Sep 11, 2020

Driven to Celebrate a Birthday

Looking in the rearview mirror to understand today

By Ed Goldman
I first asked Kim Elizabeth Hyland to go steady with me on August 9, 1966. We had walked to a little park near her family home on a warm afternoon. Kim was barefoot and wore a lightweight shift. I had on my standard Southern California Summer Guy outfit: a JC Penney TownCraft T-shirt®; Madras-patterned shorts which had fashionably bled their way through several washings and now looked as though someone had sprayed an abstract painting on my thighs; and a pair of suitably roughed-up Converse tennis shoes, giving me the unintended look of a suburban dad in his teens on his way to buy some weekend-gardening tools at Sears.
Kim consented. And for two-and-a-half years, our relationship was romantic. But stormy. Let me clarify that: I was stormy, roiling with equal measures of testosterone and egotism. Accordingly, and wisely, she broke up with me, seemingly for good, in February of 1969, during our second semester at Long Beach City College. I was, to use an overused word, devastated, for many years.

Flash-forward more than five decades: We had reconnected by email and then in person, each of us having survived tragic personal losses. She had retired after more than 30 years of teaching elementary school and I was still slogging away at whatever it is at which I slog away. I asked her to go steady again this past March 6, and to my everlasting delight, she once again consented. In the card I gave her, I said I liked asking her to go steady every 54 years or so. Laughs, tears and the kind of hugs I could only have dreamt of.
Kim lives in Long Beach, and a few days after that visit to see me in Sacramento, the world and the state fell under house arrest. The commuter romance we’d been cherishing became a cyber one.

Kim and Ed at The Waterboy restaurant in Sacramento’s midtown. Ed drove.

Tomorrow, she’ll be 70, a milestone I hope to reach two months and three days thereafter. Loving someone barely older than I am means nothing at this age, of course. But in high school, it was daunting. I even lied to close friends (but not to Kim) that I’d actually been born in March. My main concern was that she’d be getting her driver’s license before I’d get mine. In today’s culture, a lot of guys like it when they’re driven everywhere by their girlfriends (if either of them even drives). But in our teen years, a girl driving a guy all but proclaimed that the girl was older. Precisely why we gave a damn one way or the other embarrasses me to this day. Maybe it was an extension of the childhood notion that the older boy is bigger and is therefore capable of beating up the smaller one, and is therefore to be given more respect. But I also knew that Kim had gone out on dates with older boys, who had their driver’s licenses and sometimes even their own cars. And that made me feel awkward and ineffectual.
It was a brainless thing to fret about but that’s how brainless looked in 1966 if you went to Lakewood Senior High School, an all-white school in an all-white blue-collar and white-collar town that lay in the shadow of the once powerhouse aircraft plant McDonnell-Douglas, which was the town’s biggest employer. But, to adapt an annoying phrase, it was what it was. And we were what we were.

The ridiculous fact is that the notion evidently took up residence in my subconscious. For our first new date last September, I flew down to Long Beach to take Kim to the electric parade at Disneyland and dinner at the park’s Blue Bayou restaurant, a bucket-list episode for her which I recounted in my February 14 column, “Valentines Stay,” which provides the solemn story behind the visit.

When it was time to go there, around dusk, Kim insisted she drive us in her SUV. “I rented a car,” I either bleated or pleaded. But she had been very ill and driving seemed to reconnect her to normalcy, which was much more intelligent than my reason for wanting to be behind the wheel. Oh, I was no longer concerned people would see her driving me and think she was older than I was—in fact, she’d just had her 69th birthday and my own was still several weeks away—but I still longed to drive. It was no longer an adolescent optic of empowerment; it had evolved into simply wanting to take care of her.

When she visited here, a few months later, after major surgery and many weeks of recovery, I drove us everywhere. By then my birthday had passed and our stated ages were the same. Tomorrow, she’ll again be older than I am, but only for about 10 weeks. I’m pretty sure I can handle it. After all, after more than half a century, I think we’ve established our love is ageless.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).