My first love in life turned out to be a honey-haired, ocean-eyed, 12-year-old girl whom I met on Cape Cod during the summer of 1967. While I haven’t seen her since, Cindy remains like a fixed star in my mind, a dimpled spot of rapture in the midst of the clumsiness of preadolescence.
We met by happenstance on an elongated stretch of Nauset Beach in Orleans where we were both looking for wampum, the distinctive shells found along the Eastern seashore beaches, which Native Americans used to use as a currency. I noticed her right away, a young colt with long blonde hair that parted her back, and sea-green eyes that framed her angular face. That she had newly mounted braces on her teeth, which accentuated her crater-like dimples only added to the luster.
Before long, we exchanged names, hers was Cindy, and we continued on our mutual excursion together along the outer beach of Cape Cod. “What grade are you going into this fall?” I asked her as I found another piece of wampum, which I coyly gave to her.
“Seventh at my local junior high in New Jersey!” Cindy replied brightly. She beamed when I informed her that I too was about to embark on an identical academic sojourn in my hometown of Wellesley, Massachusetts. We both giggled shyly, paused for an instant, and then blurted out to one other, “What is your birthday?”
“January 28th!” we clamored to one another in unison.
Our smiles turned to wonder as we immediately began to appraise one another. I had never met another person who was actually born on the same day – and neither had she. Cindy looked at me a long time, sighed, “Oh, Shaun,” and then she spontaneously took my hand into hers.
At that moment, I entered a new continent of experience. The only thing missing was the sky opening up and a celestial choir singing in the background. My heart began to pound, and I felt a bit lightheaded. By the end of our walk searching for wampum, I was utterly in love with her.
By the end of our first wampum hunt, Cindy had informed me that she would be staying on the Cape for the next two weeks. I also learned that her parents, who typically summered on the Jersey shore, had decided to venture to Cape Cod that summer on a lark. “Let’s meet tomorrow afternoon on this stretch of the beach, Cindy!” I beckoned, hoping that she would acquiesce.
She smiled affirmatively and said, “I will wait for you, Shaun. I promise!”
Over the next two weeks, we developed an unbending game plan that ended up working flawlessly. Because Cindy’s family daily encamped in a rented Boston Whaler at Nauset Inlet, she would cross over the dunes to the ocean side where I awaited her. After all, it had been her initial quest for wampum there that had brought us mystically together.
On an impulse, I began to bring my transistor radio with me. While Cindy and I sat looking at the waves repeatedly pound onto the bleached sands of Nauset, the music of that extraordinary summer played in congruence with the consoling sounds coming from the ocean. We chatted continually as we sat in the dunes together, watching the waves crash relentlessly away. When the Beatles’ “Getting Better,” from Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band blared out from my little transistor, Cindy asked me to dance with her in the dunes.
“Why not!” I grinned at her and began to churn and kick with her into the sand as Paul McCartney crooned in the background.
For the only time in our childhoods, we were able to converse about our fears, our desires, and our dreams with someone of the opposite sex. In an otherwise inhibited time in our lives, we felt both entirely free and unfettered. By the third day, I began calling her “Cin” as John Lennon, my hero at the time, had done for his first wife. She eventually began calling me “Blue,” after what she called my blueberry-colored eyes. (Two-and-a-half years later, when George Harrison came out with a Beatles’ single entitled, “For You Blue,” I felt as if the Fab Four had somehow been in on our little joke in some cosmic way).
During our jaunts, we conversed about our mutual passion for reading, music, baseball, and the seashore. We were also stunned to discover that Cindy’s mother’s family hailed from my father’s Irish county, Wexford, while her father descended from the North of England as had my mother’s ancestors. (Their were no DNA tests back then. I am sure we wouldn’t have wanted to check for mutual great-grandparents anyway). We also discovered that humor fueled our mutual engines. Cindy and I seemed to embrace the old axiom that two wrongs don’t make a right, but they make a good excuse. Laughter became our constant companion.
One morning, not long before she left for New Jersey, we skirted to the end of the opening of Nauset Inlet. “You know, Blue,” she said to me, “we are somehow intertwined together because of our shared birthdays and our shared interests.”
“I know, Cin,” I replied. “You are the first person that I’ve never had to explain how I felt or what interests me. You seem to just know.”
“Yes, most would say that’s because we’ve seen life exactly from the same time frame,” she exclaimed, her deep dimples becoming even more pronounced on her precious face, “but I feel as if we needed to meet here and now.”
I seized her hand, and we continued into the swells of the ocean, where we lifted each other up in the roiling Nauset surf when it knocked us down.
Before we knew it, our days had dwindled down to a matter of hours. The ancient Greeks are right, each and every pleasure is fleeting. We knew it, ignored it, and then had to look it straight in the eye. “Our worlds are going to change, Blue, when we both start junior high,” Cindy whispered. “I am truly grateful that we’ve been here for one another these past two weeks.”
I gulped in some air and nodded to her. And then, I did something that remains the proudest of my childhood. I precipitately opened up my arms, and Cindy tumbled into them. A preadolescent, ambiguous hug eventually morphed into an emphatic, sustained embrace.
Neither of us wanted to let go of the moment.
When we did, Cindy put her hand on my cheek, looked into my eyes, and whispered to me, “I want to kiss you, Shaun.”
It ended up being the first romantic caress for both of us. I was transfixed, tremulous, and tongue-tied. Cindy looked into the depths of my soul and said through blinking tears, fiercely, “I will never, ever forget you, Blue – or this moment.”
I looked at her ocean-colored eyes and believed it. We then parted, and the summer that had framed our lives to that moment had suddenly ended.
For years afterward, I skimmed that same stretch of beach in late August, hoping that she would, like some enchanted siren, emerge from the depths of the ocean once more. Eventually, I came to realize that by the time Cindy and I had said our farewells to one another that scrubbed up August afternoon so long ago, we were different people.
As the years unfolded like shuffling cards, I never forgot her.
During a recent late winter snowstorm, I ended up listening to Sirius Channel 60 when an old Johnny Rivers standard came on through my computer’s speakers. Recorded at the very end of the magical summer of 1967, the song, “Summer Rain,” became a hit on the radio later on that fall and winter. Through the venue of Rivers’ distinctive baryon-noble voice, I was immediately catapulted back to the precipice of Nauset Inlet a half-century ago:
“She stepped out of a rainbow
Golden hair shining like moon glow;
Warm lips, soft as her soul –
Sitting here by me, now
She’s here by me.
All summer long we were dancing in the sand
And the jukebox kept on playing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!
We sailed into the sunset –
Drifting home, caught by a gulf stream;
Never gave a thought for tomorrow –
Let tomorrow be, yeah
Let tomorrow be!”
While I probably could find out whatever happened to Cindy, thanks to the magic of the Internet, I prefer to remember her at twelve with our entire lives in front of us. Over the years, sentimentality has won out over pragmatism. Still, there is a jar of wampum that resolutely sits on my teacher’s desk. And then there are the memories of that long-ago August at the forearm of Cape Cod. The shifting colors of the sky; the immaculate sand dunes; her velvety hands; that one surreal kiss – and our love, which, at least for me, has never reverted to the past tense.