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The Way we Were
By Susan Van Allen

David Sorrentino knew every word to every song of every musical comedy. Throw out a word: "If," and he'd launch into: "IF… ever I would leave you, it wouldn't be in springtime…" Or you could just name a letter: "O" and David would blast out: "O...klahoma, where the wind comes rushing down the plain…" If it was a dance number, like "I Want to Be Happy," David would be on his feet shuffling off to Buffalo, his arms chopping the air for the grand finale.

We were both fourteen. I knew someday I would marry him. He was the perfect man.

My mother, my Nana, all my aunts loved David. He'd pitch in at family parties, passing salami, praising Mom's baked ziti, while my dad and the uncles sat silently puffing cigars, trying to sneak peaks at the ballgame. David wasn't like them. He was sensitive. And caring.

After school we'd go back to his house. To his bedroom off the basement. Just the two of us in that little room covered with posters of HER: Barbra Streisand. He'd shut the door. We'd lie on the bed together. He'd roll over, click on the stereo and blast Barbra wailing, "Don't Rain On My Parade." We listened all afternoon as I stared across the room at my favorite poster: Barbara and Robert Redford in The Way We Were.

We saw The Way We Were three times. Barbra was great in that. I loved how she said to Robert Redford, "Hubbell, I know I'm not beauty-full…" and he kissed her anyway. And then she'd push his hair away from his forehead with those big Barbra fingers and say, "Hubbell, Hubbell Gardner…" In the movie theatre, tears streamed down our faces… David and I, the way we were… we were so much like Hubbell and Katie.

But David looked more like Joel Gray than Robert Redford. He didn't wear those big cardigan sweaters. David wore shiny Hukapoo shirts with paintings of sunsets and ladies faces on them. Me, I was glad I didn't look like Barbra. But I wanted to grow up and be passionate like her. I could see it all happening. David and I would go to the same college. I'd get very serious and smart and passionate about… something important. I'd get angry with David, challenge him, and he'd love me for that. But in the end, he wouldn't leave me for some girl like J.J. No. We'd be together forever.

Lying on the bed next to David, as Barbra sang "People," I'd wait for him to kiss me. I knew someday he would. I kept my lips coated with strawberry gloss to be ready for it.

Did David know if he did try to kiss me, I'd let him? In Seventeen Magazine it said you're not supposed to let the boy get higher than the knee or lower than your waist. You were supposed to wait until it felt right. Move his hand away. Gently tell him, "I'm not ready." Why? I knew I was ready for David. I knew with him it was different. There was nobody else for me. There would never be anyone else. David read Seventeen Magazine too and maybe he thought if he did try to kiss me I wouldn't like him anymore. How could I tell him it would be okay? I couldn't just blurt out, "Kiss me." I tried to get closer to him on the bed, but "I'm The Greatest Star" blared on and he jumped up to lip synch.

Afternoons in the bedroom with David and Barbra stopped when rehearsals for the spring musical began. It was Hello Dolly. Of course we'd seen Barbra in the movie. We thought our version would be almost as good. David and I made chorus.

Joanne Palucci, a senior, got the part of Dolly Levi. Our director, Mr. Marotti, called Joanne "An Ethel Merman in the Making." She was large and loud and everyone knew someday she'd be a big star on Broadway. She could do a shake thing with her voice. David told me it was called a vibrato. Everyone stopped whatever they were doing when she started to sing. "Be-e-e-fo-o-ore the pa-a-rade pa-a-assee-es by…" No matter what song she sang she could do the vibrato thing.

The other senior with a big part was Ray Hoagland. Ray was tall and skinny and had hair like Barry Manilow. He could sing loud but everybody said he couldn't act his way out of a paper bag. Mr. Marotti would yell, "For chrissake Ray, RELAX!" That didn't help. Every time Ray had to talk instead of sing you couldn't hear him and he'd stand there like somebody just touched him in freeze tag.

Believe it or not, rehearsals for Hello Dolly were even better than lying on the bed with David. Now every afternoon we had to practice waltzing. We had to hold hands, it was part of rehearsing. I figured if I could just tilt a certain way, maybe we'd accidentally bump heads, brush cheeks, then lips and… it would just happen. We'd kiss.

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