In high school, I harbored a long-standing, elegant crush on a girl all four years. She was in my homeroom class and her locker wasn’t far from mine, and though we never hung out socially all that often, my affection for her was elegantly steadfast and unchanged by all the crazy werewolf metamorphoses usually encountered by all denizens from 9th to 12th grade.
Like most schools, the spring semester of our senior year began its ritualized disintegration of the normal social cliques, and many of us were seen fraternizing with people we’d long since considered Them versus Us. Members of the string quartet were laughing with cheerleaders, and the Debate and Lacrosse teams were exchanging advice on colleges. And in those weeks, I got to spend more time with my crush, as our friend-worlds merged and began taking weekend trips together.
In an institution as balkanized as my prep school, I wondered how we could have broken these barriers sooner, but being 17 is being 17, and acne waits for no man. It didn’t matter – we were all escaping, off to re-invent ourselves however we saw fit.
Our school didn’t follow many common American rituals, but we did have a yearbook, and the last week was spent signing missives to whom we promised to be friends 4-ever. Being dorky intellectuals, some of us spent an inordinate amount of time riffing on the ritual – I even put a giant Pollock-like art signature in the yearbook of my friend Elizabeth Burgess that took me a whole evening.
Meanwhile, my crush and I had taken to long talks after school. She was very cute, very weird, from an old Tidewater family, and would occasionally stop me in the hallway and unleash bizarre non-sequiturs (once, it was about bananas, which is how I remembered this story today). Upon graduation, she went off to her Ivy League – or horsey Southern school – or expensive Northern enclave – I can’t remember which. We’d hugged at the ceremony, and I’d watched her drive away. Not exactly sad, because that wasn’t the nature of a long-term, kindly crush, but just hoping the best for her.
We haven’t spoken since. She got married relatively early (compared to my commitment-adverse peer group) and of course, years later, I did too. Not long ago, I was going through boxes in our barn, and I found my yearbook from that final year, replete with all the signatures of folks that shaped my early thought processes. And written with green magic marker, I read the nice paragraphs left to me by my crush.
I leafed through more pages and suddenly saw something I’d never seen before, in the twenty years I’d owned the book. Many pages away from the ghetto of signatures, there was another page in the index, with writing I’d never noticed. In the same green magic marker, there were the words “I……LOVE…….YOU.”
I put myself back into my old self, my white, pasty seventeen-year-old body with glasses and a tie, and think she couldn’t have meant it for me. I didn’t think myself a part of that world, a part of the pool of people who kissed those they longed for. I had my crushes, steady and languid, but accepted my place as farmer rather than hunter. Normal relationships, dating, kissing – those were all for other people.
But if the words were for me? I would have died a million deaths and been reborn a million bright suns. As it was, I was to go a long, long time, well into college, for my first kiss. If my crush had only said something, especially in the crumbling republic of the dying cliques, the difference it would have made. A message sat undisturbed in that yearbook for decades, but it only reminded me of how close I felt to disappearing entirely. You might dream of your lady in waiting, but when you hide yourself so well, you run the risk of never being found.