The Smile Before the Kiss



“…of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world she walks into mine…”  Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca.


Melinda came into and out of my life in a blur but what a beautiful impression intelligent, sexy, long strawberry blond hair, oversized glass, killer smile.  We worked for the same employer, a Mom and Pop camera store, in the seaside community of Ventura, California me a camera salesperson and her a printer in their one-hour photo lab.  The year was 1994.  I was introduced to Melinda by management as it customary to take new hires to each of the four locations “Hi pleased to meet you” is all that came out while shaking her hand.  Something in the handshake, the air she exhaled, her smile, or hazel eyes planted a seed, cast a spell for she has an extroverted personality and I an introvert so I gave her not a second thought that day however, opposites attract.  Soon we warm to each other discovering the little things:  both of us fans of the cartoon Anamaniacs, both of us nicknamed Thumper after a Disney character in Bambi we both drive Volvo DL cars hers a 1982 mine 1980.

One evening after a long day of selling and printing we exit the store together stopping at her car she sits on the driver’s side, door opened I crouch in front of her we talk the night away.  What was said I don’t recall though each sentence she speaks each minute that passes the heart pounds faster and faster the urge to kiss her is strong but she backs off from the advance shortly afterwards, we go separate ways adrenaline surging.  A bit embarrassed following the parking lot adventure I keep my distance limiting contact to business at hand her printing me selling.  A few weeks later I am listening to Soul Food to Go by Manhattan Transfer and mistaken the words “… do you believe in jazz…” for “…do you believe in chance…”  Fulling believing the words are the latter on a night she is off, a well-placed business card on printer keyboard asks, “Do you believe in chance?”  With raised eyebrow that betrays a hint of interest her answer, “No chance meetings don’t happen”.

Coincidentally, at this moment of time a co-worker requested to borrow a documentary on baseball so, bewitched by that eyebrow, I grant his wish and deliberately bring them in on days off just to be in her presence yet saying no more than “Hi”.  The program takes up four VHS tapes spreading the delivery over several days each time just acknowledging her, nothing more.  A gradual invasion to pay dirt, more hoops on the road to romance.  Gradually, euphoric pedals sprout and from a depth not known I belt out songs, any songs, love songs with compassion and soul, all is positive, adrenaline rushes, and the heart, the good old heart beats fast, strong like a well-tuned engine.  One cool California evening I ask Melinda for a ride home as my car is in for repairs and there spread across the flat part of the dashboard rose pedals.  Curious I ask, “I see you like roses” her response simple and to the point, “Yes”.  Hhhmmm.  Pulling into the driveway, “now I know where you live” she charms to which I reply“, let me know when you want to stop by and I will leave the bedroom window open”, again the raised eyebrow accented with intrigue.  One evening inspiration:   secretly I place a long stem rose and a brief word note (aaaa let’s see there was hello, guess who, me, to name a few) on the windshield of her car, can she figure out the mysterious person.  Anyway, writing being an essential part of the job and since she sees mine regularly, yes, I was found out quicker than hoped still, it pulls us closer then comes Christmas 1994 when I am invited to meet her parents.  Nerves push the heart faster than the Volvo I drive to her apartment and up the stairs to her front door, knock, knock a moment pause the door creeks open.  Melinda appears framed by the doorway Illuminated from behind smiling amorously, eyes sparkle “Merry Christmas” says I offering a dozen red roses.  Ushered in and introduced to her parents and friends we gather in the living room sharing good food, fun conversation, and drink then it is over.  Today I see a photograph steeped in the warmth of a yellow/orange glow, a vignette of Melinda, myself, her parents, and friends enjoying the season.

1994 was a year of growth, development long gone the days of party, party, party 1995 presented a cog in the wheel Donna, a childhood friend from days of youth back in Michigan.  Her family moved to Arizona in the 60’s, we reacquaint in the late 70’s and, of all times, at this juncture with Melinda.  Sentiment pushes into the spotlight reseating Melinda to the balcony section; I thought a long distance relationship would work opposed

The Smile before the Kiss. Melinda at J. Paul Getty  Peristyle        Photo by Jim Pykonen

to one lovin’, touchin’, and squeezing someone in my own backyard.  The consequence:  barriers so carefully approached and knocked down are rebuilt as the idea that Donna and I would marry seems high.  Dazed and confused Melinda casts off communications as the blow knocked the wind out of her sails but she rebounds as for Donna and I well, the tea-leaves were misread for she had no intention of marriage leaving me ironically, alone.  In time, wounds coagulate and Melinda reconciles consummating our friendship by accepting an offer of a day-trip deep into the heart of Los Angeles, California.

Nestled in the hills above Pacific Palisades, California we went one warm, sunny day in August 1996 to view Roman, Greek, and Etruscan antiquities dating between 6500 BC to 400 AD at the Getty Villa part of the J. Paul Getty museum.  The Villa is a reproduction of the Roman Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy and it is to the outer Peristyle, or courtyard, we go after taking in culture.  Before us English Ivy, roses and Roman

The Roman Courtyard, the kiss happen at the far end while fixed statues stood guard

Sculptures and a long wading pool that seems to run into the glistening Pacific Ocean.  Melinda makes a dash for the gift shop I get comfortable on the marble steps of the courtyard taking in the panorama.  The many angles formed by the shrub beds, marble walkway, columns, and statues alerts the photographer’s eye so I raise camera, focus suddenly the viewfinder is filled with a perfect row of enamels framed by soft lips that stretch ear to ear, scintillating eyes peer through oversized glasses, strawberry blonde hair in a ponytail.  SNAP!  One thing I am guilty of as a picture taker not relishing the scenery before me instead just clicking away, now I stop, lower the camera, our eyes meet I am spellbound.  Leaning in, I pause, lick my lips our mouths open dock and there in the most romantic setting I have ever encountered we kiss a long, deep passionate kiss.  A sun bathed Roman Villa, clear skies; the warm Pacific breeze encircles us.

20 years have slipped by since that encounter we’ve both gone down separate life paths.  From this brief encounter, my oxygen tanks were stirred and instead of blowing off a side panel and drifting aimlessly in space, I am a better person.  We shared a place in time, we became each other, we are a timeline of history; unguarded moments something as simple as drifting clouds or a tree-lined open field in summer green and yellow daisies magically call you to mind, I smile.

 Melinda did proclaim once she is a practicing witch.

Roses never fade.

By jimberly

I enjoy photography, writing, walking, nature, reading, and of course the coooolest game on earth HOCKEY! I took up photography in 9th grade and seeing the world in a different light wanting to, of course, photograph everything, unfortunately not everything comes out the way I'd like.


  1. Wow, whatta story! You are certainly talented at imagery and details-they really helped me get caught up in your memory.


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