Saturday, January 22, 2011

Steve Strong: Christi's Legacy

Christi was a beautiful young lady. She was perky, energetic, and absolutely full of life. She was an extrovert, and all about drama before it was fashionable for young women to be dramatic. In describing her like this, it sounds like I’ve written her obituary – but Christi is alive and well. She’s just not around me anymore.

Christi was the kind of girl who, when you were making small talk with her in a crowded cafeteria, would suddenly yell “Hi Robert!” Six guys would turn their heads to her and she’d wave to each one and say hi. Then I’d ask her who she was saying that to and she’d say no one – she just knew it was a common name.

In the very small community of Mormons in Michigan in the 1970’s it was understood that Christi and I would date and, maybe more than just date, it was possible that we would marry. At least, some people were rooting for that.

Christi joined the church while I was a missionary laboring in Japan. She was extremely popular in her high school, and was voted the school’s “Snow Festival Queen” of 1978. She was from a broken family, and when she joined the church, the last of the family members that cared about her quit talking to her. She was alone and on her own by the age of 18.

By the time Christi and I went out on a date, she was living in East Lansing and attending Michigan State University. I had basically been avoiding girls for the two years I was in Japan, so when I drove down to see Christi I was very nervous and awkward around women. It was arranged that I would drive down on Friday night, have dinner with her, then stay on the couch of some guys she was friends with, and then spend Saturday together.

Christi wasn’t weird. But that was the first word people used to describe her if they didn’t understand her. For instance, when asked what her major was in college, she would say, “Puppetry.” Then you would naturally ask, “Does Michigan State have a Puppetry major?” To which she would reply, “Not yet. They’re making me take English, but I plan to start the Puppetry major here.”

On that Friday night of our first date, I got down to East Lansing and she told me wanted to make me a dinner with the theme of “Indian.” I thought she meant we were going to have curry, but no, she meant Chippewa. She baked fish that was burnt and too salty to be edible. We both picked at it but couldn’t eat it. To go with it, she made succotash which was lima beans and corn. I can’t stand lima beans and was choking this stuff down trying to be polite and I noticed she never ate at all, but was just watching me. I asked her what she was doing and she said she hates lima beans so she wasn’t planning to eat that night.

On the second evening of our first date, she asked me to drive her to a graveyard. I thought that was an odd request, but I obliged. Neither of us had warms coats, and this was Michigan in February, but she said she wanted to get out of the car and walk among the graves. It was so cold out there, and she snuggled up to me and said “Hold me.” The whole thing was so strange I felt like I was on Candid Camera!

During the time I was seeing Christi I purchased my first car: a rolling piece of rust called a Ford Mustang II. It was a 4 cylinder car that took one quart of oil for each tank of gas. The driver’s side floorboard had rusted through and I bondo-ed in a piece of wood so my feet wouldn’t hit the pavement when I drove.

It had a tachometer that only worked when the car had been parked in the sun with the windows rolled up. It had the unique combination of no pickup and terrible gas mileage. It was truly an engineering marvel – the pride of 1973 Detroit.

But what the vehicle lacked in body integrity and motor mechanics it made up for in acoustics. I bought and installed a four-way speaker system with the front speakers in the door panels and the rear speakers sitting on the back seat. It had woofers and tweeters like a living room stereo in the back seat and the sound was excellent. If anyone rode in the backseat, they had to hold the speakers on their lap.

I wanted to impress Christi on our date, so I put together a mix tape of Foreigner, Boston, Skynyrd and other cool groups from the era. But when I took Christi for a drive, the first thing she asked me to do was to turn off the music. I was honestly shocked that she wasn’t impressed, and asked her if she wanted some other kind of music.

She looked me in the eye and said, “Wouldn’t you rather talk to me?”

She explained her philosophy that people hide behind noise instead of communicating. She said she liked music, movies and dancing as much as the next person, but she thought that the time two people spent together was precious and shouldn’t be polluted by noise which makes it harder to understand each other. She looked at me and said, “Let’s leave the music off and just talk – unless you’d rather not hear from me.”

That was an awkward moment, but the more I thought about her words the more wise they seemed to be. Why spend money on a date just to hide behind a bunch of noise? After all, isn’t a live person infinitely more interesting than the same old music you can hear over and over with the push of a button?

1 comment:

  1. I agree, whole-heartedly...but isn't nice to get lost in music every once in a while? Great story!