“Yep,” I said with a genuine smile, “it’s me. And I’d know those blue eyes of yours anywhere.”
Bob was the name I had chosen to escape the family nickname bestowed upon me by my father even before my birth. I thought “Bob” sounded more grown-up and less like the difficult child I was. A kid named “Butch” sounded to me like an obnoxious troublemaker. In the end, I couldn’t escape it and so I still wear it, admittedly unwilling and unable to make as much trouble as came naturally in my youth.
Sixty years had passed since we last spoke to each other, but in that moment in the parking lot I could smell the Aqua Net and almost feel it stiff and damp on my cheek as we danced in the hot, humid gymnasium on a summer Saturday night while the jukebox in my memory played the songs of the day. Chubby Checker, Danny and the Juniors, Bobby Rydell, The Ventures, Buddy Holly, Elvis. After two fast songs, the DJ customarily played a slow song by Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, Patsy Cline. Now, for an old man standing in the warm summer breeze, the music once again played on an infinite loop, running as a soundtrack to a movie last seen six decades ago.
I still remember the ending. It was as if I had just seen that movie last night, but in those blue eyes was evidence to the contrary. Neither of us had escaped the insults of time run amok, but for a moment, at least in my memory, the clock was turned back to that steamy dance floor with its chaperones around the perimeter, staring steely eyed at barely moving couples who showed not even a sliver of the required light between their bodies. The middle of the floor was the place to be — less chance to be observed breaking the “light rule.”
“Where do you live now? Have you come home?”
Her voice was the same, although with a slightly different accent. I told her, but small talk has never been my strong suit. I’ve always preferred awkward silence to blurting out something foolish, but I’ll admit I don’t remember much of our conversation, so it’s entirely possible I royally embarrassed myself unknowingly. Those blue eyes …
Coming back home after four-plus decades was an easy decision given the circumstances. But I now know some of what I didn’t know then. I knew the place, the islands, the sights, sounds and smells of an active fishing community. I knew how to get around to find needed goods and services. I didn’t expect to come face to face with my long-forgotten youth, most of which has been consigned to blissful oblivion. But secreted among the mistakes are a few beautiful memories — warm, comforting and slow to reappear. They are the things that make me smile and, in the early winter of my life on this little blue space ball, they are also the things that even my life’s score. They are almost always the little things. Like the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen.
Butch Lawson lives on Bailey Island and is an observer of life.