I wrote my first love song when I was 13 or 14. It wasn’t my first song – which was from my musical “When Nights were Bold, ” when I was 12. But this song was different. It was personal.
I was in love with Freddie Stewart. I followed him everywhere I could. I even joined the local church choir and sat through soporific, fly-buzzing Sunday morning sermons just to be near him. I’d gone to church in the first place because we’d just moved from British Columbia to the Bible Belt, and everyone went to church. Not going would have been as isolating as simply accepting there was no way to cure my acne.
Church hadn’t been a part of my life before then. My family was mixed-religion: Jewish, Protestant and Sun-Worshipper.
I’m not trying to be cute. When I asked my stepfather what religion he was so that I could fill out a school form, he said, “I don’t have a religion.”
“But I have to fill it out Dad, I can’t leave it blank.”
“Sure you can.”
“No, I can’t! It’s for school.”
“OK, fine.,” he said. ” Say I’m a sun-worshipper.”
I left it blank.
So I went to the local Baptist Church with my best friend Faye. That’s where I met Freddie. And after I met him, I went to church because he was there (I still cringe admitting it, but since the only person who ever called me on it – a man named Robert E. Lee, father of a friend of mine by the same name — recently died of old age, I guess I might as well admit it). I would have gone anywhere Freddie went.
Around that time, my grandmother came to visit, my mother’s mother, a little old Jewish lady as out-of-place in Pfafftown, N.C. as a nudist at an Alaskan fashion show. She didn’t like me going to church, and she wasn’t too hot on Freddie, who was a tall, slender, blond-haired Goy. Well, everyone there was a Goy … but genetically so was I, at least 50%. The meaningless 50%, according to my grandmother.
Not as if Freddie was interested in me. He was kind – especially kind considering how far above me he was on the social scale – but distant. Me, I was completely smitten. And my grandmother, who was already suffering my Sunday morning expeditions – but couldn’t say anything, because – well, that subject was off-limits — got sick of hearing about him and finally lambasted me: “Enough about this… this … this BOY! He’s not the only fish in the sea!”
But he was.
And to prove it I wrote this song.
Many Fish in the Sea
A year or two later, my stepfather died suddenly, my mother stuck around for another year, and then piled my brother and me in the car and drove back to California to be near her mother. (Why? Why?? Whyyyy did she do that?) And so that period of my life, that time and place, closed like a fairytale book for me.
Fast-forward 15, 20 years. I’m living in Boston, shopping at the old Lechmere, riffling through CDs when I hear a southern accented, “Debby?” I looked up, and a vaguely familiar man says, “Fred. Fred Stewart.”
And that’s all I remember. He was working in Boston, I was living here. Chance encounter.
And then the connection plunged back underground, until … and he may remember how this happened better than I do … we began emailing, and talking about life the way it was back then. What it was like to be teenagers there and then. And through these emails, we started talking about everything.
And we began to realize how similar our private experience was of that time, how isolated we each were and what it might have meant to be able to share that, to have been friends then the way we are now. To have been able to share the pain or bewilderment, or pride in doing the work we love, the way we can now.
Sometimes it hurts to think we might have each gotten through that time more easily and with less pain if we’d known how to connect as friends, if we’d been able to see through our own … well, mishigas, my grandmother would have said. But more often I think how grateful I am that however skewed our vision of ourselves and each other was back then — we must have seen something in each other that we recognized all these years later.
And that something has now become one of the most beloved friendships of my life.
Now, that’s a love story.
This post was originally part of my “Wired for Love” project, to blog each day from Feb. 2, 2011 until Valentine’s Day 2011 with love stories and love songs.