Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Love Day

I've never been much one for artificial holidays. Valentine's Day, for example - OK, it's a Saint's Day, sure, but it's mutated into something far beyond that, almost completely divorced from its origins. And it is almost completely meaningless, except for those who are alone, or for those who are not alone and have forgotten that there are some expectations attached to February 14th.

Each of us carries personal holidays with us. Birthdays, anniversaries, dates that are important to us and to those around us. Or sometimes, only to us.

April 5th, 1984 was the day that I fell in love for the first time.

I'm gonna name a name. I think it's OK, since it's a common enough name, and a Google search will reveal lots of hits that aren't her - I've checked, of course.

Her name was Beth Cooper, and we were at the Lock Haven Model United Nations. A Model U.N. is a cross between a huge speech/debate competition, a role-playing game, and a wild party. There's lots of prep work that each team - each "delegation" - has to put into it, and sometimes the organizers will throw curve balls at the participants. Individuals get a chance to shine in presentations, and teams get to play out strategy by forming alliances with other teams. Gather several hundred extremely intense, highly intelligent high school Juniors and Seniors from dozens of different schools in one spot and lots of interesting stuff is bound to happen.

Beth and her schoolmates were the representatives of Belgium. She was the "Belgium Bunny", and at 4'8" and agonizingly gorgeous she lived up to her nickname. My team represented China, something I found difficult to do - to wrap my mind around how a Chinese Communist representative would behave. I found myself automatically voting against the U.S. delegation whenever possible, except on those rare occasions when somehow the proposals of the U.S. or their allies meshed with what I imagined were Chinese interests.

A war broke out during our General Session, and it took some fancy maneuvering on my part to avoid having China get seriously damaged. Turns out there were an awful lot of lookalikes for whoever the Chinese leader at the time was, and one of them - a bus driver from Hunan Province - got assassinated by mistake.

A big part of the Model U.N. structure involved note passing. Runners would pick up notes from one delegation and pass them to another delegation elsewhere in the auditorium. These notes were usually coded, cryptic personal messages that had nothing to do with what was actually going on.

Maybe I impressed Beth with something I said or did. Maybe she just felt like flirting with some random guy. I don't know.

She sent a note to me. I excused myself and met her outside. We talked. I fell in love.

Love is irrational. Love is mad. Love is wanting to vomit, and dance, and sing, and fly, all at the same time, and being pretty sure you might just pull it off. Anyone who ever asks "Why do you...?" when it comes to love - well, I feel sorry for them, because I don't think they've ever been there.

I don't remember much else from those two intense days in Lock Haven, other than the "Lock Haven Effect": whenever a group of people are engaged in extremely intense activity in the same location for a two-day period, they will tend to perceive the events from the first day as happening in "the morning", and things on the second day as happening in "the afternoon", as though the night were just an extended lunchtime. It happened then, and it happened the next year, too.

I left Lock Haven with Beth's address, and she had mine. We wrote to each other throughout the year. I figured I might never see her again, but the effects of having met her stayed with me.

I began to lose weight. A lot of weight. And I felt like I had woken up after being asleep for a long, long time.

I started dating. I started doing things. I decided to take a chance and apply for the 1984 Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences at Carnegie-Mellon University - and damned if I didn't get it. Five weeks of intense study with very bad cafeteria food will help you to lose weight, too.

When my Senior year rolled around I joined the Wrestling team. I was on the Wrestling, Speech, and Model U.N. teams all at the same time. I starved and sweat and bashed skulls with the other wrestlers (our motto was "No pain, no gain; no brain, no pain"), even though I was in the Heavyweight category with no real chance of falling out of it. But still I pushed, and pushed, and pushed. I got contact lenses, too, for the first time in my life.

I went to the Lock Haven Model U.N. again in April 1985 and saw Beth in line at the registration table. I cleverly placed my briefcase on the floor in such a way that if she turned to the left she would knock it over and see me. She turned to the left, knocked it over, looked at me, and apologized profusely without recognizing me. I was pleased.

I saw her in a row talking to John Morgan, a guy I knew from previous Model U.N.'s who lived in the next town over from me and who had also flirted with Beth the previous year. (Beth was from somewhere in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, while John and I lived in the northeastern corner. Beth probably had flirted with a lot of guys the year before, not just two guys who happened to live ten miles from each other.) John was on her left. I sat down about six seats away on her right. I put down my briefcase and called out a cheerful greeting to John, calling him by name. He returned my greeting, calling me by name.

Beth's eyes got real big as she finally recognized me.

The rest is an anticlimax. We didn't run off and happily-ever-after. We barely spoke at Lock Haven that year. Afterwards we exchanged letters for a while - this was in the prehistoric days before e-mail - and I lost her once or twice. Found her again by phone during my Sophomore year of college, when she was living with a boyfriend - that was kinda awkward. Called her again a few months later to see how things were going, only to get her boyfriend, who told me she had just left him, and he was feeling suicidal. I think I talked him down. Or maybe he was just bullshitting me.

I think I heard from her one last time a few years later, from somewhere in Florida. I may have my timelines confused.

I Google her once in a while, looking for artists, actresses, doctors, or teachers with her name who also match her general description. I don't think I've found her fingerprints yet. Maybe she'll Google herself someday, and find this, and realize who I am, and decide to get in touch with me. Maybe.

I met other people at Model U.N.'s. Rindi. Rahat. I know how their stories have gone - I won't say ended, because neither of them are done living their stories yet.

But what has become of Beth Cooper is a mystery. She was the first woman I ever fell in love with. April 5th, 1984. A date I will always celebrate.

Happy Love Day, everybody.


rimalicious said...

I know a girl named Rahat in Fresno, CA.

rimalicious said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
C.F. Charity Cycle said...

I found this blog just by typing in my birth date (5th April 1984) which is pretty sad i know, but i found it to be so engaging that i read the whole page. I figure that someday Beth will be at the same stage of boredom i am right now and google her name and find this page. After that ...who knows

Sara, Ireland

D.B. Echo said...

You picked a great day to be born!