James Wesley Welch was gorgeous. He had wavy black hair, green eyes, and a cool demeanor. I'll never forget the day I came running up the steps to my American government class and there he was. Whoa! Who's that? He looked at me and smiled his crooked grin. It was instant attraction. We were both fifteen. From the first minute I saw him, I secretly knew that I was destined to have his babies. In my emotionally charged, romantic young mind, I fixated on Jim as "my one and only."
He seemed to feel a magnetic pull toward me as well. Before long he asked if I wanted a ride to school, since he was one of the guys who had a car. He started picking me up in the morning and we'd drive to school together. I was in heaven. Jim would be my first true love, with all that it implies. He'd be the unforgettable, always present love, against whom all others would be judged. I couldn't even imagine that I would ever be in love with anyone else but him. That kind of stinkin' thinkin' would affect my personal life for years to come.
Love distracted me from my studies. I was always elated to see him and would chatter away nonsensically, out of sheer excitement. He, on the other hand, hardly said a thing! If he had, I might have discovered how little we had in common . . . but my schoolgirl crush on Jim lulled me into believing that he was the man of my dreams. And in some ways he was. And yet, I realized years later that I was needy and that it caused me to project certain qualities onto Jim that he didn't have.
Jim may not have talked very much, but he sure was a great dancer. We went to all the dances after the football games and jitterbugged 'til we dropped! I had just become a cheerleader, and he was on the football team. Afterward, we'd pile into his car and head off to Oscar's Drive-in in Pacific Beach and have a burger and shake. It was the after-game hangout—very American Graffiti. Then we'd drive up to our favorite necking spot, Blueberry Hill (named after the Fats Domino song). It had a great view overlooking the village lights. It was just Jim and me and the radio.
Like most boys in my class, Jim drank beer; but I never touched the stuff. I just didn't like the taste. And it's a good thing, because during those sessions on "the Hill" when we were alone together, somebody had to draw the line. God knows, it was difficult. I just wanted to stay with him forever and never go home. Our song was "You Send Me," by Sam Cooke, one of my all-time favorites.
Jim represented the handsome young prince I had fantasized would rescue me. He was the antidote to my harsh father. Here was a young man who didn't ask anything much of me but showered me with the affection I was hungry for. But I couldn't cross the line and be intimate with him. I couldn't break the taboo.
I wasn't a Miss Goody Two-Shoes. None of the girls were "easy" back then. That's just the way it was among the girls in my school, who made up the class of 1958. Most of us were virgins, and I was no exception. Sex just wasn't discussed, and drugs were not in the picture. Porn was nowhere to be seen. The Outlaw, starring Jane Russell, was considered a very risqué movie, and no one under the age of twenty-one was allowed to see it. Eleven o'clock was the curfew. Daddy would be waiting up with the lights on when we pulled up. And Jim had better walk me to the door, or else!
Repressive? Maybe. But most girls respected the rules. The rules kept us in line, even though they would inevitably be broken. If you have no rules, you have no standards. Somehow, we all managed to get through high school without acting out the scenarios that were going on inside our heads. I feel that I was lucky that things were not more permissive. Looking back, I'm glad that I was reined in enough to take it slow in those formative years, if you call what happened in my life "slow." But it moved at a snail's pace by today's standards.
Although there was a lot of swooning and moaning, Jim and I weren't very sophisticated about sex. We were just all hot and bothered around each other. But during our third year of courtship, there were signs that we were also very different people. We kept breaking up and getting back together again. By our senior year, Jim, who never took much interest in his classes, dropped out of high school altogether. I was devastated! I had just become an honors student when he bailed and went off on a tuna clipper to Peru! I thought I'd never see him again. I knew that he'd been brooding about something, but it had never occurred to me that he would make such a drastic move. I didn't understand. Once he was gone, all I felt was hurt and confusion. I later realized that he needed to find himself and that academia was not his path. My father said, "Good riddance," and predicted that he'd never amount to anything. But I was brokenhearted and cried myself to sleep on many nights. Still, life went on.