♫ “Dear Marcus…you rocked my world…you had a charismatic way about you with the women…” ♪
Oh Alanis, how many men done you wrong, sister? I feel you, I do. This will kind of be my very own “Unsent”, but I’ll change all the names to Woody Allen characters. I’m not entirely sure I feel comfortable with all this. But the thing is…
I feel that we’ve all left a trail of crushes through our lives that we hold on to. Their fleeting nature means nostalgia for that particular time and place in our existence remains long after the feeling of origin has died away. To me, in that sense, they’re uniquely suited to show how we’ve grown and changed over the years. My most memorable crushes are those who at the time made my heart feel bruised, but upon current reflection mostly make me laugh. So here they are. Some of them, anyway.
1) Sid: It turns out you were gay all along but nothing could keep my 7-year-old self away from that golden blonde curtain of hair on the playground. You were drôle, dry, sardonic. I felt we were both just a little too good for that place, two old souls swinging from the monkey bars while our so-called peers sat in the sand crapping their pants. I used to pace around the school hoping to casually run into you. I’m guessing I was probably a lot less super casual in my well-coordinated Northern Getaway outfits than I thought I was. One time I had a 5 minute conversation with you and your friend Tim during a game of marbles. Best day of my life. I heard Tim has turned into an ass who walks up to strangers at weddings and flips their ties over to check the label. That’s what I heard.
2) Isaac: Ours was a tortured love. At 8-years-old I was disillusioned in my realization that boys go after the pristine, perfectly coiffed, genteel girls. I was more of a roll-out-of-bed, throw-on-a-dress-with-sweatpants-and-go-to-school-with-Cheerios-in-my-hair kind of gal. I found your favoritism as a tennis instructor to be sickening, and yet my dark-hearted desire for you was hard to conceal. I’ll admit I wasn’t the most emotionally subtle elementary school student, and I felt my only option was to stage a coup d’etat. When my chanting protest on a bike I named “Purple Angel” failed to start an uprising outside the tennis court, I made a formal complaint to one of the community mothers. Now, I’m not necessarily proud of what I did or said to get you fired. But, what can I say. You mess with the bull…etc., etc.
3) JTT. (no need for a name change, ladies – PUT YA HANDS UP!) So uncomplicated. Your boyish good looks filled the pages of Tiger Beat and similarly thrilling magazines. My sister and our two friends, also known collectively by our club name “The Challengers” (I’m sure you’ve heard of us), even formulated a game based on what we would do if you came to our door. It was creatively called “What Would You Do If JTT Came To Your Door” and always ended in a fit of giggles and a lack of understanding of what was supposed to happen when we reached the bedroom. I remember tearing out a poster from one of my magazines in which you were wearing overalls without a shirt. I taped it up in my closet so my mom wouldn’t see. Oh, to be young and in love.
4) Mickey. We’ll skip ahead a few years. Being called a fat lesbian by the boys in your class throughout middle school kind of dampens the appeal of the entire gender. Things started getting better in high school, with the exception of an 11th grader throwing a fruit cup in my face and a 10th grader throwing a hacky sack at my head. I guess I should have reconsidered my “Please Toss Random Objects At Me” t-shirt. I was pretty much entirely unfamiliar with positive male attention. I think my sense of humor allowed you to bypass the requisite “this girl is not considered cool so I can’t talk to her” legislation put in effect by teenage boys. And I really liked making you laugh. It probably confused you and your not fully-formed brain a great deal to have warm feelings for someone like me, who wasn’t an Ashley or a Brittany; who didn’t start binge drinking and performing other way-too-early actions in the 8th grade. So you’d taunt me, trying to get attention. You sat behind me in physics class and made hurtful sexual remarks in my direction, knowing how much it embarrassed me. I figured if I ignored it, it would disappear. I’d been trying that since the age of 9. If I was invisible, they couldn’t hurt me. But this was different, you were my friend. You took my stoicism as a huge insult and decided to verbally abuse me in front of a group of my friends. I still can’t repeat your words out loud. My face flushed like fire, my tear-filled eyes fixed steadily on the blurry clock, watching its hands saunter like an old man at the grocery store for the remaining 15 minutes of class.
5) Joe. You were a teacher who transferred to our high school. It took months of reviling you before realizing that my hatred was just a big, horrible crush on your corduroy-wearing, enviro-nazi, pseudo-hippie persona. I think I spent most of my time in art class writing horrible poetry about you in my banana leaf journal. I’m pretty sure I was convinced I was a modern-day Brontë sister. So sheltered and inexperienced and yet so wise…in the…ways…of love? Oh dear. And (it kills me that this is is real) I invited you to a staged poetry reading for English class, complete with dimmed lighting, candles, hot beverages, and a collection of poems I read aloud, each one PAIRED WITH A PAINTING I DID MYSELF. I capitalize that as it is the most horrifying part. One of the poems began with the phrase “I’m mad at the world”. The world was probably pretty mad at me too for being such a colossal douche nugget. However, you did ask for a copy of that poem afterwards and told me I was a “prophet”. I get now that you were trying to make me feel like less of an idiot, but I’ll take it. Eventually as my crush dissolved we were able to become friends. I still have a great deal of respect for you, and that banana leaf journal is hidden deep within the corners of my bedroom closet.
6) Alvy. You were the ultimate, the last. The pain from that experience meant no more crushes. And I owe a lot of thanks for that. Latter relationships would and will never ever find me chasing anyone around with a diary or a paint brush. It changed my entire perception of love. Love is messy and permanent. If you’ve loved someone, you will love them always. And if you stop loving them, you never loved them to begin with. I’m not referring to the ambiguous and impossible feeling of being “in love”, which I can’t be convinced is anything other than devout friendship combined with lust. When I met you, I thought I had found such a true friend. And you were my true friend, one of my best friends. You reminded me of young Rob Lowe in The Outsiders. When you asked me out I didn’t know what direction it was heading, but even though I cared a lot about you, and vice versa (ostensibly), you made me too uneasy emotionally to pursue it, so we became friends. You’d often say such strange things, things I had no way of reacting to. I often wondered if that is all you were looking for, a reaction. A confirmation that you could be a sexually aggressive, masculine creature, despite your lanky shyness, your pretty face, and your creativity. These harsh remarks left me a victim no matter what I did or said. But your frequent sweetness (one time as you lay sleeping beside me I found a note you had written that listed all the girls you had kissed, and I giggled myself to sleep), your appealingly bizarre nature, and sparse, strange poetry made me believe it was worth it to hold on to our friendship. Despite how awful you made me feel at times. Like that time I was mugged at knife-point and I stumbled to a nearby bar where the band held your attention and you acted like I had little more than a splinter.
The last night I was in the country where we lived and met, we had a party at a mutual friend’s house. In the morning we woke up outside in the garden, together and undressed, a bit like Adam, a bit like Eve. My head was pounding. My bra missing. My knees bloodied. My friend gone. I gathered my clothing and quickly got dressed and went inside the house to find you lasciviously and unabashedly scrolling through pictures of your ex-girlfriend’s sister’s Myspace page. The girl you said in January you were falling for. Her name was Sarah; she was tall and androgynous with lively eyes. You then looked up and asked what was wrong with my legs, said they looked “horrible”. I ran into the sun room, bursting at the seams with anger and sadness. You made a halfhearted attempt to help me in my grief but I felt completely astonished that you didn’t already understand. Our friend and his mother lay sleeping upstairs.
The next day I left the country. I rarely heard from you after that. It was as if a piece of me died, as if a friend had perished. It required mending, and a great deal of work to quell the belief that there was something fundamentally wrong with me. That someone who I thought was a decent human would do this to me. I’ve come to believe that a good person can still be a horrible partner. They collect friendships like shot glasses, mementos that always break in their suitcases on the way home (unlike the sugar packet from Palestine that your sister gave me, which is still hidden away in my childhood bedroom). The whole experience mostly taught me that real love maintains its strength even when inconvenienced. It straddles realism and romance, and should help much more than it hurts. Crushes are pinpricks on the skin; love is a grand, indelible tattoo. (You can totally judge me for just saying that. I’m judging me.)
p.s. The fact that I’m nervous to share this proves I’m still basically nine years old.
p.p.s. Yes, I referenced Jennifer Paige’s classic ’90s hit in my title.
Image via ShutterStock.