Biff America: You never forget your first lobster
“If you tell anyone, I’ll deny it and Jerry will beat you up.”
That warning, issued by an older woman, has kept me silent for 35 years. Even now, though I’m guessing that Jerry must be closing in on 60, I’m changing the names.
Kitty Casey had a tattoo. By the sensibilities of today that would be no big deal. But for a high school senior in 1969 it was a small town scandal.
Kitty had “Jerry,” her boyfriend’s name tattooed on her forearm. Homemade tattoos were not uncommon in my neighborhood. You simply wrapped a sewing needle with thread, dipped it in India ink and scratched away to form the words you wanted. Most, if not all of the body art was sported by bikers, thugs, and drop-outs. Jerry was all of that, Kitty none.
Kit showed up the first day of school in her senior year with her new tattoo. I heard her joking with her friends in the lunch room, “At least the lunkhead spelled his name right.”
When I was in Junior High and Kit was is in High School we’d occasionally ride the same bus to our respective schools. She was tall, tough with short blonde hair. She lived in a slightly poorer section of town with two parents who worked with their hands. I saw her father a few times at Kit’s field hockey games”he had tattoos himself.
Jerry Rizza was a few years older than Kit and more than a few older than I. My older brother Mark, reputed to be one of the toughest guys in town, gave Jerry much respect.
When I finally made it to high school I’d often see Jerry dropping his girl off, sometimes on his Bonneville Triumph motorcycle, sometimes in various hot cars. He too would attend Kit’s field hockey games, often standing silently next to his girlfriend’s Dad ” both tough, proud, unapologetic.
I got to know Kit in my last year in high school; she had graduated a few years before.
I was a janitor at a local hospital. Kit was a nurse’s aide and cocktail waitress. It seemed like the nurses were unfriendly to her but it worked out for me because I got to sit with her in the cafeteria. She claimed she was saving her money to attend nursing school; the popular sentiment around town was she would be a cocktail waitress until she got pregnant, and then she would be a mother.
One Friday afternoon in late spring Kit was giving me a ride home in Jerry’s Chevy Nova. Just before I got out of the car, without any preamble Kit said, “Pack a sweatshirt, toothbrush and a bathing suit in your gym bag, tell your parents you’re going to Cape Cod with friends. I’ll pick you on the corner in an hour. If you tell anyone, I’ll deny it and Jerry will beat you up.”
We drove out to Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod. I can still remember the name of the motel. We went out to dinner, I ate my first lobster. We spent the next day at the beach eating sandwiches that Kit must have packed before we left. That evening we stayed up all night talking. That’s when Kit told me she was getting married the next weekend.
When she dropped me off on Sunday she warned of a beating if I talked, kissed me on the cheek and drove off.
Kit got married the next Saturday; she was back at work the following Monday. We worked together for a couple more weeks until I moved to the Cape with friends.
I relocated out west that autumn and I never saw her again.
I was attending a wedding on Cape Cod this summer when I bumped into Kitty Casey, she looked middle aged. Jerry didn’t look nearly as formidable as he had when I was 18, but I still waited until Kit was alone to walk over and say hello.
She spoke first, “I was wondering if you were going to come and talk to me.”
I didn’t admit that I at first didn’t recognize her; instead I said, “I waited until Jerry left you alone. I don’t think he ever liked me.” She laughed and said, “Jerry isn’t so mean anymore, actually he never was, he just looked scary.” She added, “When I first began teaching at the nursing college my students thought I was married to a hit-man; now they ask if he’s my Dad.”
We spoke for about 10 minutes; when she laughed she looked much younger. We talked about our jobs, her kids and grandchildren and Jerry’s motorcycle shop. Without being asked she said, “I’ve had a good life.”
Jerry walked back with two beers and gave one to Kit.
Kit said, “You remember Jeffrey, don’t you? He was the last guy I ever kissed before you and I got married.”
Just for an instant I was nervous. Jerry put his arm on his wife’s shoulder and I saw the old tattoo of “Kitty” just above his knuckles. He laughed, shook my hand and, without a hint of sarcasm, said, “Good for him.”
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