A New Ending to an Old Story

When I was 15 years old and a sophomore in high school, I had a crush on a guy named Howard. We sat at the same table in English Literature class. We always had fun together. Even though we were just friends, I was grateful to have someone to romantically obsess over. It took my mind off my dysfunctional home life.

One time, as the teacher blathered on about some classical poet who interested me not at all, my thigh happened to accidentally touch his. It was like the best electric shock imaginable. My hormones were already off the charts at that age. But this was epic.

And the most amazing part was that he didn’t move his leg, so neither did I. We sat there through class that way, and I was swimming in a veritable sea of lust, thinking, “Omigod, He likes me back!”

It never occurred to me that that could be possible. No one in school had ever expressed the slightest interest in me. My self-esteem was so low that my main goal was just trying to get through the day without humiliation. On that day, though, nothing mattered but Howard’s thigh.

A week or so later, there was to be a high school dance. I’d never been to a dance. I’d never been to a football game. I didn’t want to go to these things all alone, and I had no one to go with.

I got to class early, and was talking to Howard and another boy who sat at our table, and the boy blurted out, “You should go to the dance with Howard!”

Silence. Utter silence. Maybe Howard had put him up to it. Maybe he wanted to go to the dance with me but was afraid to ask. But what if he didn’t? I certainly wasn’t going to stick my neck out and risk rejection. So I said, “Well, if Howard wants to go to the dance with me, all he has to do is ask.”

And the whole time, in my head, I’m shouting, “Ask! Ask!”

But again, dead silence. Awkward. I thought that maybe he wanted to ask me when no one else was around. Or maybe he didn’t like me after all. Or maybe he was just too shy. Should I ask him? I didn’t have the courage.

No need to keep you in suspense. Howard never asked, and I never went to a high school dance, ever, because he was at the head of a long line of people who never asked.

Howard and I remained friends for the rest of the year. We pretended that the situation had never come up. A lot went unsaid, it seems.

At the end of the year, he mentioned something about being best friends in my yearbook. I was just looking at it the other day. It made me smile.

But we didn’t stay in touch over that following summer, and the next year he didn’t come back to school. I never knew what happened to him. I always wondered.

I hadn’t thought about that in years. I have no idea why it popped into my head the other day. I had given myself closure by thinking that, yes, he did like me, but he was too shy to do anything about it. What a shame, I thought. What a waste. But life goes on.

But of course by now I was thinking about this in terms of a blog post, and I wondered about his side of the story. I thought it might be cool to seek him out on line and ask him. With time and distance and zero desire to pick up where we left off, maybe we both could provide some insight for each other. If he even remembered me, that is.

So I Googled him. Unfortunately, he has a fairly common name, so this wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. Add to that the fact that his picture doesn’t appear in the yearbook for some reason, and to be perfectly honest I can’t remember what he looks like, and you can see what a challenge this could be. There were too many people with his name on Facebook.

Even so, I’m pretty sure I found him. A business license revealed a person who lives one town over from the high school, and he’s the right age. I looked on Facebook again for someone from that town, and there was the guy with the business in question, and yes, he mentioned my school in his profile. While his picture didn’t ring any bells at all, he would have been my type.

I sent him a message, but I get the impression he doesn’t Facebook much, so I’m not holding out much hope of an illuminating conversation. And yet I learned a lot from his Facebook page. It fills in much of the blanks in our story. It has taken a turn I hadn’t anticipated.

It seems that Howard likes men. Which means, most likely, that he did back then as well. But in the early 80’s, that’s not something that he would have put out there for general consumption, especially in the rural South. It’s not something that even occurred to me to think about, really. If you had asked me at the time, I wouldn’t have had a problem with anyone in the LGBTQ community. It just seemed as exotic and out of my realm as the Dalai Lama.

I have no idea if Howard was struggling with his sexuality when I knew him. I hope not. But clearly he had me in the friend zone. But that, in retrospect, was a precious gift.

I wonder what he thought of the thigh incident. Was he appalled? Completely turned off? Afraid to pull his leg away for fear of revealing himself? Or was he simply confused? I hate the idea that while I was swimming around in my sea of lust, he was bobbing in a pool of uncertainty or disgust. Wherever he might have been, mentally or emotionally, the touch I was giving was not the touch he was receiving.

I hope I wasn’t torturing him. That certainly wasn’t my intent. I am horrified to think that I was sexually harassing him without knowing it.

At least now I know why he never asked me to the dance. It wasn’t about me. But with hindsight, we could have gone as friends and had a great time.

At least now I have a few more answers. I’d love to renew my friendship with Howard. I’m sure we’d have a lot to catch up on. Either way, I will always wish him well and be grateful that he gave a lonely 15-year-old girl something to daydream about.

dancing

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Dream Crushing

I used to know someone who seemed to delight in crushing others’ dreams. When I was young, she approached my mother, all concerned, because I talked about wanting to be a teacher, when the week before I wanted to be something else. My mother responded, “She’s a kid. She’s supposed to try different ideas on for size. Let her be.” (That was probably one of my mother’s finest moments. Thanks, Ma.)

This person went on to have children of her own, and it broke my heart the way she used to deprive them of all hope. When one of her kids said she wanted to be a singer, she was told that you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than become famous.

While that may be true, the message she was sending was, “Why even try? You won’t be good enough.” Because of that, that girl grew up and singing isn’t a part of her life. She might have been famous. Or she might have sung in the church choir and made lifelong friends that way. Or she might have become a music teacher. So many paths were cut off from her life thanks to her mudslide of a mother.

When another one of her kids showed aptitude in one area above all others, she tried her best to discourage him, because it wouldn’t be an easy career. But he lived and breathed it. He did manage to get halfway into it, but never went the distance. I often wonder where he’d be if he had gotten just the tiniest bit of encouragement from the woman he admired most.

It’s so much easier to crush someone than to lift that person up. When you crush, gravity is on your side. But I hope you’ll resist the urge.

Watching people fly, even if it’s away from you,  even if the destination remains just out of reach for them, is much more satisfying than having to scrape them off the sole of your shoe.

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Collecting Strays

When I was in high school, I felt like a misfit, so I gathered misfits around me. We weren’t cool. We weren’t popular. Actually, most of us were rather troubled. But we were loyal friends. There really is strength in numbers.

Being drawn to the oddballs of the world has also made me intolerant of the intolerant. (Yeah, yeah. I know. So sue me.) If you are rigid, closed-minded, or judgmental, I tend to lose patience with you. I’m more at home reveling in the differences. That’s just how I roll.

This habit of collecting strays (which one friend calls my tendency to attract three-legged dogs), has served me well. I’ve met some amazing people that way. I’ve never related to the overly pretty (and, for that matter, overly petty) people of this world, the ones who are extremely concerned about what others think. Social standing doesn’t interest me. Image bores me.

Sometimes this bites me in the butt, though. I’ve never had a boyfriend who could be considered a huge success at life. The struggles of my lovers have too often become my own. But hey, we were in it together, and that counts for a lot.

Sometimes I long for normal, but I’d be hard-pressed to figure out what to do with it. So, if you’re feeling like a wallflower, come stand by me. I’ll make room.

wallflower

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On Leading Horses to Water

I have this unique gift. I know what’s best for everybody except, perhaps, myself. At least, that’s the reality I choose to live in much of the time. It’s really easy to look at people’s lives from the outside and come up with quick and easy solutions for them, isn’t it?

The real challenge is keeping one’s opinions to oneself. Usually that comes with age and experience. I must admit I still struggle with this sometimes.

For example, I know an amazing young lady who is talented and charismatic and creative and intelligent and thin and beautiful. She should be the queen of the world. But she drinks. A lot. I mean… a lot. As far as I know, she doesn’t let this impact her work, but it looms large the rest of the time. It breaks my heart. I want to shake her until her teeth rattle. “You have so much going for you! Don’t do this!”

I know another guy who hates his job and is constantly hunting for another one. He looks good on paper. He’s extremely intelligent and capable. He gets lots of interviews, but he never gets hired. He can’t understand why. I can. His personal hygiene leaves a lot to be desired. He looks and smells like he has been living in a cave his whole life. He’s actually kind of scary, if you don’t know him. From an employer’s point of view, this has to be a bit off-putting. If you can’t be bothered to take care of yourself, how can I assume you’ll take care of your job? I’m all for self-expression, but it can sometimes be self-destructive.

And then there’s this guy I have a crush on, who doesn’t seem the least bit interested in me. I mean, Hello! I’m amazing! I’m fun to be around, interesting to talk to, nurturing, non-smoking, fiscally responsible, great in bed… I’m a freaking catch! In other words, perfect for him. Why can’t he see that?

The bottom line is that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. If someone wants to be an alcoholic, look like a Neanderthal, or overlook true love, there’s nothing I can do about it. People have the right to walk their own paths. I don’t have to like it.

I get the “can’t make it drink” part. That’s obvious. But I often still try to lead those horses to the water. I really have to work on that. It’s a waste of time for them, and frankly, it makes me look like a pompous ass. Sometimes horses just prefer to roam free.

wild horses

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Hooked on Your Own Neuroses

I used to have this mad crush on an amazing man. Sadly it wasn’t reciprocated, so for a while there I allowed myself to pine away. He’s intelligent, funny, likes a lot of the same things I like. He’s popular. He has a lot to offer. So, for a hot second I wondered, “What’s wrong with me?”

But things happen, or in fact do not happen, for a reason. And now I’m profoundly grateful that we never hooked up, because I know him a lot better now. And I find him annoying.

Don’t get me wrong. He’s still amazing. But he refuses to see it. He’s too busy focusing on his flaws. Everybody has flaws. I have tons. So do you, no doubt. But what sets us apart from this guy is that he seems to be in love with his.

His self-deprecating humor is charming at first. But then you start to realize that not only does he believe what he’s saying about himself, but he uses it as an excuse. He hides behind his neuroses so that he doesn’t have to move ahead in his life. He clings to his quirks, uses them as a suit of armor, to keep life at a distance. His rut has become so deep that he’d be hard-pressed to climb out of it now.

I find this tragic. I also find it frustrating, because I see his potential, and I see him wasting time. I want to shake him until his teeth rattle. But I’ve also lost patience. I kind of get sick of hearing him tell people what’s wrong with him, as an explanation for why he’s alone, and why he doesn’t measure up in life according to his own impossible standards.

So I shall leave Narcissus alone, happily gazing at his own reflection, and do my best to find a man who is willing to look up and see me and the wider world.

narcissus
Narcissus by Caravaggio

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Love Me, Do.

Recently I spent time in the presence of someone whom I can’t even look at without getting butterflies in my stomach. He makes me blush. I feel like I’m in junior high school. And he knows I have a crush on him, because I told him.

He gives me mixed signals. Sometimes he flirts, sometimes he doesn’t. We make vague future plans with no specifics and as yet no follow-through. He puts his hand on the small of my back and I nearly melt.

He has a full life, and we’re not kids anymore, so even if he were interested, I suspect this would not be a rush job. And I get the impression that he’s very humble, and genuinely has no idea the affect he has on people. He may be a bit slow on the uptake. But hitting him with a brick would be counterproductive.

Still.

COME ON!!!! What’s taking you so long? I’m a wonderfully interesting, passionate, intelligent and fun person.

This never used to be so difficult. I never had to work this hard. After a certain point one begins to feel pathetic. This is a game I’m not sure I have the energy to play at my age.

But it is nice to feel butterflies again. It’s been a while.

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Teen Confidence

I was in the DVD section of the library the other day and I heard two teenagers talking. The girl was saying to the boy in an authoritative tone, “No, you can’t check out that movie. It has too much gratuitous violence.” The boy, who was obviously trying to make an impression, said, “You’re right. I hate that.” And then after a long pause he asked, “What if the guy in the movie is a hero, and he’s being violent to save someone?” The girl said, “No, that’s still gratuitous.” Clearly that was her new vocabulary word and she planned to use it to full advantage to get the poor boy to check out some chick flicks.

Finally, he pulled a couple DVDs off the shelf and said, “How about these?” She let out a long-suffering sigh and said, “I’m still looking. Go and stand over there, and when I’m ready I’ll look at your movies and let you know.” He scuttled off.

Such self-assurance. Such arrogance. Only teenagers and really bad bosses can get away with talking to people like that. I kind of had to chuckle to myself. That girl is going to have a really hard road ahead of her. She’s going to have to learn that her way isn’t the only way. She’ll discover that as she gets older, men are not going to put up with that sort of treatment. Someday she’ll realize that she isn’t always going to be right.

I was really tempted to pull her aside and say, “Honey, you’ll be a lot better off when you sacrifice just a little bit of that confidence for some kindness. And if you allow for the fact that sometimes you’re wrong, an open mind will come flooding forth, and you’ll be grateful for it. And the older you get, the fewer people are going to have a crush on you, so you might want to consider appreciating it when it comes your way.”

I almost said those things, but why bother? She isn’t going to get it. Not for a few years, anyway.

[Image credit: welovedates.com]
[Image credit: welovedates.com]