"Crushed" -- this thing I’ve been doing where I break down the romantic crushes in my life from year to year -- started because I fell in love with someone. I wanted to do something amazing for him, still do. I’m not rich and, hilariously, I’m terrible to read in person, I can seem cold or shy, and I don’t think I could pull off buying a guy flowers.
So I started writing what was essentially a long-form love letter. Writing this week’s installment is hard because I don’t know who I’m writing it for since I don’t feel his eyes on me or my words anymore. I guess I’m writing it for you or for my friends or my parents or my therapist or myself, a little. I know that the letter isn’t done being written. I know that. Still, it’s a hard sell this week -- high school. I’m trying.
So okay, ninth grade. It’s here. We’re in it. Let’s try for context: Another new place, high school. I’m 14, I’m going to an academy for girls, a Catholic one. We wear uniforms. I have two different kilts, both too long. Some girls get theirs hemmed. Other girls know how to roll them to show off their legs. My body rejects this neat sartorial trick. I have the hips, it shouldn’t be a problem. But it is -- just like hula-hooping. My kilts are either too big or too small, the wool pulling tight over my stomach, or the waistband gaping open like a tired fuzzy frown. I wear white polo shirts that are too large, they pill almost immediately and never look clean no matter how many times you wash them.
Ninth grade. Kilts. Homeliness. Long hair. Center parts. T-Zone acne. I was in love with Mel Gibson, I was in love with Sting. I was a strange girl. After school I went to rehearsals at the children’s theatre that made up my extracurricular life. I played a vast assortment of mothers and background characters and developed a chip on my shoulder.
Instead of just being sad about the way I looked, I also got angry about it. Yeah, that factors in. The anger factors in. Here I am at 14. I am so angry I could spit blood and nails and secret toxic bile from my pores but I don’t know what to do with that anger. I don’t like the way it feels. So I hunch and stare and lie and isolate myself. I begin to desire things that I can never have. A role, a boy, a life: I do not know what it is to get what you want, the wanting is the closest I come and it is agony.
At the top of that wanting-list was Lars. He played my husband in a musical version of "The Bridge to Terabithia." That’s right: It exists. I was Jesse’s terse withholding mom, snapping peas. Most of the notes I received on my performance involved my lackluster pea-snapping. In a play where (spoiler alert) my son dies, it is telling that the thing I can remember most is being angry that I could not snap peas properly. I also remember easily three of the more upbeat musical numbers and all the time I spent with Lars in the wings talking about handwriting analysis.
He was ridiculously cool. He wore John Lennon glasses, he had floppy hair and wore a newsboy hat and as I was very much into "Newsies" and John Lennon at the time, this was a winning combination. He was also smart and funny and if a cat came to life as a human teenager their mouth would look like his mouth. This is a strange thing to say. I stand by it.
I wasn’t the only girl who liked him -- my best friend did too. This was that brief and strange period of time when I spent hours on the phone with someone, her, burbling about all the inconsequential and hilarious things happening all around us daily.
There was a body of water near the elementary school where the theatre had their rehearsals. During our dinner breaks on that show I’d sometimes wander over there and so would he. I’d stare out at the water and hope that I looked profound and serious. I probably just seemed sulky and unapproachable. At that age everything felt not-real. The likelihood of Lars liking me was no different than Mel Gibson waking up and realizing he must have me.
My life was internal and strange and precious to me. I pasted the walls of my room with clippings from the pages of every magazine I could get my hands on. My mom didn’t understand how I could sleep with all those eyes watching me. I didn’t know how to explain it then, but I do now -- it couldn’t bother me. It was like the inside of my loud head where everything was glossy and sinister and distorted and judgmental.
In my head I could love whoever I wanted to love. In my head every man I met was the potential romance of a lifetime and it was safe because if I’d learned anything from movies it’s that romances of a lifetime aren’t real, and when we try to fake them for the dramatic benefit of an audience they don’t star girls like me.
Later on, a year or two later, Lars would come and see me in a play at the same theatre group. He had graduated and moved on, but I was still there. The chip on my shoulder had gotten me a not-mom role and the earnest look in his eye when he told me afterwards that I’d done good work meant the world to me. At the time I was in Ian-land, (oh man, we are reaching an era where I am friends with all of these dudes on Facebook. Hey Lars, what up Ian?) but the moment has stayed with me not because I was so terribly into Lars, but because it was the first time I’d seen what my destructive crushes could do.
In that moment of talking with Lars, I saw that we could have been great friends. But the version of him that I’d conjured to love from afar and hide away from had kept that from happening. This moment of poignant insight lasted roughly half a second and would not be wisdom I adhered to in the near future. Get ready y’all. It’s about to get all email-y and tequila-y in here.
How many of your former unrequited crushes are you Facebook friends with?