There are two events in my life that I shall never forget: when I became attracted to girls, and when I became attracted to a girl.
The first happened one day during the summer between fifth and sixth grade. I was walking down a street in my neighborhood. On the other side of the street walked a girl. I don’t remember what she looked like. She might have been blonde. Or brunette. I believe she was tall and thin, relative to my size at the time.
What I do remember is that, after I glanced at her, I started to sweat. This was not perspiration that one feels when it’s hot outside, or when one has exerted oneself. This sweat was caused by fear, but this fear, though uncomfortable, felt good inside.
And then I found that I could no longer walk the way that normal humans do. Instead, my feet started to bounce. Not skip. Bounce. I was bouncing down the street.
This happened for all of ten seconds, possibly less. I remember this event because it had never happened to me before, and I had a sense, even then, that something had changed forever. Even more, I suspected what it was, though, as of then, I did not want to admit to myself what it was.
Two years went by, during which time I discovered masturbation (due to my own curiosity) and pornography (due to my friend’s).
Now a seventh grader in middle school, I began taking French as a foreign language. One day, during class, I turned around in my seat to look at one of the girls behind me. She had not gone to my elementary school, but she had been in some of my classes the year before. Blonde-haired and blue-eyed, she was also very smart. I had been used to being one of the smartest people in my school. Now here was someone to challenge my superiority, and she was a girl. A girl!
I’m not sure what changed on that day. I had seen her on other occasions, with no reaction from inside my chest. But on that day, I saw her differently. I didn’t get sweaty palms, nor did I start walking funny (that would happen later), but something lurched inside my chest, similar to what I had felt on that day two summers before, so that from then on, every day I had that class, I had to start it with a look, a peek, at this girl.
All couples have a song that is “theirs.” Unbeknownst to my crush, I picked one out for us, even though we weren’t a couple, even though I hadn’t asked her out, even though I barely talked to her! I heard it one day while riding in the car: Gloria Estefan’s “When I See Your Smile.”
Eighth grade. We were still in the same French class. I continued to start class with a glance in her direction. I mentioned that I had discovered masturbation. Now, while doing it, I sometimes thought of her.
We went on a trip together. As my sister had been before me (and my brother would be after me), I applied for and was accepted into the Bermuda Workshop Program at my middle school. This meant that, for about a week, some of my classmates and I would be doing research in Bermuda. This would be my first trip overseas.
There was another girl on that trip. One day, her friends had me pose with her for a picture. Only after many years had passed did I realize that this girl might have liked me.
On the same day that photo was taken, most of the guys and a few of the girls played football on the beach. My crush was among the girls who played. I remember her sprinting past me with the football. I was supposed to tackle her. Looking at her breasts swaying from side-to-side, however, prevented that message from reaching my outer extremities. So I did not tackle her. Instead, I watched as she ran into the end zone.
That year, in the middle school yearbook, we were the class angels. I got to sit next to her for the photo. My heart beat its approval.
Ninth grade. We were in marching band together. I played clarinet. She played flute. I found (and made) opportunities to talk with her. Told her silly things, like how I noticed that she wore her hair three different ways: straight, in a ponytail, or in a bun. A detail that a stalker would notice. Or a shy, adolescent boy with a crush.
My first homecoming dance was that year. I went by myself, but found people there that I knew. One of my friends at the time asked my crush if she wanted to dance. She said she had sore feet. Later, I asked her to dance the last song with me. Suddenly, her feet weren’t so sore.
This tale ends in January of that year. As the first two quarters ended and midterms peeked over the horizon, I marshaled what little courage I had and wrote her a letter. In it, I told her my feelings for her, and asked her out on a date. I gave it to her during symphony band. I’m not sure how I found the courage to do that. I do know that my cheeks burned hotter than a coal furnace as I did so.
I got my reply a day or so later. Also in a letter. Also given to me during symphony band.
The body of the letter started with the words, “I’m sorry, but–”
Other words in the text included “nice guy,” “don’t want to hurt your feelings,” and “friendship.”
* * *
Sixteen years later, I still have that letter. In fact, I still have every letter that every girl has ever written to me, whether there was love on her part, on mine, on both, or on neither. Mostly I keep them for nostalgic reasons. But that letter, the letter I received that day during symphony band, I keep for a different reason.
I keep it to stay humble.
For it reminds me that, one time, when I was young, I had a crush on a girl, but she didn’t have a crush on me.