Tuesday, January 25, 2005

 

Love's Labour Lost and Found (A Random Anecdote)

To refresh your memory on the first half of the star-crossed tale of the chestnut-haired Robin, go here.

When we started high school, I was crazier about Robin than ever before. It didn't help that over the summer my own Teen Hormone Engine had cranked into overdrive, which lent a certain, um, urgency to my feelings about her, if you know what I mean (and I think you do). I'll say this for puberty: more than the foot of height and deeper voice and patches of hair in all the anticipated places, it gave me, at least for a while, a certain insane fearlessness I had never before experienced. The first few months of high school I remember operating under the sway of a certain giddy recklessness. And it was during this period that I got over my lack of confidence and my fear of rejection and finally asked Robin to the big fall dance.

And now, enter Fate, shoving her fickle thumb firmly up my ass. You'll love this part.

She didn't say no. She never said no, don't think that. Robin told me that she wasn't going to go. A lot of freshmen didn't, after all. She thought we would feel out of place, blahblahblah. Of course, I understood. I thought. This wasn't a "no," this was a "convince me." So I spent a solid month trying to persuade her, leaving notes, sending her pithy couplets rhyming "date" and "great" in reference to myself. And she just smiled and reaffirmed her position: it wasn't that she didn’t want to go with me, it was that she didn't want to go. And I believed her.

And then, a couple weeks before the dance, we were sitting around on the bleachers after gym class, waiting for the final bell to ring. And this yutz, Tommy Grasso, the blowhard of the freshman class, starts picking on Robin. I'm listening with half an ear, wondering if or when I should intervene. Somehow the dance entered into his spiel, and he opined that if she was going, she must have got her dog to take her, har har (and yes, he pronounced his laughs precisely that way).

And Robin turned, looked up the bleachers in my direction, said my name, and asked, "Did you hear what he said about you?"

Time froze, just like in The Matrix. Her words even had little bullet trails behind them. I thought: She's so cool! This is her way of telling me she's changed her mind after all. It's like in a movie or something!

I opened my mouth to reply, and can only thank God that I didn't actually get a chance to say anything. Because just as I was about to speak, I heard a deep voice behind me, responding to Robin. It was a guy I will call Master Man. He was the star athlete of the freshman class, the only underclassman to make the varsity football team. Good physique, ice-blue eyes, feathered blond hair and--not to put too fine a point on it--a distinct contrast to yours truly, the pimply, 98-pound weakling.

Oh, but Master Man and I had one thing in common: The same first name.

Robin had been calling to him, not me. She hadn't even seen me, sitting right in front of her.

I don't wish to linger on this scene (you have no idea!) but just to place a certain context to it: Surely you have had a moment in your life where you heard your name called--in school, in a restaurant, across the prison compound--and instinctively you responded, perhaps with a wave of your hand, or an utterance of a word. But only then did you realize the person who called your name was talking to someone else completely. Despite yourself, you probably felt a twinge of embarrassment or awkwardness.

Well, multiply that feeling times 40 billion, no, 400 googol fucking plex, and roll a couple of big boulders on top, and add a dollop of bird shit on my head for good measure and that should give you a sense of just how completely and abjectly mortified and embarrassed I was to realize what had happened.

Although I had asked her first, Robin had been holding out for an invitation from Master Man, and he came through right in the midst of my month of trying to persuade her to go with me. I'm actually flushing with embarrassment thinking back on this. It was then beyond my comprehension to understand why she didn't simply tell me the truth. I thought her a cruel girl at the time, and didn't speak to her again til, oh, junior year. I felt like a complete fool (can ya tell?).

But looking back, I realize now she was just as new at this as I was, and in hindsight I know that she liked me. I may not have been take-to-the-dance material, apparently, but I was a nice kid, and was always very nice to girls especially (my mom was a stickler about that sort of thing). I know now that Robin was, in her own naive way, trying to spare my feelings. I just wish she had played the scenario out in her head a little more beforehand. A simple apology for permitting me to make a fool of myself for a month wouldn't have gone amiss either, but never mind.

As angry and hurt and humiliated as I was, I was mostly just crushed. I really had loved that girl, as much as one can in their early teens, and now that love was unrequited (a word I had learned just that year in English). It took me a long time to get over it.

The next two years were pretty much girl-free, and I threw myself into everything else school had to offer (except sports. I couldn't abide Master Man. Also, I sucked). I got involved in the drama club. I became the youngest editor-in-chief of the school paper. I tried to run for class office with a good friend, who I thought would make an excellent class president. He agreed, but decided I wasn't his kind of vice-president and dropped me from the ticket. I was so steamed, I cobbled together my own ticket during one fateful study hall, ran against him and suddenly found myself president of the junior class.

I mention these things only because I realize now that putting myself on stage and assuming leadership positions were my ways of coping with my woeful self-confidence in, um, other areas (and really, could you blame me?). In the process, I had carved a specific and completely respectable place for myself among my classmates. I was by no means a popular kid, but I wasn't entirely a geek anymore either. I was just...comfortable with who I was, as much as one can be at that age. I made a lot of good friends during that time.

One of them was Gina...

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