Continuing my "I don’t want to write anything new" week, here is another guest post from ME.
I was 14. I was at a new school, in a new city, and my classmates had all been in middle school together before moving across the street to the high school. So, once again, I was starting over.
This time, though I was starting over and I was a teenager. And because I have always been crazy I developed a maddening crush on the smartest girl in class. She also happened to be the least-interested-in-me girl in class. I would try to get, and keep, her attention, but it never worked. She seemed genuinely contemptuous, and really just wanted me to leave her alone, I think.
But the not-secret crush was entertaining to the rest of the kids, and having even that kind of attention was attractive to the new kid; it was a way to fit in, though very dysfunctionally.
Because it was high school, and because I had been raised on television and movie versions of life (I hate you a little, Degrassi. But only a little.) I could recognize the narrative that was playing out around me. The elements of a great teen romance were all in place: new kid, having a tough time cracking into the established group; smart girl, pushing the guys away because she is too mature or insecure to play the game of casual romance that the rest of the girls seemed to play; a supporting cast of watchers, and goaders-on, who could be both audience and writing staff for the drama unfolding before them.
There was the scene at the musical, where the new kid worked up the nerve to perform on stage; and the girl showed up and sat in the front row, endlessly distracting him from what he was doing.
There was the cross-country running team the new kid joined so that he might, possibly, work up the nerve to talk to the girl directly.
There were the dances, and the narrative demanded that at these special times, when romance was scripted, that he walk up to her while “November Rain” was beginning because this time she would agree to dance with him, and the world would change.
There was the last chance, the brief period after the final exam of the year when he saw that he could speak to her alone, and tell her how he felt. He raced out to the bike rack to catch her before she left for the summer; he called out. But with one glance over her shoulder she hopped onto her bike and dashed off. The last chance, wasn’t.
And there was the surreal moment, after the summer break, when she approached him. Caught off guard by the reversal of roles he couldn’t let the old story end amicably and maturely; afraid of trading the known discomfort of daily life for some unknown where they were friends he responded to her friendliness with disinterest and brusqueness.
Returning to normal for the rest of that semester, the momentary role reversal was just a Fourth Act twist, quickly turned tragic by his behavior; his disinterest was belied by his recidivism, his seeking out her attention once again, and once again being greeted by her disdain.
But unlike movies, this narrative didn’t end with some sudden, dramatic moment of mutual appreciation and a recognition of deeper feelings. Instead, I left the school. When I looked into the future, the three and a half years that remained, I didn’t like the person who I was going to become, and who I had already been to a certain extent. So, I decided to go be the new kid somewhere else, and pretend as though that first year and a half had never happened.
I rebuilt fairly successfully, I think, but I was still wounded. Disdain hurt, and to be held in contempt by someone whose opinion was so important did make me wonder, sometimes, if all of my confidence was fraudulent.
There was a show on tv briefly a few years ago called “Do Over”, in which the main character, a 34 year-old man, is transported back to his 14 year-old self, to go through high school with all of his adult knowledge. In my “wish I had a time machine” moments I’ve often wished for a do over of the first year and a half of high school. It was pretty scarring, and I was the perpetrator of my own insecurities as much as I was the victim of other peoples’ attitudes. And there was the girl…
This girl who affected me so deeply at an age where we are built to be affected deeply and forever. She left me in tatters, and I fled.
And 15 years later I saw her on Facebook; and I worked up the nerve to send her a note, the 2008 version of “Do you remember me? Check “yes” or “no”.” We’ve been in contact for a while now, and because she is more mature than I am, and probably always has been, she extended an apology for her behavior as an adolescent.
I assured her that it wasn’t necessary; that it was no big deal; that I was long recovered.
That was a complete and total fabrication. It actually meant a lot to me. It was as though that year and a half meant something, again; as though I needn’t flinch anymore when I recalled my first days of high school. Thank you for that, smart girl.
It’s like my very own “Do Over”.