When I finished high school, I had a large, tight group of friends. Things changed for all of us when we left school. Some of us left for college – both in state and out – while others stayed home in Denver and looked for independence in the city. In these first days out on our own, not all of us landed on our feet.
Both Leslie and Ben stayed in Denver, and neither went to college. Within our group of friends, they both played a central roll in getting and keeping us all together. Both loved being around people, and easily embraced a party. That first year out of school, however, tore them both apart. They had a hard time growing into the next phase of life. Leslie and Ben were lovers for our last two years of high school, but had a violent break-up that first year after school.
After they broke up, a lot of dark secrets came forward. Ben slept around a lot, and some speculation he spent some time at a gay bar up the street from his apartment. He was confused, no doubt, and then he lost control of his behavior. When their relationship ended, he turned very hostile towards Leslie. He broke into her apartment, and destroyed things he gave her as gifts, and with a knife he slashed pictures of the two of them together. He stole her car, and put sugar in the gas tank. Sometimes Ben would call her phone, and just sit on the other end in silence; he wanted to know whether or not she was alone. Ben blamed Leslie for everything, all the pain he felt and the difficulties he faced in growing up. He stalked her for weeks.
Most of this happened while I was away for my freshmen year of college. When those of us who left for school returned for the summer, we all tried to pick up our friendships where we’d left the previous summer. Ben was angry, like more than just Leslie, we’d all left and betrayed him. That first year of school was really tough for me, and I was delighted to have the chance to reconnect with this group of friends that’d meant so much to me. And I spent a lot of time with Leslie.
As the summer progressed, Leslie and I really became a thing, a real relationship started. The magnetism between started right away, early in the summer. At parties, we also found ourselves together, sitting close and talking. During the day, we talked on the phone. She confided in me a lot, so much about Ben. She was still reeling from the break up, and full of complex emotions. She started to count on me in helping her process it all. It was like this for much of the summer. Come early August, we knew the connection was there, and we needed some time alone while it was still a possibility.
It was a date, our first really. We had been friends for several years, but the growing intimacy was still new. I was living with my mom that summer, but she travelled much of the summer (it was the summer my grandfather died). I thought it might be nice to have Leslie over to the house. First we went out for dinner, to a Chinese place at the south end of town. Leslie did her best to look pretty; she was always very beautiful, but the weight of all these emotions she carried did show.
She was dressed all in white – a short skirt, tights, and a summer blouse. We sat at a table for four, but sat in the booth side by side. Our legs touched under the table, and we’d both steal a little caress along a hand or thigh as the opportunity presented itself.
After dinner, we went back to my mom’s house. It was still early in the evening, and we had a drink. We sat in the guest room. The sofa bed was folded out, and it was a hot night, so the windows were all open and we turned on the ceiling fan.
We started to kiss, and it wasn’t long before we started to undress each other. I pulled down her skirt and tights, and then slipped off her white panties. Leslie responded and took off my clothes, and we made love. It was quick, nervous, and intense.
Afterwards we lay naked together under the fan, staring in silence at the ceiling and trying to understand what we just shared. I was naked, and Leslie wore just a white satin halter-top.
What are you thinking? I asked after a few minutes
That it is easier to share your body than your soul, she responded, almost a-matter-of-factly. There was an obvious fatigue to her voice.
We spent the night together, sleeping naked under the fan and the open windows. When we woke in the morning, I got up and walked naked into the kitchen. She came in behind me, already back in her skirt. I walked by the kitchen windows and she jumped in front of me, arms spread wide.
What was that?! I asked.
I didn’t want the world to see you naked, she replied.
This story and all the photographs are part of a photographic narrative I am preparing about my life in Denver in the 1970’s-80’s. The completed piece is composed of these 9 photographs mounted on board, about 15″x100.” The individual photographs range in size from about 2″x3″ to 11″x14.” Most of the photographs I made over the last few years while traveling back to Denver. There is one color snapshot of Leslie, a picture from one of the first couple of rolls of film I ever shot. The other two people pictured are my brother and sister-in-law, two people who’ve taught me a great deal about love.