by Wayne Christensen

After the Sea Change...

October 5, 1993

On a distant night, now vanished down the long, turbulent rivers of time, I sat at a friends house laughing and playing my guitar.

Blaze's talented fingers flew up and down the frets of his instrument like magic while I struggled to keep up with my clumsy bar chording. His eyes twinkled in his bearded face, lit with his love of music as his wife interrupted our fun to hand us each a cold beer.

"I can't think straight anymore." I laughed. "We've been fighting with this for four hours now."

"Aw C'mon Wayne. You can do this song, I wrote it just for you to sing." He lightly strummed an A chord. "Come in on the fourth measure."

He pounded the rythm and I attempted to come in at the right place but cracked up laughing instead when all that came out of my mouth was a hoarse grunt. The song was Blaze's tribute to my failed marriage and I was having difficulty taking it seriously.

"You Putz!" He cried in mock anger. "That would have been perfect!"

"Oh Honey pie," his wife cooed, cuddling up to him. "Is Wayne frustrating you? Shame on you Wayne. If my Bugsy wants you to sing then you had better sing." She dodged beneath his large red nose to kiss him.

"Hey!" I yelled indignantly. "Where's mine?"

Calling my bluff she jumped up and planted one on my astounded lips.

"Why, you little Slut!" Blaze bellowed as he punched her in the arm. He tossed his guitar aside and they fell to the floor tickling each other mercilessly, their kicking feet dangerously close to the expensive recording equipment.

Meanwhile my eyes were riveted upon a sporting goods calendar that hung on the kitchen wall, admiring the image of a leaping Trout in a mountain stream.

Suddenly the year took on a special meaning. 1986! Images of long ago flooded my mind with a crystal clarity and I could hear the beat of my heart in my ears. From out of nowhere something heavy clutched my chest. Had it really been ten years?

"I gotta take off folks." I said. "It's getting late. Work really wore me out today."

"What?" Blaze cried "It's only ten and we have'nt finished working this song out yet. You don't have to work tomorrow."

I could tell by the way that she was looking at her man that Julie wanted to make some music of her own.

"We'll get together tomorrow man." I said as I kicked him lightly in the ribs. I grabbed an ice cube from her Pepsi and dropped it down the back of Julie's blouse, eliciting a sharp shriek. "I really am beat tonight. See Y'all later."

Outside, the night loomed dark and windy. I could hear the crashing surf of an angry sea through the noises of a spring storm. A distant foghorn sounded mournfully amidst the clanging of buoy bells, announcing that a ship had entered Coos Bay. A shivering rain fell and I could hear the splash of water in the gutters. These sounds had formed the backdrop of my life, the everpresent music of memories, filed in my mind with such things as green Alder leaves waving in a summer breeze and fields of Dandelions humming with bees, swollen streams seeking the sea.

In my car I pulled Led Zeppelin from my cassette deck and inserted the music of a young country singer. As I pulled onto the highway a sound of soft guitar picking came from my speakers and I started with suprise. I had not been conciously thinking of this song when I stuck the tape in. Perhaps a little too much beer, or maybe I was just beginning to feel the passage of time. Whatever the reason, I took a turn off the highway at Pacific avenue and drove towards a middle class residential area near a grade school I had once attended.

The singer began, soft and sadly.

At seventeen, in faded jeans,
I was yours and you were mine.
Close enough, to call it love,
but we never crossed the line.
After knowing you, love's been
nothing new. I've had it good
and I've had it bad. But after
all these years, you still bring
the tears. You're the best I
never had.

On a wet street somewhere in the Empire district, I shut off my engine in front of a pinkish tan house (it is still that color today). They who once lived there had been gone for many years but it did not matter. I could see the ghosts clearly as they went about their business. A comely brown eyed mother doing dishes in the kitchen window, her handsome and square shouldered husband reading his newspaper with his Coast Guard uniform still on, a twelve year old boy watching TV and munching candy. Most of all, I could see Her.

She stood on the porch, soft auburn hair waving with the cool breeze and hazel eyes searching, waiting patiently for me like she had done night after night, waiting for me to come walking up the street in my tattered sneakers and worn Levi jacket, whistling a tune and flipping a coin. Glancing about to make sure that little brother's prying eyes were not watching from some bush she would fall into my arms and the world was mine.

Yes, I could see her there, next to that old bush that still stood by the concrete porch. With blurring vision I could see her as she kissed the thin, long haired lad who had walked a mile or two every evening to be with her. They held each other close and whispered about the dreams of someday, vowing love eternal with racing hearts and moist eyes.

The years faded away before me and night found itself replaced by a bright warm sun, shining brilliantly upon a world full of teen age dreams. They were suddenly with me again, all the ghosts of my youth, smiling and waving. Fighting, loving, and getting stoned. I looked about, and sure enough, there she was.

My Nephew Glenn and I strolled along on a dirt road near the apartments where he lived. Nearly the same age, many thought we were brothers. Except for his black hair and dark skin we may well have been. As for me, I tended towards freckles and my hair had been bleached by the sun until I was almost completely blonde, a stark contrast to my black brows and a slight fuzz that had begun to form above my lip.

"The old man sent me a letter." said my nephew as he lit a joint. He flexed muscles that rolled like steel beneath the bronzed skin of his arm.

"He says he is going to kick my ass when he gets home from Alaska. Y'know he retires from the Air force pretty soon now."

He flexed his other arm. "He may be upset to find that I have grown a little since he left. I may not want my ass kicked."

"What's the prob?" I asked.

"Mom wrote him and told him about me skippin school and stayin out late."

"The logical thing for him to do would be to have you sterilized so that you cannot reproduce and spread those bad genes." I said.

"Up yours." was his sophisticated comeback.

"Who's that?" I asked, pointing to the retinue of other kids who hung out with us.

"Oh, him, that's Bob. A friend of Bill's."

"No idiot! Not him, her!"

"The chick? That's Tammy. I was goin out with her for a while but she's cherry and wouldn't let me in her pants."

"Has any one ever told you that you are a crude bastard."

"A few times, I always thank them for the compliment."

"Let's drop back and talk to her."

"Excuse me if I don't. She's not very fond of me at this time. Kinda pissed over me dropping her for lackanooky."

"Y'know, that's what I like about you, your unselfish, sensitive attitude towards the opposite sex. I've been meaning to write a line to your dad and tell him what he probably already realizes."


"That he should have gotten a vasectomy about seventeen years ago."

"Your kindness touches me Uncle, what would you do without me around?"

"I'd be a loser. You have inspired me to recognize my purpose in life."


"Promoting birth control so that young couples don't make tragic mistakes like the one that produced you."

"Ass! Here, take a hit and don't let Bob see it. He'll suck it down in one hit." He handed me the smoking joint, despite the fact that I had told him countless times about my decision to quit smoking.

"Hey!" yelled the Bob character, "I smell something good." He came racing up to us. I handed him the number and dropped back to let the girls catch up with me.

Tammy was talking to my neice Larena as they walked. Catching up to me, Larena threw an arm around my waist.

"Tammy, this is my Uncle Wayne." Tammy smiled shyly and my knees wobbled ever so slightly as I realized just how beautiful she really was. In contrast to my neice's brown hip huggers, Tammy wore a pretty dress, the hemline stopping just above her shapely knees.

"Hi Tammy, whassup?"

"You guys shouldn't be smoking that stuff. Are you really related to that jerk?" She rolled her eyes towards Glenn.

"Aw, he's not a bad guy. He just has a little problem of sorts."

"Uh, a problem?"

"Didn't he tell you? When he was little he got his head caught under a streetcleaner. Never really been the same y'know."

"Wayne!" cried my neice as she slugged my arm.

"He only thinks with one part of his body." said Tammy wryly.

"It's a shame too," I replied. "That part doesn't even work very well, kinda small. That streetcleaner caused a lot of neurological trauma. Ever take a close look at one of those things?"


"Never mind."

"Do you always use such big words."

"I have a speech impairment."


"Nice day isn't it?"

Up ahead of us Bob had turned on his transistor radio and the Eagles were singing "Lyin eyes."

"What kind of music do you like Tammy? I think the Eagles are cool."

My neice rolled her eyes as she saw the lecherous smile of pursuit on my face and wandered off.

"I love Elvis." Tammy replied.

"I got a couple of Elvis records tucked away somewhere. Maybe you'd like to hear em sometime, are you, ah, seeing anyone or anything?"

"I would love to hear them, maybe you can bring them over to my house, and uh, no, I'm not seeing anyone."

A perfect start for virgin hearts
but it ended all so fast.
Old enough to have been the first
but too young to make it last.
I never let it show, but oh, I
should have let you know, I had
never wanted someone so bad.
Looking back I've learned, with
every bridge I've burned, you're the
best I never had.

Later that afternoon I called upon my friend Schroeder.

Schroeder was a tall, thin lad with a delicate appearance. With his long hair and wire frame glasses he looked like a hip young college student from Berkely or OSC. Actually he was a heavy duty stony who seldom ventured out of his house where he lived like a hermit with his music and his Pot.

Schroeder lived with his mother (who was always gone) in a clean but modest home. His bedroom was decorated with a black light and flourescent posters. This was where he spent most of his solitary life. My friend T.J. and I were about the only guys who ever visited him who did not want something from him. His father had split for parts unknown when his son was just a baby. His mother, also lonely, spent her life hanging out in the downtown bars. It took the retrospection of years to realize it, but now I know how desperately lonely Schroeder was. He hid his loneliness behind a facade of sophisticated worldliness, the "Cool Guy" of the neighborhood. He had a good stereo and lots of Marijuana. These two things made up the substance of his world.

"Hey Schroed! What's up?"

"Same shit, different day man. Come on in. I got some new tunes." He pulled an LP out of an envelope that still had the plastic wrapper and put it on the stereo. It was Elton John's "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy."

I could hear a swishing sound coming through the back door from the garage. "Who's back there Schroed?"

"T.J. is out there working out with his Numchuks."

"What? Hey T! Don't hurt your balls like you did last week."

There was a brief thud and a sharp intake of breath followed by a dreadful groan. "Shit!" Schroeder said. "He did it again."

We both leaped up and walked out to the garage to find T.J. laying on the cement in a fetal position. His face was blank and his wide open eyes stared at the ceiling as if in search of God.

"Hell! Right in the balls." said Schroeder. "Second time he's done it this week."

Both of T.J's hands covered his groin where one solid oak stick of the chucks still rested.

"Hey man!" I said. "How will you ever kick somebody's ass with the chucks if you neuter yourself with em while you're fighting?"

"Errrrrrraerrrgh!" The soft moan was the only answer I got.

Schroeder vanished for a moment and reappeared with a half empty bottle of Jose Quervo.

"Take a swig T." He lifted T.J's head and held the bottle to his lips. T.J. took a big swallow and sprayed it back out onto the concrete and Schroeder with a hacking cough.

"Wayne! (gasp). Please don't (choke) distract me while (gasp) I'm workin with the (wheeze) chucks."

From the living room Elton John's melodic voice floated through the house.

Someone saved my life tonight, sugar bear,
almost had your hooks in me, didn't you dear?
You really had me roped and tied, altar bound,
hypnotized. Sweet freedom whispered in my ear,
you're a butterfly, and butterflies are free to
fly, fly away.

"C'mon." said Schroeder. He grasped T.J's arm and I grabbed the other one. Together we helped him into Schroeder's bedroom and sat him onto the bed. Schroeder went to the living room and turned off the stereo. Returning, he powered up his own stereo and as he switched on the black light, the sounds of "Pink Floyd" filled the little room.

Breathe! Breathe in the air.
Don't be afraid to care.
Look around, choose your own ground.
All you touch and all you see,
is all your life will ever be.

T.J's face began to look it's normal, healthy color instead of the sickly green it had been minutes before. The tall, blue eyed englishman sat up with a sigh and pulled a cigarette from his black leather jacket. "Shit man! I don't know if I can handle that again. It would be easier to just let someone beat the hell outta me."

"You're always preaching at me about concentration." I said. "I think you need to follow your own advice."

"Hear you got a new woman?"

"I do? How come people always know these things about me before I do?"

"Larena told me. She said that Tammy is just the kind of sucker that would fall for you. After all, she did fall for Glenn."

My reply to him was fairly foul and I will not write it. As I recall it was only a few words that neatly summed up his ancestry and his mother's sexual practices rather nicely into one brief sentence.

Schroeder lifted an eyebrow as he sucked at a joint. "Wow man! That was quite inventive."

T.J. clutched his groin as his chest heaved. "Please, don't make me laugh yet, it hurts."

At that moment a certain fellow whom I did not like at all showed up looking for a free high. Taking the cue I stood up and bidded my friends goodbye, nice day, and all that stuff. As I walked back out into the afternoon sunlight T.J. limped up behind me. "Hey man! Have you seen Gail? Tell her hi for me will ya?"

T.J. was absolutely, totally, completely, head over heels in love with my neice Gail. I could scarcely blame him since she was so damned pretty that it made a guy's knees weak just to look at her, with that thick wavy brunette hair and those big, soft, doe eyes. However, at fourteen I thought that she was just a bit young for him. The infatuation was mutual but they had not yet managed to connect.

I arrived at my parent's house to see an interesting little drama taking place out on the street.

Near the house was my neice Gail, surrounded by a little group of friends. A little ways away from her was another group surrounding a large and rather stupid looking boy with a checkered shirt and pants that were far too short. Somewhere in between was my nephew Glenn with his shirt off, flexing the corded muscles of his bronze chest and arms. He seemed to be affecting a show of great anger like some kind of upset ape.

Standing apart was my best friend Mike. He seemed to be quite amused as he puffed on his cigarette and watched the two groups in front of him.

"What's comin down man?" I asked.

"Hey Wayne! Where ya been man? You're missing the fun." He jerked his head to sweep the long brown hair out of his eyes. "Y'see ol Herschel there, has a case of the hots for Gail and has been bugging her." Mike indicated the large simple looking lad. He jerked a thumb at Glenn, "In order to get rid of Herschel, he's pretending to be Gail's big, mean, boyfriend who is not happy over the said Herschel's infatuation with the apple of his eye."

As if to emphasize the point Glenn let out a roar and hit his chest with one fist.

"No shit?" I said. "Outta sight."

Gail urged Herschel to flee before it was too late. "You see what I mean? He is working himself up into one of his rages, and he'll kill you. Now get out of here."

Glenn stepped behind the side of a house that was under construction, out of Herschel's sight. He roared again and loudly slammed his fist against a wall. Then he lost it. Looking at Mike and I, he doubled up with suppressed laughter.

Herschel was finally convinced that this was no joke and fled down the street, glancing over his shoulder with wide, round eyes, expecting Glenn The Horrible to pursue and mince him. As soon as he was out of sight, the whole gang burst into fits of laughter.

With the ending of this humorous little scenario I went into my house, grabbed a sandwich, a glass of milk, listened to Mom complaining about something or other and jumped on the phone.

By seven I was standing at Tammy's door when she opened it with a radiant smile. "Looks like you forgot your records."

"Oh,,,ah,, guess I did." I mumbled thickly, realizing that my knees had become somewhat unsteady.

"Come in. I'll play something for us. I want you to meet my parents."

As I stepped in, she introduced me to her mother, an absolutely gorgeous woman of about thirty two or so. I instantly knew where Tammy had gotten her pretty smile. Next I met her father. A Chief Petty officer for the U.S. Coast Guard, he was a large man who resembled Dan Rather with his movie star smile and an iron grip. I could almost hear the bones cracking when he shook my hand. Behind his smiling grey eyes lurked a hint of steel that asked the grim question as plainly as if he had said it aloud.

"Are you planning on screwing my daughter kid?"

(At a later date he made sure that I was well informed as to what he would do to me should his little girl ever turn up pregnant.)

The last one to meet was little brother Danny. A handsome and intelligent boy with a sunny disposition. He was friends with my young nephew of the same name. They would get together and explore the multiplicity of natural wonders that filled the universe around them with their Telescopes, Microscopes, chemistry sets, etc. Thus is the natural curiosity and energy of pre-teen boys.

One by one the rest of the family found things to busy themselves with, leaving Tammy and I alone in the living room where we talked for a couple of hours until her mother finally told her that it was getting late.

I got up to leave with a promise that I would call soon. At this point, shy and awkward, I summoned up all my courage to quickly reach out and give her slender fingers a brief squeeze. The sparkle that lit up her eyes rewarded my bravery beyond all expectation. I floated home upon a fleecy cloud trimmed with silver.

It was about three days before I could see Tammy again, an eternity. Meanwhile we talked on the phone as much as we could. When we couldn't talk, I would spend much of my time at a lonely fishing dock where I would wait and watch the sun set over the sea, far beyond the dunes of the North spit. Alone with my teenage hopes, dreams, and fears, I would watch the tides move icy, green water back and forth from the bay and out into a vast, cold, sea.

After what seemed like forever I found myself back at Tammy's doorstep. Her parents were out and little brother was spending the night with a friend. I wanted to dance with joy.

She played her Elvis records and we sat on the couch holding hands and talking. Midway through one song we seemed to run out of things to say. Looking into each others eyes we came closer and closer until our lips touched as Elvis' quivering baritone wound it's way through a soul searching rock ballad.

Defying every logic known, I wish a time machine
could take me back again, to the wonder of my
first love, the old folks teased about, refering
to her only as my little friend.

Somewhere far away and maybe not so far away
a child has grown into a woman of the world. I
assume this knowing that she knew so much of life
at such a tender age.

I learned from her the whispered things the
big boys at the pool hall talked about. The thrill
and disappointment, fear and shame that first love
brings, but oh how I thought I loved my little friend.

As in the words of the song, time moved fast and I moved on. I loved others time and time again. Tammy and I went separate ways. She became pregnant by some rough talking street boy and was sent away to Idaho to live with her grandmother.

I joined the U.S Army. A short time later Mike followed my lead and also joined. Schroeder dissapeared to God knows where. Bill died on a motorcycle on his way home from a party. T.J. joined the Marines. 1976 ended, forever.

In the soft radiance of the streetlight I watched a brown leaf float down the gutter until it was sucked into a storm grate. Looking up again I was not able to clearly see the house anymore. It was then that I realized that the rain had stopped and all was still. The wetness on my cheeks was not the product of those dark clouds overhead.

Where are you? I thought. Are you happy? I wish so much that I could just hold your hand once more and look into those big hazel eyes. Perhaps I could learn a little something that had eluded me before, clearing the way to a final discovery of the missing pieces of the puzzle, the acceptance of closure.

Maybe they were all waiting for me somewhere, under some dim yellow streetlight, laughing, joking, beckoning, calling across the years for me to join them. Among them, one with her arms open, waiting.

My face felt relaxed, untwisted, but the tears fell on into the darkness. I let them, welcoming them as they ran freely and gently cleansed my soul with their soothing balm. I became aware of that roar from the thundering dark ocean a mile or more away, calming my throbbing heart with the poignancy of it's timeless message, calling the storm's fresh waters to it's salty bosom.

The flame is gone, but the fire burns on,
sometimes sweet, sometimes sad.
Girl you'll always be, a haunting memory,
you're the best I never had.

Gently plucking his guitar, the singer spoke the last line softly.

After all these years, you still bring the tears.
You're the best I never had.

Young Love