Jason Kapcala was always moving at full speed, so the first time he put on the brakes was a disorienting experience.
Author’s note: As a high school freshman, I’ve moved on from thinking of speed as a simple physics equation, and have found myself in a different sort of hurry: I suddenly want a girlfriend, and I’m afraid that if it doesn’t happen quickly, I’ll be somehow left behind. Don’t forget to catch up with Part I: The Bike and Part II: Daytona U.S.A. of my series, “Bodies in Motion,” here at The Good Men Project.
“You’ve got to be closer to the edge than ever to win. That means sometimes you go over the edge, and I don’t mean driving, either.”—Dale Earnhardt
Surprisingly, after my trip to Daytona, I stopped worrying about moving fast. Like most sixteen-year-olds, I got my learner’s permit, and much to the relief of my parents, showed no real desire to speed, show off, or take risks behind the wheel of my Jeep. There was no way I’d ever move faster than I did that afternoon, and so there was no reason to try. I was more than happy to heed my parents’ regular warnings to drive carefully.
That doesn’t mean I slowed down entirely, though.
I was still a teenager—still a know-it-all—and so, around the same time, when they suggested to me that I not be in any rush to get into a serious relationship, that I just go out and try to enjoy myself without worrying too much about the distant future and where it might lead, I didn’t pay much attention. We were all in a hurry to have a partner—my friends and I—and, once we started dating, I can’t recall any of us being without a girlfriend or boyfriend for longer than a few weeks. With each new pairing came the tired declarations that this person was “the one.” If we didn’t say it; we most certainly thought it. Only my parents (and, presumably, my friends’ parents) knew the truth: that none of these relationships were likely to last.
My first serious girlfriend, Shelly, was a senior in high school when we started dating, a fact that bought me cheap fame among my friends on the freshman basketball team. We met when the director of the senior jazz band invited me to sit in as second tenor saxophone. The opportunity made me nervous. I would be performing with musicians I didn’t know well—in some cases, had never met before. I went into rehearsals feeling like I had something to prove, and I worked hard not to disappoint. During school, if I finished my class work early, I snuck into the empty concrete practice rooms to work on my playing. Some days, before basketball practice, I sat on the floor in the dark and ran through my solos.
That’s where I asked out Shelly.
The halls of the school were empty, the buses had all pulled away, and most of the teachers had gone home for the night. I had an hour to kill before I had to be out on the court for drills. I was practicing the lead line to “Birdland,” a song I wouldn’t play lead on for another two years, when I heard a knock on the door.
“I heard you,” Shelly said, poking her head in. She was tall and blonde, and I admired her figure in the doorway, the way her legs curved outward at the knees. They reminded me of bike riding.
“I know, I’m really bowlegged,” she said, startling me. The corners of her mouth pinched as she smiled, and I could see her gums. “It’s like that line in the movie Jaws, where the guy says something about sleeping with bandy-legged chicks.”
“Here’s to swimmin’ with bowlegged women,” I said, my voice echoing in the small room.
“Yeah. I watched that movie with a date once and couldn’t look him in the eye the rest of the night.”
“I wasn’t staring at your legs,” I said.
“Well, that’s because you’re a gentleman,” she said.
We talked a little about the upcoming concerts, her graduation, my basketball season, and when the clock on the wall hit ten ‘til, I thanked her for the company and started packing up my sax. “Look,” I said, as she opened the practice room door, leaning against the frame. “You want to grab lunch or something sometime?”
“I would,” Shelly said. So I gave her my phone number. And then, after she’d left the room, I went through a series of enthusiastic fist pumps and high jumps—like Michael Jordan hitting “The Shot” against the Cavs in the 1989 Eastern Conference finals. Only far less cool.
Shelly called me later that night, and we made plans for Saturday. I had practice at noon, and she had plans to play tennis with her friend, Lana. Lana was dating my childhood friend Darrell and so it seemed natural for all of us to double date. A few phone calls later, and we had the whole thing set up. Darrell would pick us up outside the high school, and we’d hit a local restaurant, Brownie’s in the ‘Burg, for lunch.
That Saturday, after practice I showered, and while the other guys tugged on snap-up athletic pants, I changed into a pair of black jeans and a black, button-down shirt.
“Big date, Kap?” the coach asked, teasing me as I parted my hair in the mirror.
“You got it,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant.
I was the last person to walk out of the gym, and it wasn’t until I stepped through the double doors that I realized it was pouring rain. The tennis courts were empty, and Darrell was nowhere in sight. I scrambled back into the lobby and fished around in my pockets for spare change. I called home. No one had heard from Darrell. I called Darrell’s house. His mother said he’d already left, and that he’d left a message for me: meet him at Brownie’s.
It was warm, and the forecast hadn’t called for rain, so I had no coat, no umbrella. I would have called for a ride, but I’d used up all my change. Everyone else had left. Impatient, I grabbed a student newspaper from the rack outside of the gym and trudged the six blocks to Brownie’s. By the time I arrived, I was soaked from head to toe. My shirt hung from my chest. My shoes squished on my feet.
Darrell’s truck was nowhere to be seen.