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Sunday Journal: Teens' island romance made summer of 1978 magical

I am on a long drive home to Tampa on a Friday evening and my cell phone rings.

"Your ex-girlfriend called." My wife sounds almost amused at telling me this. After more 20 years she never fusses when a woman calls for me.

Before I can guess which ex, she tells me.

"Angela."

I hadn't spoken to Angela in years. She was visiting my boyhood home, the Caribbean island of Montserrat, and got my number from relatives.

I am three hours from home yet as I head south on the interstate, the open road feels like a drive three decades back.

Angela will always be the girl from the summer of '78. As I speed along, my car radio is silent, but that summer's soundtrack plays. Donna Summer. Last Dance. Rod Stewart. Da Ya Think I'm Sexy. Bob Marley. Is this Love. Chaka Khan. I'm Every Woman. Chic. Le Freak.

I am 16 again.

Angela — forever 15 — arrives from London with her dad and baby brother. It turns out her cousin is my neighbor. I spot her before any of the other boys do. Our romance will be the envy of all my friends.

West Indian boys of my generation preferred British over American girls — their family vacations were a month or even six weeks. Yanks rarely stayed past 10 days. That was barely enough time for a courtship, much less a summer romance.

I saw Angela every day. I listened like a lovesick puppy when she spoke. There were no leaden silences between us. The minutes and the hours filled with banter, as she regaled me with stories of her school friends and being the only girl in a family dominated by boys.

Angela was a descendant of the Windrush generation, an offspring of the first wave of West Indian migrants to England after World War II. She was black British, worldly and confident, whereas I was an ungainly island teen who danced to her every tune.

We hung around the house during the day and walked hand in hand to the park in the afternoon so she could cheer me on as I trained with the U-19 national soccer team. After each practice, oblivious to the stares of passers-by, we strolled arm in arm. As we passed the local Barclays Bank, I'd sneak a glance at our reflection in the windows, me and my English girl. She banished all my teen awkwardness. I couldn't believe my good fortune.

Memories of the youth international soccer game are grainy. My most visible reminder is a black-and-white photograph on Facebook. The baby-faced team members face the camera and squint against the afternoon sun; behind us the mountains stand like the last line of our porous defense. We lost the game, but that was the only blemish on my magical summer.

Weekend nights were filled with music and dance. Dressed in my bell-bottom pants and platform shoes, I took Angela to the local hot spot, Disco 747, a first-floor storefront converted into a nightclub with spinning orbs and glittering lights. She wore simple sleeveless dresses that gave her the freedom to move on the dance floor. All night long, we would hold each other close in the discotheque, reveling in the intimacy afforded by a sparkling darkness. Then, sweaty and tired, we stepped outside in the cool predawn air and walked home arm in arm, a sky full of stars and barking dogs for company.

Then my magical summer ended and Angela was gone. She left me with a head full of memories and echoes of the sweet cadence of her voice. I collected three years of letters before seeing her again.

This time would be different. She arrived the day before my senior exams and left a month later, as my exams concluded.

In between I studied the twinkle in her eyes more than my geography notes and my physics textbook. For that month we were inseparable. We talked, we laughed, we pretended to be alone in the world, a sweet deception of a rekindled island summer romance — never mind my mediocre exams results.

It was almost 15 years later before our paths would again cross. I traveled to London to see my mother. I was now married; Angela was engaged, an awkward time to ask why we both ended up with someone else.

Those questions were answered almost a decade later, when I returned to London for my sister's wedding. By then Angela had a husband and three children.

She and I sat in her family minivan at 5 o'clock one Sunday morning after returning from a night of dancing and socializing with friends at her favorite London club. There were no regrets or bitterness, just resignation to fate.

Ours was a problem of geography, certainly not chemistry, we agreed. But at least we would always have the summer of '78.

A former St. Petersburg Times columnist, Andrew J. Skerritt is an assistant professor of journalism at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. His first book, "Ashamed to Die: Silence, Denial and the AIDS Epidemic in the South," will be published by Chicago Review Press in the fall.

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Sunday Journal: Teens' island romance made summer of 1978 magical 08/13/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 10, 2011 6:13pm]

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