Back Seat Love
by Helen "Len" Leatherwood

If ever a prize were awarded for Best Teenage Romance circa 1970, then my high school sweetheart and I would win hands-down.  We were together for three years and shared that starry-eyed love everyone hopes for, but few are lucky enough to experience.

Sam was 5'6" tall, weighed 115 pounds with his jeans and boots on, and had eyes as blue as the Texas sky.  I met him in World History class my freshman year; didn't know him because he was a year older.  He got a friend of a friend to check out if I currently had a boyfriend, then began smiling at me from across the room.  Within a week, he'd asked me out on my first real date.

Sam was from a farm family.  He lived six miles out of town, and he went home after school every day to drive the combine or haul hay.  He had a quick chuckle, callused hands, and olive skin that got creamy brown in the summer from working out in the fields.   His two sisters and  brother looked just like him, except two of them were blonde instead of curly brunette.

Our first date was to the movies, then out driving on country roads.  I suppose Sam was getting up his nerve to stop for a while.  He did stop, but only long enough to hold my hand and give me one small kiss.

It was the second date that moved us both into official love.  Sam took me to the movies again (entertainment was hard to come by in that little place), then drove out to a dirt road behind the tiny county airfield.  We sat in silence for two or three minutes before he scooted close and gave me a soft kiss.  "I've been waiting all week for that," he whispered.  He smelled of British Sterling and Doublemint gum, his breath warm and sweet.  My heart did a double back flip.  I'd been waiting all week for that kiss, too.

From then on, for the next three years, Sam and I saw each other every Friday and Saturday night, plus most Sunday afternoons.  Whenever he came to pick me up, he'd step inside our kitchen, take off his green baseball cap with John Deere written on the front, and say, "Howdy, folks."  He had such relaxed assurance as he looked around the room at my family that I fell in love every time he walked in the house.

We must have kissed for almost a year, just necking, before we moved to anything more serious.  From necking we went to heavy petting.  Tops came off on those dark roads, but bottoms stayed on.  We would kiss and caress to a fevered pitch, then rock our bodies together until we both shuddered with relief.  In fact, the first "shudder" I ever had was with Sam Francis, and I didn't have a clue what it was.

"I just had the funniest feeling," I said while we were putting our tops back on one night.  "Funny, but really good."

Sam pulled me close to him and laughed.  "Silly goose, don't you know what that is?"

I remember feeling embarrassed.  The truth was that I didn't have a clue what that was.  Somehow that vital piece of information had been omitted when my older sister had explained menstruation to me, the extent of my sex education.   It wasn't long, however, until I got clearer and clearer about exactly what was what.

Sam and I moved to pants coming off, but still wearing underwear.  With each progression, the sensations got more and more alluring.  We made a pact however that no matter how far we went, we would not have intercourse.  I knew the quickest way to kill my father was for me to get pregnant in high school.  He would be forever shamed, and I would never get to go to that big university I had my heart set on attending.  So, both being virgins, we swore to uphold our pact.  We would wait until after we graduated and got married before we really had "sex."  In the meantime, we evolved into having some of the best carrying-on I've had in my life.

Sam and I never did "go all the way." We didn't really have to because we had the world's best sex without it.  But alas, over time, he started longing for that part he was missing.  There was an urgency to his touch that made it clear he was ready to take the final step.  I was five months from leaving that little town forever, and wasn't about to get pregnant on my way out.  I ended our relationship just before Christmas of my senior year.

Do I wish I had taken that last step with Sam?  The answer is yes.  In retrospect, it would have been right and proper if Sam had been the official "first one."  Would I have remained in my little home town if Sam and I had done that?  Absolutely yes, with at least one baby before age nineteen.  I'm not sorry we didn't do that.  As it was, a full ten years passed before I had my first child.

I talked to Sam on the telephone two years ago, twenty-seven years after our breakup.  It was odd having a real conversation with someone I hadn't actually talked to that much when I was younger.  I learned that he had done well, was successful, and happy in a second marriage.  I told him about my kids and husband of eighteen years.

Just as we were ending our conversation, he said quietly, "You know, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about you."

I thought back to that night behind the county airfield when we officially fell in love.  My heart did another double back flip.  "I know," I said.  "Me, too."

Helen (Len) Leatherwood is a transplanted Texan who has lived for the past ten years in Los Angeles. She is a frequent contributor to, has been published in, and has a memoir piece in A Cup of Comfort Cookbook found in bookstores everywhere. Contact Len.