to my adolescent self, just being in that room felt secret and furtive. Something he would never know, but I would.
I saw less and less of him as we got older, especially since he transferred to a different school but I would occasionally hear some news about him or see him at a party. My shyness around him never wavered though, as I tried to gain control of my stomach whenever I was in his presence.
Later in life as an adult, I found him. It may have been a mistake to tamper with my memory. My bicycle Romeo had become a Jesus freak. Go figure. Even so, his boyish cuteness had aged well into such rugged good looks that as I recalled that first encounter of childhood romance, I still saw the same face that used to weaken my knees.
Childhood breeds the
longing for other
Romeos on bikes