Way back in 1988, when I was fourteen-going-on-fifteen, there wasn’t a soul around who was unaware of the fierce crush I had on one of my fellow waterskiers. I secretly referred to him as my Knight in Shining Wetsuit. We’ll call him KSW here. I think KSW was 21 at the time, nearly seven years older than me. I didn’t care. I was in looooove. That’s right, l-o-v-e with five Os. Five.
That summer, every weekend held the promise of KSW: It was then that I would most likely see him arriving in the Cove on his white boat with a black stripe, a ChrisCraft, perhaps, to hang out with friends and family, and waterski all day.
I remember most fondly the day when a storm came up suddenly in the Cove; it was one of those angry summer storms where the rain is torrential and the thunder and lightning are scary in a roller coaster kind of way. No one minded getting rained on, but we did want to avoid getting struck by lightning, so those who were on ski boats took cover on the bigger boats. My sister and her boyfriend climbed from their Ski Natique to my parents’ Beachcomber, where they probably expected me to join. But, since I had been on Ronnie’s MasterCraft, it was just natural that I would get on Jimmy’s boat, where KSW had sought shelter. It was bigger than my parents’ boat. So I followed Ronnie and Laura to Jimmy’s boat and, as always, KSW helped me on board. Although we both knew I didn’t need help, KSW always put his hand out for me and smiled. Lucky for me, we changed boats a lot.
So there we were, everyone crammed into the cuddy cabins of two boats, wind blowing, rain pouring from the heavy, dark clouds, thunder crashing, and lightning striking disturbingly close. We were all huddled together, and KSW was sitting across from me in the small space. I was constantly sneaking glances at him and every tenth peek, I would find that he was looking at me. Laura said she thought he “fancied” me. This word was unfamiliar to my American Teenager ears, so she explained it. Laura was Canadian, 24, and the second coolest chick I knew (my sister being the first). And, because Laura was 24, she knew everything, especially about gorgeous guys with blonde hair and blue eyes named…KSW.
Being mostly unprotected in a violent summer thunderstorm on the river was intense. The thunder and lighting were right over us. I felt like I could reach my hand out into the sky and feel the air vibrating from the deep bass of the thunder. I of course kept my hands where they were, holding my towel closed, restraining myself from leaping across the cuddy cabin into KSW’s arms. We were half sure we were going to get struck by lightning—and half sure it would pass quickly and we could ski again.
The rain soon ended as the thunder and its electric companion moved downriver. However, just when we felt it was safe to start throwing ski ropes in the water and putting on life jackets and ski gloves, another thunderstorm engulfed us. Damn, I thought. More time I will be forced to spend in close quarters with KSW. I didn’t know if my heart was pounding from fear or love.
Other than the threat of a lightning strike, what could make me forfeit my turns skiing for most of a day? KSW’s class ring. Oh, yes. He was getting ready to either ski or barefoot, and he had forgotten to leave his class ring at home. He asked me to hold it for him. When he finished his turn on the water, rather than return the ring to KSW, I sacrificed my skiing turns for the rest of the day. Later, KSW had to come up to our house at Fairview to retrieve the ring because I had “forgotten” to give it back to him and he had forgotten to ask for it back. Whoops.
One summer evening Ronnie, Laura, KSW and I were headed back to Fairview from the Cove in Ronnie’s small ski boat on churning, rough water. As we bounced across the waves, I could barely contain myself—I was sitting right next to KSW. His leg was touching mine. And his tanned bicep was right next to my head. I kept turning my face toward his arm, hoping that my lips would “accidentally” bump into him when we hit a wave that was sympathetic to my wishes. Eventually, I realized that my lips were puckered in anticipation, so I managed to get a tenuous hold of myself, before KSW realized what I was up to.
On the beach for a bonfire one night with a bunch of people, including KSW, Laura and I plotted how I could get a smooch from KSW. I had to go home soon because I had a curfew, so we used that to our advantage.
We had gone down the beach a ways to cop a squat and plot. “This is what we’ll do,” Laura said, “I’ll walk you home, and before we leave, I’ll give him a kiss on the cheek, and a hug, and then you give him a hug. When he goes to kiss your cheek, you kiss him on the mouth.”
“Oh my gawd!” I whisper-yelled. “I can’t do that! I’ll die!”
“Yes you can,” Laura encouraged, “and you will. You won’t die. Have another beer.”
And so the plan was carried out when it was time for me to go. We were successful. I got a quick smooch on the lips from KSW. His face was unshaven and I stole a slightly scratchy kiss that kept me teenage-crush-bouncy for days, months even.
My crush on KSW lasted for years. I will always remember that it was he who said, “I like your quiet company,” when I would hang out, silent, on his boat. (I was often like a deer in headlights when he was around—quiet, wide-eyed, and frozen.) And I will always remember how he unfailingly put his hand out to help me from one boat to the other, how I was served my first underage drink while out with him and our friends, and that we survived not one but two raging thunderstorms in the Cove.
My heart broke with unrequited teenage love on the day my mom told me KSW had gotten married. It had been a few years since that memorable summer in 1988, and each year KSW came to the Cove less and less. I continued to ski as much as I could (I am so in love with skiing), getting a little bit of news about KSW here and there. And finally, as crushes do, mine faded away.