When I was sixteen I became obsessed with a boy whose name I no longer remember. He was smart and funny and did impressions of David Letterman before any of us knew who David Letterman was, and long before we knew David Letterman was sleeping with women only slightly older than we were.
He didn’t like me, not that way, but small details that would connect me to reality didn’t matter in that moment. I was sixteen. My mom was gone, helping my grandmother die. We were moving out of state in a matter of weeks. I was looking for love in all the wrong places because I didn’t know yet that every place is the wrong place to look for love except inside your self.
When we were cast opposite one another in the school play (his Charlie Brown to my Lucy) I was sure it was a sign. So I started stalking this Boy of My Dreams (hereafter known as the BOMD). I started going to Taco Time instead of Tasty Freeze for lunch, because the BOMD ate at Taco Time. Crisp Meat burritos still taste like longing to me. I watched late-night TV, staying up way to late even though it’s almost physically impossible for me to sleep in. The dark circles under my eyes made my mom wonder if I was anemic. I even befriended another girl in the jazz choir so she could give me intel about the BOMD’s out of school activities, most of which seemed to be church-related.
She’s the one who told me about the dances. The teens who went to his church had dances nearly every weekend. Looking back they were probably just a way for the adults to try to keep the kids from fraternizing with, and especially dating, heathen kids like me. Also, they were probably hoping to keep them away from the parties where they might be tempted by the sex, drugs, and rock and roll the rest of us reportedly drenched ourselves in daily. But this girl told me the dances were fun and that the BOMD attended pretty regularly. Then she asked if I wanted to come to one.
I was suddenly invited to the inner circle, thereby giving myself a sure fire way to put myself in the BOMD’s path. So I dressed up, (dresses were required) put on makeup, almost threw up because I was so nervous, and went to the dance. The girl and I danced with the half-dozen or so other kids who showed up, but my eyes rarely left the door. Every time it swung open my breath caught in my throat and I lost the rhythm of whatever parentally-approved Top 40 hit was playing. But every time someone else walked through the door. The BOMD never came to the dance.
So I went to another one. And another. And another. I even threw a rare fit and convinced my mom to let me go out in a snowstorm to attend one of the dances. But he never came. Not to any of them.
By this time the play was over, our family’s move date was looming, and my obsession with the BOMD was at a fever pitch. Most people would have gotten discouraged, or gotten the hint, or gotten a pint of ice cream and called it quits. But my single-mindedness in this area was of a type only experienced by the young and those with undiagnosed OCD tendencies. I was both. And the thing was, he was never unkind, never gave me a single bit of ammo with which to shoot down my own flights of fancy.
One of the last weekends before I moved, our choir went to a regional competition hosted by a nearby college. And on the final night of the festival, there was a dance. I knew this was my last chance, if not to win him over (the time before I moved was probably too short for that) at least to have my dance with him. So I dressed up, I put on makeup, I almost threw up, and I went to the dance. This night, like all the other nights, my eyes were glued to the doors. But this night, unlike all the other nights, the BOMD walked through them. I screwed up my courage and asked him to dance.
“I don’t like you that way,” he said. And he looked like he felt really bad saying it.
I know I felt really bad hearing it.
My blood was thin and hot under my skin, and at my center was a hollow place that could have been air, or explosions or a black hole. He was kind, and it’s not like I didn’t see it coming, but his words were a gently placed bomb that blew apart the imaginary thing I had balanced upon for weeks.
So we didn’t dance. Not together anyway. I stood against the wall for a long time, pulled between the opposing impulses to flee or to fight. In the end I landed somewhere in the middle, pulled there by the thumping bass and the infectious flailing gyrations of my friends. They bounced and swayed and spun and made me aware what I’d be missing if I didn’t join them. I only had a tiny moment left with these people. In a few weeks I’d be living somewhere else, and who knows who I would dance with then? So I danced. Slowly at first, trying very hard to appear effortless. And eventually I danced as hard as I could. And I never looked at the door to see who might come through it. Not once. Not ever again.