New Year’s Eve, 1980

reo-speedwagon-you-can-tune-a-piano-but-you-cant-tuna-fish

Where were you?

“Hey!!” It was three minutes into 1981, and the cute blonde was coming at me with arms flung wide — for the third time. As we mumbled “Happy New Year” to each other yet again, she held on just a little longer. I suddenly got the picture, but I was a sixteen-year-old geek, and theoretically, this should be impossible. My eyebrows shot up, even as I noticed the smell of her fabulous golden hair. 

I am now turning 50, and my New Year’s Eve party of 1980 has proven to be about the best party I have ever thrown. (Well, my 49th birthday was pretty cool, what with the jousting.)  It was only the second party I had ever hosted. The other consisted merely of a handful of 14-year-old boys and one can of beer. Where did I get the idea I should try again?

In 1980 I was a junior in high school in Racine, Wisconsin. I was taking all senior-level classes and hanging out with a whole new group of friends — the straightest, smartest, dullest clique on campus. Maybe I thought, What could go wrong? My dad must have thought the same, because he not only sanctioned the party, he also excused himself and left the house to me. “Good night,” he said. “Have fun. If anything gets broken, heads and legs will follow suit.” I wrote that down and posted it on the front door.

So how did it happen? I still don’t get it. First, the whole Senior Nerd squad showed up, all of them, though I was only friendly with a few. Then the Geek clique appeared. Next the junior-class Dorks arrived, with whom by rights I should have been hanging out. And then the Stoners showed up. And everyone brought drinks and snacks. The Doritos were ankle-deep. The Dr. Pepper flowed by the gallon. The Pioneer stereo blasted REO Speedwagon and Styx at window-rattling volume. In the garage, even some alcohol and pot was discreetly consumed. The toilet overflowed. A couple broke up. And a couple started dating.

The cute blonde was Lori Breitsprecher: small, cute, smart, funny, and a senior. And, apparently, interested in me. As we stepped apart, she slipped her hand into mine. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. We talked aimlessly about the party until Amanda, spotting the hand-hold through a mob of leaping teens, plowed through the crowd and shouted “Hey, you two!” My hand sprung open. Lori took it back.

“Oh! I know!” I said. “Here, follow me.” I led her to the nearby sofa, sat her down next to me. “Here, check this out, it’s hysterical,” and from the coffee table I snatched up my dad’s copy of Dirty Words dice game. I dumped the dice into the cup, shook-shook-shook, and spilled them out across the table, among the M&Ms and Fritos. “Go ahead, make a sentence!”

I watched her profile, her finely-traced eyebrows furrowed, her delicate mouth pursed. She stretched an elegant hand tentatively toward the table and reluctantly shifted a few dice around. “YOUR” – “STICKY” — she blushed, and started over.  “PLEASE” – “PUT” – “HOT”.

I grew impatient. “No, no, come on, like this!” I took over and quickly assembled “PUT” – “YOUR” – “HOT” – “STICKY” – “THING” — She swept the dice away, turned and blushed deeply. “Oh, c’mon!” I cried. “Where’s your sense of humor?”

She turned suddenly toward me, looked straight into my eyes — which is a trick, because mine are kind of crooked — and said “Some of us are going out for pizza Friday.” “Cool!” I said, and returned her gaze. What pretty eyes, the brows now arched enticingly. She was starting to smile, her braces peeking between her lips, and I wondered what a kiss was like. I realized her hand was back in mine. Suddenly nothing seemed impossible. “Oh!” I blurted, suddenly getting it. “Can I take you out for pizza Friday?”

“Why, I’d be delighted!” she replied. “I’ll pick you up here at six.”

That’s how we started. Six weeks later I left for Greece with my father. In between, I completely abandoned my heart to her. Looking back, I see it was a pretty lopsided relationship. I may, in fact, have been a fairly useless boyfriend, but I was crazy about her. Our relationship did not survive my twenty months overseas, and I shed many bitter tears over many lonely years.

We each eventually found peace and joy with our own dear spouses — at least I know I did; I’ve never actually met hers. Still, it took me decades to sort out the highs and lows of those tumultuous years, as it does for most of us. I was blissfully married, and hadn’t thought of Lori for some time when, in 2003, I saw the preview for the film “Butterfly Effect”. A guy has the chance to go back in time and try to fix things regarding his failed relationship with a cute, small blonde. Now, I don’t deal in regrets: I am quite content living the life I actually AM living. But suddenly I was overcome with the thought, “What if I had it to do over again?” After a few troubled nights, before putting such things behind me for good, I came to a conclusion. If I could go back and change one thing, I know exactly what it would be: New Year’s Eve 1980. I would still have left her to be with my lonely father overseas, but I would never have touched that stupid dice game.

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2 thoughts on “New Year’s Eve, 1980

  1. Thank you. This and other stories on your site are beautifully written and overlap forgotten memories and a too-short friendship (Johnny’s Fisiks class, 1980.) I think maybe I was at this nerd party too. But I was too focused on someone else to notice everything that was happening around me. Like the kid in Ferris Bueller who stares at a single dot in a Seurat painting only the dot was a dark-haired girl name Linda. If you had to do it again, you would play a different movie too. I don’t know which one, maybe nothing or maybe just a different one. I should see if I can find your email address, get in touch every decade or so. Keep up the writing and may God bless you! — Brian N.

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