To Be The Girl On The Back Of A Bike

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"I want to take you for a ride on the bike," he declared, his eyes intent on me, a whisper of excitement curling up at the edges. 

It came out of nowhere. Our conversation consisted of the usual topics and always, always I tried to figure out where I stood and where I wanted to stand. It was one of those days where summer transitioned into fall and our friend group's plans bled from one fun thing to the next on the weekend. Scraps of surrounding conversations filtered into my awareness but nothing could distract me from his gaze.

How did he manage to do this to me? We were still only a few months into this equilibrium and at least every week he'd do or say something that made me question whether he wanted something more again. He made me question my very sanity. I didn't want to be hurt but I wasn't ready to let go of him entirely either.

"We could go right now," he continued. It was a dare and maybe it was a message. We couldn't leave this gathering together and not be plagued by whispers. Maybe that was part of the problem. For every sweet thing he did, a friend would squeal, "I really think he likes you again!" and I'd wonder. But I also couldn't forget the phone call where he said he couldn't do this, that he didn't want to lose me but he realized he wasn't attracted to me after all. 

I tried not to think about that phone call.

I tried not to think about what a motorcycle ride would mean. There was no doubt I'd go. He wasn't anything close to a bad boy but my heart forever trended toward those with an edge. Give me a tattooed, bearded man with a bike and I'll be content. Or in this case, one out of three.

"How about tonight?" I countered. We were all going to a cookout and it would give me a chance to swing home and change into something else. Too many people had gotten road rash over the years for me to want to test that fate. "I don't want to ride when I'm wearing shorts and flip flops. And I'll need a helmet too." 

He should have thought of this before he ever asked but I pushed the doubt back into the recesses of my mind. He sought me out. He wanted to take me for a ride. He didn't make this offer to any of our other friends.

I wore jeans to the cookout, a thrum of nerves beating in my stomach. After we'd eaten, he came over and asked if I was ready to go. I followed him out to my car, where I changed into sneakers.

I looked at him expectantly for a helmet but there wasn't one. He made excuses. He hadn't wanted to drive all the way back home to get it. Granted, it was a longer trip for him but he chose to get coffee with a few friends during that time instead. He chose something else over me. Again.

He would wear his helmet- it only made sense in his eyes- and told me nothing would happen to us in my hometown. This wasn't 100% true. Accidents could happen anywhere, anytime, and they certainly did here. 

I should have put my foot down. I should have walked away from the blurred lines of our friendship.

But I wanted to be the girl on the back of a bike. I wanted to forget all my worries for even an hour as the world rushed by. It could simply be him and me. Full stop. I hoped I wouldn't live to regret it.

I wrapped my arms around him and felt the muscles of his body beneath my fingers. I should have held on tighter once the bike began to move but I needed to keep space between us and remember. How many more ways could he show me I didn't matter enough? And still, knowing all I knew, I wanted him to want me. I deserved better and yet I wanted the thrill of a motorcycle ride to take me back to the day he first asked me out and the time he surprised me at work. 

The temperature dropped as we rode down familiar streets. I wished I'd grabbed a jacket but the day had been sunny and warm. I shivered and took in the roar of the motor and the town I knew so well. My hair tangled and darted around my face without a helmet or hair tie to tame it from the wind. It battered me without restraint and I could only take it. 

After a while, we stopped by to see some married friends in their new house. He'd wooed her on the back of his bike and they looked at us with knowing grins as we stepped inside. I wanted to tell them there was nothing to see in my wind-whipped hair and rosy cheeks.

This ride meant nothing. I would not hold on to the hope of him. This time I wanted to mean it.


Smells Like Teen Spirit

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He let me wear his coat during class that day.

It was brown corduroy lined with cream shearling. It was too big even for him but such was fashion in the 90s. Swaths of fabric pooled around my body. I pushed the thick sleeves back whenever I needed to take notes.

Tim* sat in front of me, stoic without his armor. The coat smelled like CK1 and cigarettes. I didn't know for sure he smoked until then. I breathed in his scent, knowing this might be my only chance.

Our school's heating system heated indiscriminately and this wing of the building ran cold. There wasn't always time to grab my winter coat from my locker before class. I couldn't believe he'd offered it to me when he could have offered it to Stacey instead. I could never compete with one of the most popular girls in school. But no, he'd overheard us talking about how cold we were and settled his coat on my shoulders before I even understood what he said. My shoulders. Not hers. 

What was this life?

I barely had a chance to thank him before class began and we took our seats.

Doc Wilder started the lesson as I stared at the back of Tim's head wondering what had just happened. It didn't make any more sense to me but a lick of hope curled through me. Maybe this meant something. Maybe this crush would not end unrequited.

I looked at the way his hair fell and the shape of his ears. I took in his posture and how he always seemed at home in his body, something I appreciate more now as an adult. He was funny and irreverent and smart. He embodied the grunge look so well and God help me but I wanted to be Courtney Love to his Kurt Cobain- if they'd had a healthy relationship. Like a much, much healthier version.

The day he gave me his coat was not the first time we'd talked but it was the first time I wondered if he was paying better attention to our pre-class conversations than I thought. He saw me and nothing makes me fall harder for someone than that. 

Class ended and it was time for lunch. I peeled off his coat and gave it back to him, immediately chilled. We strolled through the hallway, chatting as usual, and then headed in different directions. He gave me his usual smile and my stomach flipped in return. I wondered if anything had changed. If anything would change.

Nothing changed.

A week later, desperation clawed through me. What had his kind gesture meant? I needed a sign.

"Can I borrow your coat again?" The question slipped out as I looked up into his clear blue eyes. I immediately wished I could lasso the words back. My face turned red and electricity snapped through me. I was a live wire of vulnerability. I was asking for his coat but I was asking for so much more.

Annoyance swept over his face. After all, it was freezing. Whatever had motivated his gentlemanly behavior before was no longer in play. But he still shrugged it off and let me borrow it once more. I knew better than to ask again. I tamped my feelings back down. When class ended, I shrugged off the coat and put my crush back on the shelf.

And that was that. 

A year later he started dating one of my friends, a bubbly Pollyanna type. I was mystified how this bad boy could see something in her he didn't see in me. He was a perpetual question mark.

Why had he given me his coat that day? Did he ever think I was attractive? What could I have done differently to call him mine?

Not too long ago I caught a whiff of cK1 and I was transported back to the classroom, his face smiling at me, and the heft of that coat pooled around me. I felt the ache of wanting him. More than 20 years have passed but I still wonder. 

 

*Names have been changed because you may feel like writing about your high school crush but that doesn't mean you want your crush to Google himself and find out about it.


I Can't Quit You, Christy Miller

I Can't Quit You, Christy Miller via LeighKramer.com

Like many girls raised in evangelical churches, I grew up on a steady diet of Christian series. I read the Chronicles of Narnia, Grandma's Attic, and Elizabeth Gail series, tucked in amongst Anne of Green Gables and A Wrinkle in Time.

After Elizabeth Gail, I was more than ready to move on to teen Christian fiction and there awaited Christy Miller. Life would never again be the same.

The first few books had already been published by the time I found Summer Promise at our local Christian bookstore. I was swiftly drawn into Christy's world. We meet her just before her 15th birthday during a summer-long vacation in Newport Beach, CA, where her wealthy aunt and uncle lived. Far from her home in Wisconsin (Midwestern Girls Forever!), Christy wrestled with similar insecurities as she made new friends and questioned whether her crush Todd was into her or not.

While Christy's life wasn't perfect, she never faced true calamity and strife either. Each book would wrap up with a perfect bow tied on the conclusion. It was all very...Christian-y.

I've heard author Robin Jones Gunn tries to present a Christian ideal in all her novels. It's almost utopian and therefore many of the scenarios are unrealistic. Do people really talk like that? Would that really happen?

Yet Christy Miller's world was just what I needed in my pre-teen and then teenage state. I needed to see a girl dealing with the ups and downs of friendship and crushes. I wanted to know whether she and Todd were meant to be. I wondered whether someday I'd meet a cute surfer with screaming silver-blue eyes and a heart on fire for Jesus.

Because of Christy Miller, I thought it would be a good idea to learn to drive stick-shift, just in case whoever was driving me became incapacitated by a bee sting. (Still haven't followed through on this.) I romanticized California. (I have yet to make it there, to my chagrin.) I chalked up coincidences as God Things. (Sometimes.) I wanted to live in a house with a window seat. (This dream endures.) I started a journal composed of letters to my future husband. (I threw the journal out a couple of entries later.)

After the Christy Miller series ended, Sierra Jensen's began. Sierra and I had more in common, aside from her interest in being a missionary. (The series totally left us hanging, which is why I was glad RJG wrote Love Finds You in Sunset Beach, Hawaii.) Around this same time, I began reading the Glenbrooke series, which was written for grown ups and where I first learned the allure of Irish Breakfast tea. Still, all of these books offered improbably happy endings. The lack of grounding in reality seemed unfair but I was also in college and feeling jaded.

In RJG's world, you marry young and saving sex for marriage isn't that difficult and God always comes through. There are hardly any "older" singles in her books. There are rarely situations in which platitudes don't apply.

Even so, I was elated when Christy and Todd: The College Years were published. There was something infinitely satisfying about learning what became of one of my favorite fictional couples. Who could argue with the nostalgia of it all?

And yet.

A few years ago, Christy's best friend Katie Weldon got a series of her own. At first, this excited me but by book 4, I was ready to throw the series across the room. That utopian Christian ideal, that high-handed morality, that "who on earth talks like this?!" got to me.

I thought I'd moved beyond Christina Juliet Miller Spencer but a few weeks ago I learned a new series had been birthed. Christy and Todd: The Married Years.

I COULD NOT RESIST THEM.

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I plowed through Forever With You and Home of Our Hearts. They were impossible to put down, even though they had their share of cheesy moments and the same things I disliked about the other series. Even though she got heavy-handed with complementarianism, purity culture, and gender roles. Even though I don't know anyone who talks about God the way Christy, Todd, & Company do. Even though dear RJG doesn't use the word "sex" (due to the publisher??) when writing about married sex. This made me giggle when reading the few scenes which address Todd and Christy's marital bliss. What else can you do after reading a line about their "rainy, romantic, robust Sunday evening"?

But I can't quit Christy Miller.

Despite all the things I don't like in these books, I somehow still relate to Christy's struggles, in this newest iteration especially. Christy and Todd wrestle with where to live and what to do for work. They're on an extremely tight budget and job searching through most of the two books. (Remind you of anyone?) They're contemplating big leaps.

And sure, in Home of Our Hearts they travel to two exotic locations courtesy of wealthy relatives. In both books, those same wealthy relatives help them out of a few jams, prompting me to mutter about not having a generous benefactor. Where's my Uncle Bob and Aunt Marti?!

All this pales in comparison to how much I related to everything else. I was inspired and encouraged by what Christy went through. There were lines that made me cry because I sensed they were for me, as much as they were for Christy and her friends. For whatever reason, Christy Miller still resonates with me.

That's why I can't quit her. Bring on book 3!

Disclosure: Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through, any purchase you make supports this site.


My First Ever Short Story

When I went home last Christmas, my mom gave me a bag full of old letters, drawings, and various school assignments. I shared some of the more nostalgic finds on Instagram but the piece de resistance is a short story I wrote in the early 90s. I was likely in 4th or 5th grade and clearly read a lot of Nancy Drew mysteries.

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For your enjoyment and so you may appreciate my original artwork, I present to you in unedited form:

TREASURE CAN BE FOUND IN WALLS

By Leigh Kramer

 

My friend Samantha and I, Karen, were going to search my Aunt Nancy's house for what my great, great, great grandma had hidden in this very old house that she had lived in herself. I brought my duffle bag along with a few hammers and some pliers and anything else we might need. Ding dong. "I'll get it. It's probably Samantha." I yelled to my mom who was upstairs doing something. As I had predicted it was Samantha. We walked down to my Aunt Nancy's house. I rang the doorbell and waited for my Aunt to answer it. After a while we were upstairs tapping and poking around trying not to knock anything down.

Tap, tap, tap THUD. "Hey Sam" I said to Samantha. "Can you bring the hammer to me. I think I just found the treasure but I'm not sure..." my voice trailed off. "Sure thing, Karen!" Samantha answered.

"I sure hope you found it!" she added.

"So do I, so do I, Samantha" I answered.

Carefully I opened the panel from the wall. There was a very old antique jewelry box. It was studded with emeralds and ruby's, and other kinds of beautiful gems. "WOW! That must be my great, great, great grandmothers! We had better show this to Aunt Nancy." "Look what we found, Aunt Nany! Isn't it pretty?" "Yes, it is PRETTY! As a reward you can keep it, Karen and for Samantha...didn't you say, Sam, that you liked biographies on people?" my aunt inquired. "Oh yes I do I collect biographies!" Samantha answered.

"Then you may pick three biographies from my collection to keep so you can add them to your collection." "Thank you very much" Samantha and I answered in unison.

"But don't you want you're great, great grandmother's jewelry Aunt Nancy?" I asked her. "No, that's part of your reward, KAREN! You can split it up with Samantha, O.K.?" my Aunt Nancy told us.

"O.K.!" we answered together.

Then Samantha went to choose her or the soon to be hers' biographies.

While I was sorting through the very old jewelry Everything was still and silent followed by an occasional squeak or scream from Samantha.

I was murmuring to myself about how beautiful all the jewelry was when I saw a note it said,

Whoever receives my things do not sell nor give it away

keep it and cherish it and remember me.

Sincerely yours,

Karen

I gasped  that was my name! Then I noticed a locket I opened it up and saw Karen's face. With tears in my eyes I showed it to my aunt. And that just proces that treasure can be found in walls.

THE END

 

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The joys of writing with a typewriter, amiright?!

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A star and a rave review from my teacher: "Good work, Leigh- This shows your interest in books!"

Thus, a writer was born.

 


The Time I Wore a Sweatshirt and Landed a Date

Once upon a time there was a graduate student. She worked very hard. When she wasn't in class or at fieldwork, she was studying or at work. In the summer, she worked full-time but she also had more margin for fun. She loved summer.

One weekend her best friend invited her to a friend's graduation party. It was held on the R's family farm and there was the promise of a cookout, live band, kegs, and camping. She couldn't say yes fast enough.

She and her best friend happily joined the festivities. She knew about a handful of people there and enjoyed meeting R's friends and family. She also enjoyed meeting the hot single guys in attendance. Let's be honest.

The afternoon gave way to evening and the cover band began to play. Mostly 80s songs. Everyone danced. Sheer perfection.

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It grew chilly so she slipped away to the tent and grabbed her sweatshirt. She didn't want to miss out on 867-5309 or Jesse's Girl so she hurried back to the band and began dancing again.

Within seconds, a guy came over and yelled, "I-L-L."

She looked at him in puzzlement. What song was the band playing? Was this the same thing as yelling "salt" during Margaritaville or "so good" in Sweet Caroline?

"What," she yelled back.

"I-L-L," he yelled again, intent on gaining some sort of response.

Ill, she mused. Well, this made no sense. Why would he yell about being sick?

"I-L-L," he yelled again.

This was getting weird.

"I don't know what you're saying," she yelled back. She was irritated because he was interfering with her dancing time. Nobody put this baby in a corner.

Finally, a friend whispered loudly in her ear, "you're supposed to yell back I-N-I."

"And this matters because...?"

"You're wearing a University of Illinois sweatshirt."

Ah, yes. The sweatshirt she'd adorned to stave off the chill. The same sweatshirt she'd "long-term borrowed" from her friend Clay months ago. He went to U of I. She did not.

But the yelling guy was intrigued by the young woman in the U of I sweatshirt who knew nothing of school chants or mascots.

They began dancing and talking and later, while they sat around a bonfire, he asked her out.

There were many factors against this pairing. It was not meant to be.

But she never forgot the time this most unsexy of apparel landed her a date.

The end.