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Sometimes, a number is just a number... and sometimes it's not.
Prior to the summer of 1972, I was just as significant to me as any other number out there. In other words, it meant nothing at all to me. It had no divine significance whatsoever. It was just good ole 803.
It all started during that summer. I had just finished my second year of high school where I discovered a new talent: playing the trumpet. It opened up a whole new world for me. I was riding on Cloud 9. I was sure that there was nothing impossible for me. I was waiting to conquer the rest of the world. It was all mine.
That summer, I decided to do some volunteer work. I saw somewhere an advertisement for people to work as summer counselors. It was a camp for children with mental disabilities. It was called Operation F.U.N. It was an acronym that meant Fulfilling Unmet Needs. I was working with people who had developmental problems. It would also be a challenge for me as well. It was also a starting point for me as well because I wanted to become a teacher as quickly as I could. This would be something I could put on a resume. It was the start for me to really enter the adult world.
I was really fortunate because the camp was going to be based at my high school, my home away from home. When I signed up, I learned that it would utilize the girls' side of the building. YAAAAY! I get to enter the land of the forbidden. I get to see a real live girl!!! Up until then, I've heard that these very lovely creatures inhabited the building, but I have never seen one up close. That summer, I was ready to finally meet a few.
What does this have to do with 803? Hold your horses. I will get to it.
All during that summer, I was paired with a "child" named Joseph. He was about 21-years-old, but had a mental capacity of about 9, if that high. I was now responsible for someone who was not my baby brother or baby sister. In the beginning, we had to get used to each other. After a while, he would come to me for help. My job was to help him enjoy his day. And so my mission had started.
My high school is located in a town called Middle Village in New York. There are neighboring towns like Glendale, Ridgewood and Maspeth, all nice rustic areas. I liked them all. I still do. The ONLY negative thing I can say is that many (if not all) of my favorite people left the area. I am still in touch with most of them, but the rest of them are just a memory. That summer, however, I met a fellow counselor named Laura. She was about two years younger than I am. She was also much more active than I could ever dream to be. She was here... then she was there... She was EVERYWHERE at times. Laura lived in the town behind my high school. It was called Glendale.
To date, I still cannot remember the school she attended, but she liked my high school. At that point, I wanted to try to convince her to join me at my high school, but I never did. In hindsight, I am glad that I did not do so. Still, we had fun working together. For very obvious reasons, I never asked her out on a date. For one reason, I was just 16 and I just finished my second year of high school. She was about to begin her first year. The second reason was our race. You see, I am black and she was white. On that fact alone, it was very dangerous for me to be with her. Still, I was smitten with Laura.
How smitten was I? I remember my Uncle Conrad, a tenor sax player, introducing me to the music of many jazz saxophonists like Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Zoot Sims, and many others. Eventually, I leaned more toward the music of Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown and a guy who would eventually be my private music teacher: Richard Williams.
During our lunchtime one day, I decided to tell Laura that I liked her and that I wanted her to be my girlfriend. She liked the idea and agreed. Now, I accomplished another goal. I got a girlfriend. Yes, 1972 was being very good to me. And while the year was being very good to me, I wasn't being very good to 1972. Instead of me giving Laura her space, I kept invading her space. After a while, she decided to call it off. It was my longest girlfriend relationship of all time—a whole two days.
During the course of the third day, I asked Laura if I could hitch a ride to a bus stop when her Dad came to take her home. Fortunately for me, he overlooked my complexion and gave me a lift. The bus stop was a few houses away from her on the avenue by her house. While we were in the back of the car, a 1965 Chevy Sedan, she noticed my favorite ring at the time. It was my eighth-grade graduation ring. It wasn't expensive, but it was a silver-plated model with a black and white school crest on the front. Again, it wasn't expensive, but it was my first ring and I really liked it.
In fact, I liked it so much that I never noticed that I forgot to put it on my finger.
When Laura and I parted company that day, she walked me to the bus stop. We waited together for the bus so that I could go home. When the bus came closer, the B-55 bus, I noticed the number on the front of the bus.
It was number 803, the number I'd never forget.
The last time I kissed Laura, the 803 came into prominence. It has been with me ever since.
It is now 46 years later. Joey became too difficult for his then elderly parents to handle. He was moved to a full-fledged institution after he was involved in a major incident at home. I am about to retire from teaching after a 40-year career. I never married. Laura? Well, she probably married, had children, and is probably taking care of her own grandchildren while their parents are working. I am sure that the old Chevy may have rusted away by now. I passed by old city bus yards. I never saw the 803 again. It may be in that old bus yard in the sky by now. The neighborhoods may have been refurbished in parts, but they are still there along with the many memories I still have of the place.
And while 803 still rings at me in my head, it turns out that 803 was telling me something. Laura was a precursor of someone much better who was going to become a major part of my life. I don't hate or dislike Laura, but 803 was probably trying to tell me that there was someone much better coming along in my future. As time went on, I found out that I was so correct. There was a lady in the area. She was almost my age and she attended the same high school I attended. She lived a few blocks from Laura and I probably passed in Laura's area many times when I visited, but I never noticed her at all. The 803, not the bus, but the number itself was trying to tell me something and I did not know why. Eventually, I would see 803 everywhere.
It turns out that it was a true love who lived in the area. She died in 2008. To this very day, I am so sorry that I did not marry her. In fact, after she died, I never saw #803 again.
803, I really miss you!!!!