I had my share of dream girls and hopeless crushes when I was in school, but there was one girl in particular with whom I thought I might actually have a shot. She wasn't one of the ridiculously hot girls on the school dance team who made playing in the pep band a lot more bearable, nor a sorority girl, nor one of the rich girls who had attended a fancy private high school. She was cute, but just a regular person like myself, a fellow art student. There was definitely something a little off about her, a vacant Luna Lovegood glassy stare as though she were seeing pixies or some other magical creatures that the rest of us could not. But if you've been reading my blog for any length of time, or ever spent any time with me in real life, you'd know that I'm a little off myself. Quirks and idiosyncrasies are the norm for geeks and/or artists; over the years I've decided that the qualities that make me an outcast also make me kind of interesting. So I found this girl....interesting.
She'd occasionally question me about the music I played during class, probing inquiries about what Metallica was “about”, what the meaning of their lyrics was. Honestly, I just liked the guitars and voice and drums, how the combination helped me focus while I was drawing. I think I came up with something about war or anger while she just nodded and focused on whatever creature she saw perched on my shoulder. I think I was just happy a girl was actually speaking to me, thought she was making conversation. In hindsight, I think she was complaining about me playing those tapes.
I was in my junior year when I met her, and over the course of three semesters I made three attempts to ask her out. After being the least popular kid in school for 8 years and then spending 4 years in an all-boys Catholic high school, my game was worse than ever. But I'd made some good friends in college, and we had each other's backs in such matters. My buddies came up with a plan in which a group of us would go in to the city to see the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center. One by one, everybody else would end up having conflicts and canceling, until this girl and I were the only ones left. It wasn't a date exactly, but it was an opportunity to converse and spend some time with her outside of school. Unfortunately, I didn't know my way around the city in those days, and I was too proud to ask for directions. So we kind of just walked around for 2 hours and never made it to the tree, but we did have a great talk. She dropped some hints about a hot dog place in the area, and I'm guessing she was talking about Gray's Papaya. We didn't find that either, which is just as well since I barely had enough money for the subway ride back to campus. Her mom picked us up at the station and dropped me off back at my car, and I was pretty sure that was the end of that. Life Lesson #1: Always have enough money to buy a girl food.
We'd continue to speak in class occasionally, and sometimes she'd share some newspaper clipping about a show or a movie that she was interested in. I started to wonder if she was being polite or dropping hints that these were places she wanted me to take her. So one night while working in the computer lab, when I saw she was leaving I ducked out to catch her in the hall. That time, I made the classic blunder of the vague invitation, asking if she'd want to catch a movie or something “sometime”. Life Lesson #2: Always have a specific plan of what you want to do and when before asking a girl out. I was nervous and I think that may have even been the first time I formally asked a girl out, so I think the words came out in one breath with no spaces in between. I think she said sure and quickly excused herself, and while she fled down the hall I sauntered back in the lab, too proud of myself for getting the nerve up to ask to realized she'd run away before I could make concrete plans. My friends were just staring at me incredulously, shocked that I'd finally grown a pair.
Time was quickly running out. I never really could get her alone after that to talk, and I never got a phone number. The first semester of my Senior year would be my last, as the second semester would be spent at some company as an intern. I was quickly reaching the now-or-never stage, and on the last day of the semester I invited her to my friend's Christmas party. This was it, the culmination of a year's worth of pursuit, and finally a direct question with a concrete plan and timeframe. It was going to be just like the movies, the scene where the nerdy but nice guy confronts the pretty but quirky gal, and kindred spirits finally get their act together.
I'm pretty sure I've shared this story before, so the next scene in this tale might seem familiar. I asked my question, enunciated, relaxed, and confidently. She wrinkled her nose, furrowed her brow, and vigorously shook her head back and forth with the disgust of a small child refusing to eat her vegetables. It was the dreaded “broccoli face”. I didn't know how to react. I think I stammered an “A-are you sure?” or a simple inquiry of “...no?”, but she only shook her head harder and took a step back. I'm not proud of this, and I'll always regret getting angry in that moment and snapping, “What'sa matter; don'tcha like me or somethin’?!” in a Joe Pesci-like manner. Her revulsion and disgust changed to fear, and the second I saw that look I was afraid too; I'm generally not an angry person, and anger definitely wasn't going to change her mind. I muttered an apology, and left the classroom to find an empty stairwell in which to sit and mope. Life Lesson #3: Never respond to rejection with anger. (Thankfully, that’s one mistake I never repeated)
My friend, the one who was throwing the party, happened upon me sitting on the steps and asked how it went. He knew my plan, and had encouraged and supported it. I told him what happened, and he suggested that there might be hope, that she might have felt awkward with me inviting her to someone else's house. He had invited most of our class, but left her to me. He said he'd talk to her and invite her personally, and maybe she'd show up. Against all common sense, I began to feel hope. I raced home to wrap presents for my friends, and figure out what I could give to her. I didn't have much money in those days, nor apparently imagination. I remembered in one of our conversations how she wished she had a Ford Bronco. I couldn't afford a real one obviously, but I did have a toy version that I was willing to part with if it finally got me a girlfriend. So I wrapped that up, loaded two boxes full of gifts for just about everyone going to the party, and drove back out to Queens. I enjoyed the party to some degree, but part of my mind was elsewhere, nervously looking up every time the stairs to my buddy's basement creaked and more people arrived. But not her; never her. In the end, I took my truck and went home, accepting that I'd never see her again.
In the months that followed, I adjusted to a new life as an intern, and a new routine. It was difficult not seeing my friends everyday, as well as getting used to what it would be like to spend 7-8 hours sitting at the same desk. But I learned a lot, and for the first time got a sense that I might actually get a job related to my studies. About halfway through the semester, all interns had to report back to campus for one day to give our professor an update and present what we were working on. Afterwards, since we hadn't seen each other in a while, a few of us headed over to one of our old haunts, the computer lab, to chat and share our experiences with some of the underclassmen who were still there. That girl was one of them, and neither of us made eye contact or acknowledged the other person was in the room. The only time she looked at me was when she was leaving, when she got up, planted a big kiss on another guy, and did that thing where she keeps one eye open to see if I'm watching. It was awkward, moreso because I'd been friends with the guy. We weren't close like some of my friends whom I consider brothers to this day, but he was definitely a fellow geek and probably the only person to ever maintain a lengthy conversation with me about something as obscure as The West Coast Avengers. So I felt bad for hitting on his girlfriend, a possible violation of the “bro code” though I had no idea at the time.
Life went on. I graduated, and got a job at the company where I'd interned. I remember telling one of the editors there, a girl two years older than myself, that I'd gotten the job and she'd still be seeing me. She seemed genuinely enthusiastic about that, refreshingly so. Over time, as I went to lunch with her and some other coworkers, I began to develop a new crush, though I was sure the feelings wouldn't be mutual. I didn't speak too much about my past experience or lack thereof, save for one mention of some “crazy girl” that I had a bad experience with. One of the designers I worked with defended her, saying that not going out with me didn't make the girl crazy. I wasn't saying that at all, but it was really hard to explain to people who weren't there, especially giving a very terse account since I didn't like talking about my personal life. Meanwhile, this copy editor continued to be friendly toward me. Against all odds, after dropping strong hints practically to the point of literally asking me to ask her out, we ended up getting together, and I spent two-and-a-half of the best ego-boosting years of my life with a sane, intelligent girl who was older and had her master's degree, but still saw something in a crazy, overweight artist. It was probably the best relationship of my life, and my only complaint about her was that she broke up with me. It took a while to get over and we haven't spoken in years, but I was genuinely happy to hear that she was doing well, now a married teacher up in Massachusetts with twin sons.
The one person I hadn't given much thought to when I look back on my love life was that crazy girl from college, until I heard from one of my college brothers that she'd recently contacted him on one of those social network thingys all you non-blogger kids are into. He wrote a bunch of us to basically warn us that she was still nuts and he regretted reconnecting with her. After 14 years, she just started e-mailing him all of her problems. It was kind of funny, since she always had a social awkwardness. It may have run in her family, since she once told me about her sister taking some guy on to a trashy daytime talk show because he wanted to kiss her. “That's...it?” I asked, not comprehending, while she was genuinely wide-eyed and concerned about the whole “crisis”. My buddy didn't do justice to her current problems until he shared a few excerpts of what she'd written to him. She told him how her current boyfriend was perfect for her, that she couldn't believe her luck, and that she would have married him if she didn't get scared. But she said they would “definitely have children” and maybe she'd consider marriage if they were still together after that.
So there were definitely a few loose threads in the reality bin, and it only got worse. She next told my friend how nightmarish it was for her to be with a crack addict(presumably the same guy that was “perfect for her”), and how she also didn't like his racism. Apparently he likes going to gated communities and calling old people “f*gg*t honkies” and “crackers”. It's probably racist to assume her man is African-American; she could be dating Marshall Mathers. My friends had a theory she preferred black men: the guy she chose over me in college was black, the crackhead at the very least uses black slang, and my buddy that she's dumping all this on right now is also black and she said he looked handsome. She herself is Polish, not that any of that really matters. The important thing here is that she's with a racist drug addict, mainly because he's supporting her while she's out of work right now. She's also been eating a lot of ice cream and gaining weight. And then, if I'm following the jumbled ee cummings-esque narrative's chronology correctly, she went to some beach with another guy and stayed out until 5 AM, so she may be done with the crack addict. But ultimately, her plan is to move to California and open her own spa.
It's funny how the big picture looks over time, isn't it? The drama in her life now is way more Jerry Springer than that non-issue of her sister not wanting some guy to kiss her. I do feel bad for my friend having to hear all that, but I also find it all freaking hysterical for some reason. I don't think it's as evil as the sense of relief I felt last week when I heard that an old supervisor who took advantage of people and took credit for things not his own finally was laid off. I take no pleasure in anyone's misfortune or messed-up lives. Lord knows I have my own problems. I think the laughter, beyond the extremeness of it all, also stems from relief. I mean, imagine if she had said YES when I asked her out? Imagine if I wasn't reading the crazy now as a distant impartial observer, but living that drama firsthand? She used to be one of the girls I'd think of when I listened to Something I Can Never Have. It now seems very silly that I spent any time alone feeling bad over her. I might have ended up locked up in her closet wearing a ball gag. She might have ended up boiling one of my cats. I went on to do better than I thought possible, and all things considered I'm not doing so badly now. Everything worked out for the best. I'm luckier than I realize.
And, best of all, I still have my toy truck.