Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Understanding Love, 1

I've heard it -- or read it -- said that if you think you've been in love, you haven't been in love.

Still, I think that at one time I loved you. I think I loved you hard.

I remember thinking about you when you weren't there and feeling happy and sad and a little sick to my stomach. I remember being with you, sitting, and feeling happy and a little sick to my stomach. I remember the rumors about you and your former boyfriend. I remember the day you transformed yourself into a very sad, very insane woman and handed out flowers. I remember how easy it was for you to slide from your social group to mine and then back to yours and how I'd already been rejected by your social group; I could have lived on the outskirts just to be close to you, but that would have been pathetic and I already had so many things working against me. I remember the day you saw the toys I carried around in my backpack and you found it amusing, not in a cynical or cruel way, but more in an I-understand-why-you-carry-these-things way; you understood that I liked what I liked and I used them to get reactions from people. I remember your kindness.

High school was not a kind place for me. It wasn't cruel, either. It was more indifferent. I was fat enough and nerdy enough that I put people off. I was smart enough, nice enough, and "normal" enough that no one attacked me, physically or mentally, for being different than they were. I was a place holder, a space taker, to most of the students, probably most of the teachers, too. I was an object to be walked around and a group member to be ignored.

To you, though, I wasn't just an object. You always greeted me, even when I was forced to sit alone in a group of four desks and I spitefully made sure I sat in the desk closest to the door. When, one day, you were rejected by your group and had to sit with me, you liked it enough that the next day you came back, even though there were empty seats elsewhere in the classroom. And you came back the next day and the day after that and each day until the school year ended.

There was a day, when we had a substitute teacher, when we sat at our desks, across from each other, and we talked about The Rocky Horror Picture Show. You had discovered it more recently than I had and were in the process of indoctrinating your friends. Just as the substitute teach came up to our desks you said that the weekend before you had "devirginized" your boyfriend, at the time. The sub said that he and a lot of young men were devirginized during their time in the Army, you turned red, and I bit back laughter. You stumbled and stuttered, trying to explain the movie and the tradition of the lipstick "V"s on a new watcher's cheeks. The sub said that if your boyfriend needed more help with the devirginizing he should join the Army; they have a lot to teach, he said. You looked down and said that he was actually joining the Marines. I snorted. Even better, the sub said. I burst out laughing and a half-second later, you started to laugh, too, still redder than a strawberry.

It was you kindness and your ability to laugh at your mistakes and your forgiveness to me for laughing at you before it was with you. It didn't hurt, too, that you were easily the most beautiful female in our class, if not the whole school. I remember how you kept your hair carefully tucked behind your ear, but when you were concentrating hard it would fall from its place as you leaned forward and the very tip of your ear would poke out of your hair. I remember your eyes flashing in anger at the idiots in the classroom and in joy when I could make you laugh. I remember your smile: your huge smile when you were excited; your sly smile when you had gotten away with something; and your small smile when you were simply content.

I knew that if you loved me at all it would never be the same way I loved you. There was someone, a friend, who was smarter than me, nicer than me, and much better looking than me who you said you couldn't like as anything other than a friend. What chance did a schlub like me have? It was okay, though, because I got to spend 50 minutes alone with you every day we were at school and I wouldn't want to give that time up for anything.

We went to the same school out first year of college. I didn't go hunting for you. I have this thing about social strata and not trying to shake it up and while I knew where I'd end up -- outside and alone -- I didn't know where you would choose to be. I knew you'd choose, though, because you were smart enough and acceptable enough to end up anywhere. I did call you a couple of times, though. Once to tell you a teacher had died, one who I really liked, and you helped me feel better. The other time was to see if you were headed home one weekend because I needed a ride back to school. You were and you did. We also ran into each other a few times and just chatted. Your roommate, who we went to school with, was not nearly so kind.

I held on to the feeling I had for you for a few years until it reached the point that I had to give it up. I was going to a different school and wasn't ever going to see you again. It was hard letting go, but I had to even though it made me feel good and safe.

You were the only person I wasn't in semi-regular contact with who I wanted to see at our ten year reunion. You didn't come. I'm not going to the 20 because once in a room with those people again and just being an object was enough. I've kept an eye out for you on Facebook, but cannot find you. Either you’re not there, or you've changed enough that I no longer recognize you when I see you. I don't know and I'm not going to be concerned about it because it probably wouldn't change anything anyway.

I hope your life is nice. I hope that even if you didn't become what you thought you were going to become you're something that you like. I hope your husband appreciates what he has and shows it to you every day even if it's just by taking your hand for no particular reason and giving it a small squeeze. I hope that any kids you might have got your smarts more than you looks, but I hope they have that same sly smile when they're up to mischief. And I hope that when you think back to high school and that fat guy you sat across from in English it's with fondness.

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