Oakley sunglasses. Floppy blonde hair. A hat worn, sometimes, backwards. These were but a few of the divine qualities that made Jimmy worthy of my meretricious worship.
If Jimmy started a cult, I would have simply shown up in robes and the requisite footwear. If Jimmy publicly stated that he thought girls who wore shoes made of glass shards were foxy, I would have hobbled myself and trotted after him, bleeding and desperate.
Jimmy had brown eyes with long lashes like a baby cow. A very sexy baby cow. Necklaces worn tight around his throat indicated that he was a person to whom appearances were everything. This is what I told myself as I tried, for the first time, to put in contacts, to put on mascara, to bring my hair to life before giving up and tucking it behind my ears and heading off, slouching, to school.
The distorted and wan look my face took when I caught my reflection mirrored back at me those times he wore his sunnies on the back of his hat. What was the hat? Bruins maybe? Red Sox? I can’t remember. But I do remember those empty lenses staring at me with the same blind disinterest and dispassion found in his sexy-baby-cow eyes.
I could not have told you one thing Jimmy liked, but I could tell you how he smelled. I could not have told you if he had brothers or sisters, but I could tell you what his dad did for a living because I stalked him in the phone book while listening to Jewel’s "Foolish Games" over and over and over again, an obsessive and ineffectual spell to draw him close to me through sheer power of will.
It was eighth grade. I started at a new school (another new school, another attempt to start again, another morning of gut-roiling anxiety and gas discreetly squeaking out of my bottom into the plush maroon upholstery of the family minivan). This one had a uniform.
It was my second institution of learning in a year and it was only September. I started the year at the local middle public middle school. It was the last year before high school and while I remembered a few faces from my elementary days, I was mostly alone and late to the party. I was excited about taking home-ec, a class I’d only heard about on television. I wondered if we’d get to make sandwiches.
I was embarrassed to be in “stupid math” and still not understanding anything. Everyone was loud. I felt my throat closing up. I felt my arms and head and legs retract into my core. I looked like a turtle, but I felt more like Gregor Samsa.
In science we learned about inertia and momentum. I understood science, I knew what these words meant. Momentum was the mounting panic in my chest that made me feel like I was sliding at uncontrolled speed down a snowy hill. Inertia was reality -- stuck in this room, doomed to return to it for an entire year, no friends in sight. On the third day of school, a kid way too old for eighth grade pulled me into his lap and said I was his girlfriend. I told my mom, and a few days later, I was in the same parochial school as my sister and my brothers.
“You’re my girlfriend now,” I’d wanted someone to say those words to me -- or so I thought. I'd been looking for those words, had been kissed early, felt nothing but lips, had sought the words since. But hearing them hissed in my ear with someone’s hand squeezing my waist until I had to concede that yes, I was breakable, of someone pressing me against them while their friends laughed, it felt gross. I felt bad. I felt embarrassed.
A teacher intervened. She had a Winnie the Pooh tattoo on her clavicle. She seemed as mad at me as she was at the dude who grabbed me. The kids at the table snickered through it all. Behind the teacher’s back he blew a kiss at me. “What did you say to him?” Mrs. Winnie the Pooh asked as she escorted me to a mostly empty table where I would eat my free lunch alone. “Nothing,” I said, and it was the truth.
No one grabbed me at the tiny Catholic school. In science I sat with the smartest kid in class. The boy in front of us was loud, attractive and had teeth like a game show host. He wore Tommy cologne. He sneered a lot and stared at you until you blushed. He whispered a secret to the smart boy next to me. “Apparently,” said my irascible deskmate said with a smirk, “he wants to go out with you.”
This is where I was supposed to do something, say something that would open me up to ridicule. I refused to play. Instead I stared down at my desk and said something sarcastic.
Inside I was cringing and mortified and embarrassed. Was it true? It wasn’t true. It couldn’t possibly be true. It was there looking me in the face in an unblinking way stinking of cheap cologne, it was grabbing me by the wrist and pulling me, insisting. My heart went a little faster and I licked my lips raw. I hunched under the weight of big boobs and contemplated the two ample rolls of my fish-belly white stomach with grim certainty: Sex and love are one big joke played on ugly people. I guess it’s easier to doubt something than it is to believe it and be made a fool.
My cassette played "Foolish Games" one more time and I called the number in the phone book and hung up one more time when someone answered. Jimmy and I never even had a class together that I can recall. We danced once, me in a novelty T-shirt and severe ponytail, me with my lumpy mascara and savage little dreams. Someone took a photo of the dance we shared, but I don’t have a copy of it anymore. I know that in it I am beaming and shy and panicked, like a cat who finally catches a bird. My hands on his shoulders, just my fingertips, really. This momentary proximity was an acceptable fantasy, and a safe one. Jimmy in the photo, he looks off past the camera, smiling at a friend, cow-eyed, patient: The dance will be over soon.
When was the first time a man scared you?