It must have been 24 years ago now, maybe 25, my first summer of real adventure. My brother Jim was stationed in Texas, and his girlfriend Kristin and I were going to visit. He came home to Pittsburgh for a few weeks, and we rode back with him in his 1968 red International Scout. We drove 1400 miles with no air conditioner, but we had a tape deck, and Bruce Springsteen blaring above the open windows and the loud engine, Pittsburgh to Ohio, Missouri to Oklahoma, (I vaguely recall those arches) and our destination: Kileen, Texas average July temperature 95.
It was there that I met him. Trip, we called him, Charles Robert Reincke, the third. We became instant friends, hangout partners. He taught me how to laugh. He said kind things to me and made me feel pretty. He told me I was perky. He represented a freedom, until Texas, unknown to me. And I loved him. He was smart, witty, and very laid back. He was learning how to windsurf, so we went to a lake near Austin for his training test. I remember him not knowing the answers very well, but coercing another adventurer, a pretty young girl to help him on this test. We spent most of our time in Texas laughing.
Leaving was difficult, both emotionally and physically. We booked the cheapest flight we could find out of Texas, and it left from Houston. The only problem was we were 250 miles away, in Kileen, much closer to Dallas. Our adventure ended with a 4 and ½ hour early morning car ride, in Trip’s Toyota Celica (9 hours for them including the return drive). Trip drove very fast, making record time, until we were pulled over by the police. Then the cost of the speeding ticket solidified that we should have paid the extra money to fly out of Dallas.
That ride in the Toyota Celica was my first time in a sports car, maybe my first time in a car with an air conditioner. That flight out of Texas was my first time flying. I remember exactly what I said as I heard that whirring sound of progressive energy building and the plane lifting off the ground into the air, “oh, shit.” Not so profound, I know, but I was inexperienced, uncultured and ending the first amazing adventure I would ever take. I was 16, and these were all new things: being unsupervised, being 1500 miles from home, staying in a hotel, flying in an airplane, and being with a young man that made me feel worthwhile, that made me feel alive, that made me smile in a summer, more than I had in my lifetime.
We kept in touch, Trip and me. He sent me cheesy one-liners on the back of envelopes filled with letters that made me laugh and feel valued. He said, “if girls were cars you’d be a jaguar.” And “if girls were rocks, you’d be a sapphire.” He was so close to right; I’m really an Escape with a roof rack and a skipping stone.
One year he came to Pittsburgh. We were still kids. I didn’t have a Toyota Celica to show him around North Huntington in, but my sister did sport an old brown Plymouth Fury police car with missing back door handles on the inside. The three of us raced up Route 30, only long enough to again get pulled over. In our fear and panic, we listened as he concocted the plan. He did all the talking and convinced the policeman that he had actually been driving the car and while traveling at unsafe speeds, with the blue lights behind us, he switched seats. He declared he knew he was wrong and it was foolish, but he couldn’t let my sister take the fall for his recklessness. Recollection of the exact way this event unfolded escapes me, but I remember this: in a moment that ordinarily would cause a complete panic attack, his absurdity handled it, and once again, we laughed.
I could write about the sporadic and unpredictable other times we crossed paths, but none matter as much as the summer of 1986 when my world opened up to sunshine, laughter, independence, and joy. When I think of the web of events that shape the independent Missy, the girl who couldn’t get out of the box quickly enough, they really begin here.
Two weeks ago, through a friend, Trip contacted me. He wanted to talk. I called. He was happy, though weak. I listened. He talked about souls, connections, experiences, living, loving and dying. There is an overwhelming sadness in this: 24 years later, when my friend was letting go of his earthly existence, he contacted me.
Grieving is not something that I get better with the more I do it. Quite the opposite actually, it's harder every time. Is this my selfishness? Is it my desire to no longer know the things I once thought I might want to understand?
Today, I grieve the loss of my first real sweetheart, a friend, a smile, a time of innocence and loss of innocence and a life that changed me for the better. In 24 years I may have only seen Trip Reincke a dozen times, but I felt his presence in every one liner, in every slapstick comedy, in every silly adventure. I’m simply not sure if anything was ever funny before I met him.