June 1, 1967

Bruce J. Berger

Something truly remarkable happened today with Jonah. It has been a beautiful, warm day, not a cloud, and the humidity that typically blankets New Jersey in the summer has not yet arrived. Perfect weather, and a date that will be easy to remember.

The clubs at school were given time off to picnic at Basking Ridge State Park, and so we both were there, among two hundred of our classmates, goofing off, eating hotdogs and hamburgers, playing softball and volleyball, and generally enjoying the sun. Almost as if he had been stalking me, Jonah appeared at my side. I cannot say I was surprised. He’d been staring at me for months in History.

His hair wasn’t combed in its usual slicked back style, which always made me think of him as a geek, but was pushed over to the side. I notice things like that. Apropos of nothing at all, Jonah suggested that we go down to the lake and take out a rowboat. Why not, I thought. This is supposed to be a picnic.

In little more than a second, Jonah and I were heading down the hill towards the lake, Jonah at my side, and I started to stumble on the loose rocks. Jonah reached out his hand, took mine, and steadied me down the remaining slope, but when we were back on level ground, he didn’t let go! I mean, he’d clamped on, firmly enough that it was clear he didn’t intend to drop my hand unless I pulled it away.

Well, I thought for an instant of doing just that, pulling away, but I didn’t want to. I can’t say why I didn’t but I didn’t. I saw something intriguing in Jonah for the first time, hard to define, but he seemed unlike the other boys that I had been with recently. There was seriousness and sincerity in him at the same time. I could imagine us on a date where I wasn’t being pawed over like merchandise on sale at Filene’s Basement.

We walked down to where the rowboats were being rented, but found that none were available, and we decided to sit at the edge of the lake and wait. We fell to talking and soon forgot the idea that we were going to row. We talked about a lot of things. He told me about his years of piano study, something of which I had been completely unaware, as I was unaware of most of the things he revealed about himself. We talked the usual school kid stuff: parents, homework, college ideas. But we also surveyed recent world events, sharing our hatred for the war in Vietnam, how interested we were in the civil rights struggle, and how the situation in Israel was starting to look desperate. I can’t say we held hands the whole afternoon, but much of that time we did, and after a bit it was the most natural thing in the world, even though I have no idea if this was just a pleasant way to pass a few hours or if it meant that he will finally ask me on a date.

Our conversation naturally turned to poetry, one of my main loves and his too, clearly why we both elected to work on Mirrors. Jonah is obsessed with Dylan Thomas and recited “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” a poem that I had never heard before although probably should have. And when he almost sang the last stanza – “And you, my father, there on that sad height” and so on – I could see the poet standing before his father on his death bed. But not to be outdone, I recited a few poems myself, including Alan Ginsberg’s “Love Song,” and its fierce sexual imagery and longing “to return to the body where I was born” made us both uncomfortably self-conscious of our closeness at that instant, and we lost the thread of conversation, choosing instead to listen to the quacking of the ducks on the lake and the distant yells of classmates playing softball.

Inevitably, we began to hear the teachers calling students to wrap up their afternoon in the sun and get back on the buses to Summit High. Jonah and I smiled at each other. Yes, his hair certainly had been combed in a way I had never seen before, and he didn’t look like a geek at all. But, I wondered, was he really a different person today than he had been yesterday?

“Rachel, this has been a great afternoon.” Jonah stood, dusted off his jeans, and then reached down to help me up. My body was stiff and sore from having sat in the same position for hours, and I knew that grass had stained my pink shorts.

“Same here, friend.” He squeezed my hand, and we started up the hill. As I got on my bus, I turned to him and said simply “See you tomorrow.”

At school, two hundred students disembarked and milled around in confusion, with some kids heading towards their cars and others looking for rides. I was supposed to get a ride from Chrissie, but, by the time I found her, her car had already filled up and I was stuck until Jonah appeared again miraculously. Again, I was not surprised to see him. He said his Mom could drive me home, and I readily accepted. Not only had I no desire to walk two miles, I didn’t mind spending a few more minutes with Jonah, although I knew we wouldn’t talk in front of his mother.

Jonah and I occupied the back seat of his mother’s car, and there would be no hand holding in the presence of a parent. As she drove, his mother took stock of Jonah via the rear view mirror. The only conversation during the five-minute trip was his mother complaining to Jonah that he hadn’t combed his hair properly.

© 2010 Bruce J. Berger. All rights reserved.


About the Author

Bruce J. Berger is a senior partner in the Washington DC law firm Hollingsworth LLP. He is a 1975 graduate of Harvard Law School and a former Executive Editor of the Harvard Law Review. He graduated from the University of Connecticut with Honors in Chemistry in 1972. He is associated with the Writers' Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he has taken a workshop on the short story and participates with a continuing group of aspiring writers.

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