think of myself as a pretty open book with the people I know and
love. I don't really hesitate to share personal stories with friends.
It has come to my attention recently that in spite of this self-image
the truth is I'm really pretty private, at least in the social
networking forum of the internet. I'm open, but I guess I'm choosey
about who I'm really open with. The problem is that all of my
stories are also someone else's story as well and I'm not always
comfortable sharing their lives. My recent post about my years as
Santa was more personal, but it was seasonally appropriate and
hopefully spoke to some universal experiences. But even then I asked
permission from my friend Dar and my Godkids before mentioning them
in such a public way.
don't often get caught up in nostalgia. Most of the reminiscing I've
done here was in service of talking about my history in comics and
about to change. What follows is a story I've told many people over
the years. It's a nostalgic reminiscence filled with the glory of
youth. If you have a low tolerance for maudlin sentimentality you
might want to bail now.
graduated high school on Sunday, June 10, 1979. As a graduation
present to myself I took a vacation in Florida right after to visit
Scott and Mark, brothers who were two of my closest friends at the
|One of the few pictures I have of the|
three of us together, taken at
Disney World. That's Scott in the
middle and Mark on his left.
They had moved from southwestern PA the previous year, severely
interrupting the teenage adventures we had been having up to that
point (some of which I would tell some friends about, but many
are not for public consumption). Originally they had planned to drive
to PA that summer to visit and then I was going to go back to Florida
with them later in the summer. We switched the plans around when we
discovered that the rock band KISS was kicking off a tour in support
of their album Dynasty in Lakeland, just up the road from
where my friends lived. Now KISS was a huge part of my teen years and
big part of my friendship with these guys, so on Thursday, June 14 I
flew for the first time and landed in Tampa for my first real trip
away from home.
was going to just touch on the KISS concert here, but this afternoon
as I was thinking about this whole trip I realized that has to be a
separate blog. Coming soon.)
I arrived in Bartow, Florida expecting a great concert, time at a
beach, Disney World, going out to bars (I was going to turn 18 while
I was there, and guess what the legal drinking age in Florida was at
that time), and all kinds of other fun summer activities for young
men with no responsibilities. We did all of that, and it was great.
But something more important took place for me over the course of
those three weeks.
want to tell you about a girl.
Takahashi was a Japanese foreign exchange student going to college in
Florida. Her host family included the minister at the church my
friends went to in Bartow, where she had met them. They had told me a
little about her of course, and I knew she would be hanging out with
went to the minister's house on June 15 to pick her up so she could
go to see KISS with us. This was going to be her first concert (I was
a veteran at this time with three big shows under my belt, KISS and
Ted Nugent in '78 and Rush earlier in '79). We walked into the house
and I was introduced to the minister and his wife. And then I turned
and saw Chiharu.
my current age I realize the whole “love at first sight” thing is
a Romantic ideal and rarely holds up to the rigors of a genuine
relationship. Whatever. At that moment I was smitten. Knocked over.
Stunned. Completely in love in the way only a seventeen year old
dreamer like myself can be. She was beautiful! Though accented, her
English was very good. She was really smart and had a great sense of
humor and fit in really well with the three of us. Surprisingly, I
wasn't a tongue-tied buffoon in her presence. We crammed into the car
and went to the show.
we all know I'm a comic book geek. That's not only how I organize my
life, it's what people expect of me. So this next shouldn't be a
surprise. The previous winter in the pages of X-Men #118 (my favorite
book at the time), the character Wolverine had met a beautiful
Japanese woman named Mariko Yoshida. The coincidence of this with
what was happening in my own life was not lost on me at the time.
|I felt just like this at the time, even though neither|
Chiharu or I were wearing costumes.
to real life... I don't think I saw her every day, but we spent a lot
of time together, always the four of us. Chiharu and I didn't get a
chance to “date” in any regular way. She was one of the guys. But
like I said, I was smitten, and I thought, in my inexperienced way,
that she liked me too. You know... Liked me liked me.
Sunday we went to the beach and I saw the ocean for the first time.
Well, the Gulf of Mexico actually, but it was still pretty darn
impressive to this country boy. We swam, we played in the sand, we
ate, we drank enough wine that I fell asleep in the sun and burned my
pasty pale skin really badly.
|This was before my skin got baked.|
|Oh yeah... tell me she's not checking out my rock-hard abs.|
|Poor B'rer Bear probably doesn't|
have a job now that Song of the
South isn't shown any more.
went to Disney World and rode all of the rides and ate all of the
food and saw Mice and Princesses, Presidents and Country Bears, Tiki
Birds and singing little people. It was a remarkably full day, but
two events stand out; two that convinced me that Chiharu Liked me
went on Space Mountain, a giant roller coaster in the dark. Chiharu
had never been on a coaster before, so she was excited and scared. We
paired off and she rode with me. At the time (maybe still...I haven't
been there in ages), the seats were arranged so that one person sat
in the rear of a car and the second person sat directly in front of
and leaned back against the first. So I sat down and then Chiharu
planted herself between my knees and leaned back. We had hugged by
this time, but this was the most intimate position we had experienced
yet. We weren't up the first rise before she started whimpering. Then
we dropped over the first fall. Gravity and inertia pressed her
against me. Her head leaned back on my shoulder and all I could hear
were her tiny sighs and squeaks of fear and excitement.
roller coaster ride ever.
the time we got off the ride she was trembling, almost
hyperventilating. I held her arm as she attempted to get her land
legs back. I jokingly asked if she was ready to go again. She looked
at me, eyes wide, nodded her head and said, “Yes!”
other event of the day that stands out took place as we were leaving
the park. It was really late and we were among the last people to
leave, squeezing the most out of our day. We were walking through the
courtyard of Cinderella's Castle. It was night, so the castle was lit
with magnificent color. Music played from hidden speakers. I don't
remember the song, but it was an instrumental piece from one of their
films. As we were walking along I stopped, took Chiharu by the hand
and asked her to dance. We slow danced around the courtyard until the
end of the song, bowed to each other when it was over, hugged and
then broke out into laughter as we all made our way back to the car
and the real world.
was one of the most spontaneously romantic moments of my life.
I left Florida. Scott, Mark and I drove back to PA, my first extended
road trip. My last day there was a Sunday. We went to church and
there, after the service we took pictures and I said goodbye to
Chiharu. She cried. Pretty sure I wanted to. She gave me a going away
present. She had placed two Japanese coins on a chain for me to wear
to remind me of her. I wore them for years.
|I still have them.|
We stayed in touch. We wrote letters. We actually wrote a lot of
letters. Occasionally we called each other for short talks. Long
Distance phone calls were expensive in those days.
During that year
she transferred to a different school in Florida and moved away from
Bartow. I went back for a visit the following summer and she made
trip to see me. We all hung out one single afternoon, had a great
time and took some pictures. Then she was gone.
years went by. We still wrote regularly. She started seeing some guy
in Tallahassee. I had my first serious relationship (and though that
romance didn't last a year I'm happy to say I maintain a good
friendship with that beautiful, wonderful woman. She commented on a
picture of me on Facebook while I was writing this).
turned 21 in the summer of 1982 and returned to Florida for what
would prove to be my last visit there. My friend Peggy and I went to
a three day comic book convention in Pittsburgh then on Monday flew
to Florida for ten days. These were two of the best and weirdest
weeks of my life, filled with many of the stories I tell most often
(most of which I'll never relate online, for the protection of the
not-so-innocent... we nearly sank a boat). As sort of a comic book
bookend to this story, this was the year the first Wolverine
mini-series came out. Set in Japan. Dealing with his relationship
with Mariko. We read the concluding issue while we were there. Once
again, the coincidence with my life did not escape me.
had made arrangements to see Chiharu during the trip. Peggy served as
wingman for me and convinced Scott and Mark to let me have a night
with Chiharu alone. She picked me up in her car for what I guess was
a date. We went to see E.T. By the end of the movie I heard her
crying. I tentatively put an arm around her (remember, we had never,
in all of our correspondence, mentioned anything about a relationship
between us. There were simply too many miles for that to happen). To
my relief she crumbled into me and let me hold her until the end of
the movie. We left and went someplace for dinner, Pizza Hut if memory
drove back to Scott and Mark's house. They were still out with Peggy
and some other friends but their parents were home and apparently in
bed. We sat in the car and talked. About many things. During this
chat she told me about some of the terrible things her boyfriend had
done to her. Abusive things. She cried again, embarrassed but
relieved to tell someone. She wanted to break up with him but was
afraid. I was livid. I sat there in the dark, not knowing what to say
or do, feeling helpless and angry and very, very much in love. It may
not have been appropriate, it might not have been what she needed to
hear right then, but in that moment, with everything extreme I was
feeling, I had to say something. So I did.
know I'm love with you, don't you?” I said. “I have been since
the moment we met.”
nodded and said, “Me too.”
held her then. Nothing more. We didn't even speak. At some point my
friends came home. They had been partying and were a little wound up.
Scott came to our car and started telling us about all the great
stuff they had gotten into. Peggy once again saved me. She took Scott
by the arm and led him away from the car. We stayed there for a
little while longer, but finally I realized I needed to go. I said
good night and as I started to open the door she leaned over and
kissed me. It was short, but it was real. I got out and waved as she
never saw her again.
stayed in touch, letters and phone calls. She broke up with the
abusive douchebag. Eventually she finished school and moved back to
Japan. She ended up teaching English to grade school kids, last I
heard. We continued to write for several years. But that eventually
dwindled and then stopped. I don't know which of us wrote last. I've
tried to find her during the internet age of course. But the name
Chiharu Takahashi is apparently a lot like the name John Smith
because I've seen dozens of listings for men and women with that name
over the years and none of them seem to be her.
what do I make of this, thirty-plus years on? Was she the great lost
love of my life? Probably not. We never had the chance to have a
relationship. It was an idealized long-distance not-quite-romance
that existed in my head more than anywhere else. I have no idea if we
would have been compatible over the long haul.
it was for me though was a beautiful experience that has given me
wonderful memories and great stories. It may be better that she
remains an ideal romance of my youth, unsullied by real life. But in
my interaction with her, through our brief moments together and in
the many, many words of our correspondence, I opened up to another
person. I began to transition from a youth to an adult. I think
whatever it was I felt for her helped prepare me for real
relationships with real people. Since then I know I have had the
genuine love of a woman, real and sullied instead of ideal and
pristine. More difficult, but more rewarding.
if you're out there, know my twenty-one year old self believed he
loved you as much as he was capable of loving. Somewhere inside of me
he still does. Thank you for returning my affection. Thank you for
being in my life and for giving me a story. I still have your
necklace. I still think of you. I hope your life has been wonderful
and filled with love and adventure and fulfillment. Domo Arigato.
end this the way we used to end our letters: