I was sixteen or seventeen when I fell for Grizzly Adams. Not the one on TV, the one who worked construction a hundred yards from my house one summer. Grizzly had a massive mane of chestnut gone bronze in the sun hair and a great bush of a beard that spanned shoulder to broad shoulder. I was pretty sure his eyes were blue, imagined I could see the depth of them from across the distance of my back yard plus the Catholic church’s parking lot.
What time did I wake each morning that summer? Eight maybe? I’d slip from my bed to the lime-green shag carpet, crawl over to my window, and raise the roller blind an inch or two. There! He was always there watching, waiting. The brightness of his smile, a chasm of white, would split his tan face. I’d feel my cheeks go hot, reach down to adjust my baby doll pajamas to make sure everything was covered, in case he had bionic vision or something similar. He’d wave and turn back to his work—hammering, heaving. I always felt sad when his back was to me, like he was altogether gone. A flick of my wrist and the blind would rest on the cool of the marble window sill once more.
In the kitchen I’d gobble Cheerios with a spoonful of sugar and a pour of gosh-awful-powder-plus-water-milk, my father’s punishment for our family’s dairy addiction. After breakfast I’d brusha-brusha-brusha with Colgate or Crest, whichever toothpaste Mom had bought on sale at the Big Bear. I’d count to thirty as I addressed each quadrant of my mouth.
Returning to my bedroom with its barely pink walls and French Provincial furniture, I'd don jean shorts and a tank top or boob tube. For lipgloss and mascara application, I’d revisit the bathroom with its superior lighting. I often soaked the front of my shorts as I leaned toward the mirror to apply aqua eyeliner at the corners of my eyes to make them seem feline, like Scarlett Meador’s. During the school year, she rode the same bus as me and her eye makeup expertise fascinated me and the majority of the boys on the bus it seemed. She had this way of blinking real slow and I was determined to master that as well.
To do my hair, I’d perch on the end of my bed and study myself in the mirror. One braid or two? All of it in a pony tail or clenched to the back of my head with a barrette? Or maybe a bun, like a prima ballerina.
Once coiffed, I’d hover next to the window and hold my breath, my fingers on the ring on the string beneath the blind. Yank! The plastic sheath would hiss up, wrapping itself around the roller at the top if I didn’t stop it halfway. There! He was there, waiting, watching, for the moment my blue eyes found his.
“How much older than me do you think he is?” I asked this question of Karen Dandelet one morning. She was my neighbor and best friend forever. She’d spent the night with me, both of us pressed into my twin bed like no-passing lines on a road.
Karen touched her nose to the glass, breathed a Cheerio-scented cloud onto it. “I bet he’s 24 or 26, don’t you think?”
I nudged her away from the window, concerned her dark hair and eyes and much fuller boob tube might be competition.
“Do you think my dad would mind,” I said, “Grizzly being that much older than me when he asks for my hand in marriage?”
One of Karen’s eyes pinched shut as she pondered my question. A hundred yards away Grizzly waved and smiled, turned back to his work.