L.K. Madigan (lkmadigan) wrote,
L.K. Madigan
lkmadigan

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A Kind of Love Letter

My deep and abiding devotion to Steve began in tenth grade.



“Hey, you have eyes like Steve D’s brother,” Mark told me. He whipped out the comb he carried in his back pocket and passed it through his feathered hair in three quick swipes. (I can see that little ritual in my mind’s eye to this day.)

“Who?”

“Steve D. He’s that guy in drama. Plays the guitar?”

“I don’t know him.”

Not long after that someone introduced us, and I said, “Oh! Steve D. Someone told me I have your brother’s eyes.”

He looked closer at me. “You do. Give them back!”

I laughed. Ever since that first meeting, Steve has always been able to crack me up.

Not long after that, I began to gravitate to the drama geeks. It wasn’t just because of Steve – I was fascinated by Eli and Patty and Leroy and all the others … so glamorous and cool. There they were, singing and dancing in front of the whole school in “Damn Yankees!” I didn’t want to sing and dance, but I liked being in Children’s Theatre. That was a class where we put on skits for local elementary schools.

I developed a mad crush on Steve which has never entirely disappeared.

Alas, in eleventh grade he fell in serious love with Darlene, who was a year younger than we were. She had shiny brown hair and big green eyes and I hated her. She was his first love – he even wrote a song for her called “Darling Darlene.” I guarded a flame of eternal hope that they would break up, and Steve would realize I was his soulmate. But it was hard to keep the flame alive when I was tripping over them in every corner of the campus, always entwined in one way or another – arms or gazes or tongues.

Did I mention I hated her?

I gave up on Steve-as-Soulmate. I developed other mad crushes and fanned new flames.

We had a big circle of friends in high school. I remember going to In-n-Out Burger after football games … midnight showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in Hollywood … parties and pranks and pimples … the smell of fresh-cut grass on the quad … journalism and dance class … passing notes back and forth with Steve in history class … my first date … my first job … good teachers and bad …

By the time we were seniors, Steve and I were cast as the leads on the school play, “You Can’t Take It With You.” (Although leads is stretching it. That play is definitely an ensemble.) We were the two young lovers, Alice and Tony. Alice came from a big family of lovable eccentrics, and Tony came from a couple of buttoned-down parents. I was delighted that the script called for us to kiss! But Steve’s heart was so enraptured by Dreadful Darling Darlene that I never enjoyed even the tiniest thrill from our kisses. It was like kissing any other random cast-mate.

All through high school, Steve made me laugh. And not just me, but everyone. He was one of those rare kids who is universally loved. He became the school mascot, so he was comfortable not only among the drama geeks but the jocks. Even the nerds and gang members thought he was entertaining. And get this: not only was he adorable and funny, he was COOL. He formed his own band with two other guys.

After high school, Steve had to grow up fast. His mother died when he was twenty. His father lived in Montana with his second wife. His two brothers were flaky and absent. Steve dropped out of college to work, so he could afford his own apartment. He had a series of long-term relationships … never with me! I had a few ill-fated affairs, then I met the love of my life. After that I was able to relinquish my Steve-based hopes because I finally understood true love, and we were never going to have it. But we had each other as friends for life.

When I was living in England, Steve and his girlfriend came to visit me. When I moved home, he was bartending at Yesterday’s in Westwood. We still got together, but less often. I got married and he toasted my happiness. I got cancer and he found it hard to joke.

I moved to Portland and he came to visit with his future wife. He told me about his brother’s death, and even though I swore to myself I wouldn’t cry … I did. Steve had moved beyond tears at that point. He had watched his brother die for months before the funeral. He sat on my front porch playing his guitar. I sat on the porch swing and listened. I tried to like his future wife, but after witnessing the way she talked to Steve sometimes, I figured she was going to have to work pretty damn hard to earn my acceptance. How DARE she talk to Steve that way!

After years of a rocky relationship, he married her, and I toasted them at their wedding. Less than a year later she was gone. Bitch!!!!!!! How DARE she hurt my Steve!

When we talked later, I could tell that he was sick of people worrying about him. I honestly was not worried. He was going to be fine. “You’ve been through worse,” I reminded him.

“You know what?” he said. “You’re right. I have been through worse.”

Our friends got married, had babies, sometimes got divorced, and often drifted out of touch. One of our friends from drama class was murdered, and her killer walked free. (His trial ended in a mistrial.) Contact between Steve and me grew infrequent. Because his own family is so fragmented, he has formed many close friendships over the years – people who can function as family. I never worry that we will lose touch completely, because we’re family.

Thursday I could feel years being added to my life, as I laughed and laughed all day long with Steve. I wasn’t a middle-aged mom in a minivan, I was seventeen again … cracking up with my best boy-buddy as we tooled around town. I was with someone who gets me. You know how sometimes you meet new people, and sure, you get along with them, and you may even become friends, but you suspect they don’t really get you? Because maybe your sense of humor is just slightly out-of-alignment with theirs? With Steve, I’m home. I can say anything to him … ask him any personal question … and he remains unfazed.

He’s in town for a visit because he’s thinking about moving here.

HOW HAPPY WOULD THAT MAKE ME?!?!

If my husband were less secure, he might fret over my devotion to Steve. Instead we joke about it. I feel so lucky to have married the kind of man who grasps the concept of inter-gender friendships.

Thursday night I watched as my son and my Steve made music together. As he sat hunched over the ¾ size guitar, Steve’s left foot rolled outward, so that the outside ankle (in its shoe) was flat on the floor. He rested his right foot on top of the left, creating an instant organic foot-peg for himself, so he could balance the guitar on his knee. I saw seventeen-year-old Steve, who used to sit hunched over his guitar that way, peeking out of the middle-aged guy.

Only now do I understand why I wrote a book about a kid trying to figure out the limits of love and friendship. It’s because the subject has been present in my life forever.

Here’s one from the archives:

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Lisa and Steve posing for a photo in the school newspaper, as young lovers Alice and Tony.


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Here’s Steve aging gracefully, and me … just … aging.

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