Wednesday, June 29, 2016

That One Girl in 1969

One day my girlfriend Gina Colavito suggested we go to a BSU meeting.

It was 1969, and the times they were a'changin, and Gina was a second-generation Italian and I was (and am) a white mongrel. I didn't think the Black Student Union would be all that happy to see us. I didn't even know North Florida Jr. College had a Black Student Union.

"No, silly," she said, laughing and giving me one of those soft slaps on the arm, that sweet display of pretend violence girls liked to deliver back then. "I'm talking about the Baptist Student Union!"

That, too, surprised me, since Gina was Catholic and never mentioned Jesus, Mary or any of the saints during the five weeks since we started dating.

She mainly liked to smoke and laugh loudly and make a show of herself around other guys which embarrassed the hell out of me. Every time she fired up a cigarette, she would widen her eyes like a bad actress indicating fear, puff out a pouty bottom lip, then whisper "I shouldn't be smoking. It's bad for my instrument." 

She did, in fact, have an instrument. Her dream was to enter the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and then go on to become an opera star. I went to a couple of her recitals because I had no choice, and her voice was freight-trainesque in its intensity, disturbing even, and it would have sent a good-sized herd of cattle into a frenzied stampede. And I mean that in a good way.

She also enjoyed making out and eating pizza. She was the first date I ever took out to dinner (and also the first girl I ever played touch football with, but more on that later) and I drove her 30 miles to Valdosta in my dad's somewhat new Saab so we could go to a pizza restaurant. She finished her pizza way before I did. She was Italian, after all.

About the touch football: This was our origin story! The one we would laugh about when we were married and had friends over for lasagna and grits and separate wine for each of those! And here is the Spark Notes* version:

One late afternoon, shortly after Amanda Leenon became pre-engaged, my friend Dan and I passed a small group of male and female NFJC students playing touch football. There were only about six of them, so we joined them. Gina and her roommate Shelby (who liked Gina at least as much as I did) were among the players, but I knew neither of them.

Because of my brawny physique, I played tackle (or toucher, I guess) on offense and defense, which meant I blocked Gina when we had the ball, and tried to escape her blocking when they had the ball.

We both started committing holding penalties, but no one threw a flag. I learned that blocking a girl is different from blocking a guy, and so is illegally holding her. It's just different. Occasionally, we would get all tangled up and crash to the ground, and that was comfortable. I enjoyed it. 
We played touch football on the very grass you're now looking at. (But that building wasn't there yet.)

We played till it got too dark to see, so we were basically playing the braille version of touch football, if that's not too redundant. By the time everyone else quit, I was sweating and Gina was glowing or glistening or whatever it's called when girls sweat. Somehow we nonverbally agreed to see each other again, soon. 

Personally, I hoped it was to play touch football.

Anyway, I went with her to the Baptist Student Union meeting, and it didn't take long to find out why she was interested. A male friend from one of her voice classes was going to perform, and both she and her roommate Shelby found him really, really cute. And sweet. 

In other words, he was a first-class weenie.

He looked exactly like someone pretending to be serene. Short little gnome with a layer of baby fat, an endless cloying, toothy smile, displaying a generous overbite; tight-fitting, hip-hugging, high-water bell bottoms; a silky long-sleeved shirt and ridiculous scarf worn like a dog collar, an accessory he almost certainly picked up on a mission trip to Argentina.

So I had to sit through his endlessly tuning his box guitar, drooling out glib self-deprecating witticisms and little snatches of scripture that seemed to be about the need to tune one's guitar, but weren't really, all the while maintaining his saccharin "I'm happy and I know it" smile.

Once his instrument was prepared to channel the Spirit, he serenaded our little white-bread gathering with a falsetto butchering of the Bee Gees' "I Started the Joke," then, as an encore, described in relentless detail how the song was an allegory for Jesus' incarnation, and told us that His Word could be found in other Bee Gees songs, such as "To Love Somebody," and even the blasphemous Beatles' "Help," which would fit well in a modern-day book of Psalms.

After this wasted afternoon, my relationship with Gina began rapidly to deteriorate, and I'm not sure whether it was due to the preachings and warblings of the toothy pygmy-sized combo Billy Graham-Davey Jones or her threatening to kill herself if I were ever to break up with her, by putting her fist through the plate-glass window in the journalism classroom where we were allegedly putting the finishing touches on the college newspaper. Pretty sure it was one of those two.

I do know she eventually found solace in Madison's still very small and obvious drug community. Every once in a while I'd see her trudging along in someone's army field jacket, sooting and charring her instrument with a Marlboro, and holding hands with some greasy, sallow, heavy-lidded nimrod. 

She never spoke to me again, never got into the Cincinnati Conservatory and, as far as I know, never killed herself. As for me, having Google searched Gina about 50 times and each time coming up empty, I've completely put her out of my mind.

* Or Cliff Notes or Reader's Digest Condensed version, depending on your generation

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