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I used to walk down the halls of my high school, cowering with insecurity. My curly, frizzy hair was never styled right. I didn’t own Juicy Couture sweat suits and I could never swipe on enough bronzer to achieve the fake-tan glow that the captain of the cheerleading team had perfected.
I was the girl who was never invited to drink Mike’s Hard Lemonade with the cool kids. I spent four years trying to change everything about myself in hopes that someone would notice, but they never did.
He, on the other hand, was the quarterback of the football team. He wasn't the best player, but his great, great uncle, once removed, had played in the NFL, and that was enough. I would have given anything to be the girl he made out with at a victory party on a Friday night.
Seven years later (when everybody says the doubts and insecurities of high school will have been forgotten), I’m living and working in the greatest city in the world while the captain of the cheerleading team is still having parties in her parent’s basement. I’ve thanked my mother repeatedly for never letting me go tanning, and I’ve learned that perfectly coiffed hair is a waste of my time. But when I saw the former quarterback on the subway last spring, I couldn't help but smile.
“I thought it was you,” he said, walking over to me. He asked me how I’ve been, and I told him about all the things in my life I thought would make me seem cooler than I was in high school. He asked me for my number, and I gave it to him, not expecting to hear from him until 3 a.m. on some lonely Saturday night.
We went our separate ways; he, on a train back to our hometown, and me to my (not-so-swanky, but still in Manhattan) apartment uptown. When I got off the subway, I already had a text asking me to “catch up” over drinks. I wasn’t sure what he wanted to catch up on, considering we’ve never said more than three words to each other before, but I agreed to go. After all, he was the quarterback.
I was nervous to meet him. Partly because I was afraid we'd have nothing in common, partly because I didn’t find him as attractive as I used to, and most importantly, because I still secretly craved his acceptance. As we were waiting for a table at an eloquent, rooftop bar, the awkwardness cut me like a knife.
“How’s your mom?” I wanted to ask, but I didn’t, because I’d never met her. I'd only watched her cheer on her son as he got tackled by the opposing team week after week. He was sweating a lot. I wondered if he was nervous.
I had a good time, but mostly because his credit card turned the bar into an unlimited Fireball dispenser. He didn’t want to order dinner because his mom had a plate warming for him in the stove. He kissed me goodbye, and by the time I got home, he had already asked me out again. I looked in the mirror and smiled to myself, wondering if the insecurities I used to feel were all in my head. Relishing my newfound sense of empowerment, I accepted.
Our next date was the same as the first, except for the fact that all he talked about was our high school football team. We ran into someone he knew and he introduced me as the “girl who used to paint my football number on her face.” As the night went on, we continued to relive his glory days. I was finally getting the details from the basement parties I wasn’t invited to. (Lizzie totally let Robby feel her up, by the way. Whore.)
I probably should have ended it then and there, but I didn’t. Instead, I made plans to meet up with him when I went home the following weekend.
Back home, I found myself the center of attention in a group of boys I used to pray would acknowledge me in the hallway. I also started to realize how far removed I was from their lives. They were talking about the same things they talked about seven years ago, and I was expected to care, but I was really just wondering how long before I could satisfy my drunken McDonald’s craving.
The quarterback invited me over later that night, to his mother’s house. While that should have been a red flag, I went anyway. He brought me to the basement to “watch TV.” The basement I always longed to be invited to, the one where I'd heard he got to third base with the cheerleading captain.
I lived out my high school fantasy that night. And it was terrible, minus the fact that he kept telling me how pretty he thought I was. His hands were clammy, and he was a terrible kisser. After he was satisfied, we fell asleep; right there on the couch in his mommy’s basement.
Again, I should have ended it. I would later realize I was trying to use my adolescent dream guy to overcome my insecurities. I tried to pretend that being alternately bullied and ignored in high school hadn't affect me, but it did. Even seven years later, I thought that if this guy accepted me, maybe I could get finally get over the feeling of not being good enough.
I eventually realized that conquering the quarterback did nothing for my insecurities, especially since he seemed to see me as just as pathetic as I'd been in high school. He constantly critiqued my clothes (“Not tight enough”), my hair (“Why don't you grow it out?”), and the way I talked (“Don’t curse when you’re out in public with me”). When I began to reject him, his temper started to flare. The text messages I ignored were followed up with one-liners like, “How dare you not respond to me.” He couldn’t believe that someone as unimportant as me could possibly reject him.
I'd fantasized about him so much in high school, but he'd barely grown up since then. He loved to talk about the debilitating back injury he sustained during his “successful football career." Furthermore, he wouldn’t spend nights in the city, because there was always some “can’t miss” event in our hometown.
The best days of his life had happened during our senior year of high school, and he was holding onto those memories for dear life because they were all he had. He saw our hometown as his kingdom and he wanted me to rule beside him as his queen, but never his equal. I’d had enough.
The last time I saw him, I refused his invitation to sleep in his mom’s basement again. He responded by stomping out, and violently slamming the door behind him. I was relieved.
The high school quarterback will probably end up marrying someone like the cheerleading captain, and they will probably create the next generation of cool kids on the very couch I slept on.
He reaches out to me from time to time, hoping to rekindle the non-existent flame. I almost gave him another chance, until I found out that his mom still picks out his clothes. I learned a valuable life lesson, though: Some teenage fantasies should be kept, undisturbed, in the back of the adult mind.