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My Little Surfer Girl
My family moved to the West Coast of Saudi Arabia when I was thirteen. It was a few months after JFK was shot in Dallas and much of the unrest and disharmony of the ensuing years of the '60s. Living in the Middle East without television, no radio and a land in which the written and spoken word was Arabic, provided a cushion for the tumultuous times of the period.
This also meant for me that while my sisters were allowed private schools in Switzerland, that my father got to choose for me... a military school back in Texas. However, as I found out, my payback was to be that Christmas and summer vacations would be spent traveling back and forth through Europe to spend my summer daze in Jidda. Jidda, on the edge of the blazing hot desert, adjacent to the Red Sea. Which to my delight I discovered would be months at a time of Beach Boys songs experiences. Brian Wilson and I would discover ourselves together.
My parents immediately leased a three room, plywood and two by four beach cabin in a walled compound at the beach right on the water... a kitchen, bathroom with a shower head and drain in the floor and a large "bedroom/storage/changing" multi function kind of room. Basic third world construction to fleece the infidels with. But, wow, a beach cabin on the water...
The Red Sea was a virgin barrier reef with crystal clear blue waters teeming with life and colors and proclaimed by professional divers who would come to work there as second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in flora and fauna. In its shark population as well.
Summers were sandals, cut offs, t-shirts, Mopeds, spending days and nights constantly at the beach, parties on the roof tops of these great villas provided by the company for us ex-pats to live in. Sun tans, swimming pools, outdoor movies, and for many of us weekly parties at the American Embassy Marine Corp Security Guard Happy Hour.
Moreover, no one asked for an ID, for the most part, kids were allowed to party, but to a somewhat lesser degree, with their parents by default. Our parents did not have to worry about a bunch of unsupervised hormonal teenagers getting them deported out of the country and they could still have a semblance of control...
It was all girl, boy, lightly clothed, tanned skin, sun bleached hair fun and games. And, at that time, the politics were such that Americans were friends of the government and therefore the people, and we were all allowed to be ourselves and live like we wanted to as long as we didn't commingle with the Saudis. There were not really any rules, by parents or authorities other than respect the culture in which you are living.
One oven-baked hot night, the summer before I turned 17 right after arriving in Jidda from school, I was at a party with 50 or so kids on the rooftop of somebody's parent’s villa. It was after a long day of snorkeling, swimming and lying in that white hot sun with the first "burn" of the summer radiating off my Coppertone covered skin.
At that first hot desert night rooftop party that summer, it wasn't possible to not be hyper-aware of the desert, radiating heat into the 80's and 90's and of the girls, tanned bodies, skimpy clothes, and the smell of Coppertone, with "Help Me Rhonda" blasting over the rooftops.
Though controlled and rationed by the adults there was a little alcohol, and plenty of dancing and flirting and making out and young guys being young guys and young girls being young girls. I hadn't hooked up with a summer girlfriend yet and had been dancing and talking with a variety of girls that day at the beach and that night on the rooftop. It was late, and people started going home.
My little sister had caught a ride home earlier (Sandra later told me that she begged my sister to leave so she could be alone with me on a ride home) and there were only a few of us left at the party. I was finishing my drink and thinking about what a drag it was going to be leaving alone
I remember sitting in a chair pretty much in the middle of the dance floor by myself and becoming enthralled with this young goddess of a little surfer girl. She was gorgeous, popular, and had long straight sunshine blond surfer girl hair and a tan on a figure that girls graduating high school were jealous of. She had this sparkling laugh and bubbly personality, who smiled with her mouth, eyes and entire body... the girl young boys dreams are made of.
And the thing of it was, she was my younger sister's best friend who I hadn't seen for a year. She and my sister had been best friends for three years, but she had always been that skinny friend of my little sister so we had never said more than twenty words together. And now a year later, on the rooftop, on this first night back, I was so busy being intimidated by this transformative year on her. I couldn't think of a thing to say. My tongue was frozen. She was too much. A 10 and she was just turning 15. Wow, was all I could think back then.
Sandra was leaning with her hips against the low wall surrounding the roof and I finally noticed that she was watching me, and then she came walking over to that little chair and me. She came over, sat on my lap, put her arms around my neck and asked if I would give her a ride home... to my house, she was spending the night with my little sister! With my heart in my throat, I mumbled something lame. But somehow I got up. She filled me with her tan legs, her tanned arms, her bare midriff, perfumed hair, her Coppertoned neck and we walked out of the party as she held my hand in hers.
We left the villa and ended up parking for about thirty minutes, at first shyly making out. And I was in love. I was infatuated before making out, the minute her breast became exposed, I was in love. We got the little clothes we wore back arranged appropriately and I dropped her at my house where my sister was waiting to hear how Sandra had done.
I do not remember why, but I had some "guy" thing to go do, but when I got back home about 1:30 in the morning Sandra was up waiting for me, my sister soundly sleeping. Girls always seemed to know what and who they wanted and how to make that happen so much better than I I did at that age! We ended up in my room for a while, madly making out, but by then I was drunk enough that the situation was safe... I snuck her back downstairs past my parent’s room, to sleep with my sister and went to bed.
The rest of that summer, we were inseparable. Yes it was puppy love, but she was so much older than 14, and I was so much younger than 17. We spent that summer bathed in suntan oil, skiing, snorkeling and showering at the beach cabin with our folks, their friends, and the door open; lots of touching, bikini covered skin, kissing, discovering; I love yous and planning to see each other at Christmas vacation.
We never went too far, never broke the innocence of our youth, although it wasn't for lack of effort! Something or someone would always interrupt and stop us short. Which frustrated her more than me it seemed sometimes and I was one frustrated 17-year-old lovesick puppy. How could I not love this little surfer girl, who chose me, this beach girl that not even Brian Wilson in all his songs of angst could ever be with?
All of us went back to our various schools. Sandra and my sister to Turkey that year, and I back to military school. About two months into school her family left Jidda and I never got to say bye to Sandra or see her. My family stayed in Jidda, so I continued that routine, found other surfer girls to play with and my endless summer went on. Occasionally my sister would share a letter from Sandra with me and she would talk about me the way that I talked about her. Memories and unrequited love...
For the next 15 years Sandra, living in the Northwest, and I in the Middle East and Texas would call each other to see if we could get together. One of us was always involved when the other was not and circumstances never let us have any closure or discovery.
Then, after my divorce at 34, she also divorced at 31 and I flew to the Northwest for two weeks to meet this memory of ideal love I had carried with me for all these years. The beauty, we both thought, was that it was mutual. We both knew we were the one for each other, soul mates, life loves. Landing at the airport, she met me with a huge bouquet of flowers and a bottle of Champagne. She really did look the same. gorgeous, vivacious, still a 10, eyes sparkling, lips glistening, smiling. We wrapped ourselves in an embrace and kissed for ten minutes before we became aware of people watching.
She had children by then so we rushed back to the hotel she had booked and like the movies left our clothes from the doorway trailing across the suite to the bedroom and jumped on each other had the most playful sexual experience of either of our lives.
She was an extremely successful real estate agent, self made millionaire, work-aholic. The entire two weeks we were selling real estate or in bed or having quick sex in the lush forestry of the Northwest. But for her, it was all about the money. Her life had led her down a path which had brought to her men who proved untrustworthy and temporary so she had developed into a woman where men were "sheep in wolves" clothes," as she referred to them. A vague uneasiness began to settle in my world...
By the end of two weeks, it was an unspoken thought, held in denial by both of us that we had grown up with different values. What we had experienced in Jidda fifteen years previous and what we both had carried for fifteen years was the fantasy, the summer of youth and adolescence. Though it didn't slow the two weeks down a pervasive hollowness to our enjoyment seemed to deaden our fun like a wet blanket.
The night she took me to the airport to fly back to Louisiana, when we hugged and kissed goodbye, there were tears glistening in her eyes. But she was smiling and bubbly as always. I felt inside like she looked on the outside. Sorrow knowing we were not going to "work-out" but happy, content, joyful over the experience.
God, I had wanted this to work. For a long summer vacation and fifteen years, we had wanted this to work. But, we had grown into adults with different world views and to be together now would have destroyed all those great moments from the memories and imagination of the summer in Jidda and of the two weeks we had just had. So, neither of us saying anything besides "I love you, goodbye, thanks, it was great, see you soon..." I turned away and boarded my plane.
On the flight back, I spent almost the whole time writing a letter to mail when I landed, expressing all of those thoughts I had back at the airport standing with her. Most of the time I had those tears of Sandra's in my eyes. Like her, I felt a certain joy though and at last closure to our long lost love affair in that foreign place settled in. I mailed her that letter before I could change my mind when we landed and caught a cab home.
Three days later I received a letter from Sandy. It was dated the night I left, and she had written it at a bar in the airport mailing it there. It was almost a duplicate of what I had written to her. They were both love letters, full of gratitude and happiness for those two weeks, fifteen years and one endless summer. It was a statement of growth and development and of love. But a love that was not needful of the other's presence and a love that would have no ending. No shattered hearts, no words of breaking up. Just an acknowledgment that love is timeless and not specific or circumstantial.
To this day, thirty years later, she is still occupying me heart. I love her like no other and have no regrets... don't, wouldn't want anything to change given the chance to go back in time and relive it all. Moreover, the really neat thing is that the few times we have talked since, the feeling is mutual. She too shares the same perspective on the experience. Have I loved others, yes? Are they still occupying my heart, some yes.
But not like the first lesson of my first, unqualified love and acceptance of Sandra. My one and only fourteen-year-old Little Surfer Girl.