going back to rockville


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.

0 thoughts on “going back to rockville

  1. Anne

    What a wondrous story, Ian!
    Not to be crass, but this sounds like script inspiration to me.
    This reminds me of something entirely sweet that happened to me in college, and I am going to blog it as soon as I have time.

  2. LFMD

    I love it when you get all romantic/nostalgic in your writings! I agree with Anne. . . . it has the makings of a Nicholas Sparks novel.

  3. CL

    Holy crap, that was beautiful, and reminded me of all my unrequited longings in high school and college.
    Everything you wrote is so true, including those barriers falling off senior year…God, you are a great writer. Thank you for sharing it with us.
    Anne, please let us know when you write your own entry!

  4. GFWD

    Not to steal his thunder, but DFB’s & T’s mother was air ambulanced home from France to NC safely. He may shed more light on the subject later. Congrats, man!

  5. kevin from NC

    This would make a nice script.
    I am surprised you would have missed the inscription. I remember my yearbooks and how I turned every page numerous times seaching for the hidden meaning that might be there. (There was not).
    Happy Thanksgiving!!!! k

  6. GFWD

    Timely post. I will be traveling home to NC today and I have a meeting tonight with some high school classmates to help coordinate and plan our 20th reunion in October 2008.
    It’s a shame you can’t track down your cute weirdo crush. I’ve been able to stay in regular contact with my first true love at Carolina. Our conversations now are about marriage and child rearing, as we have alternated bringing youngins into the world over the past two years, with my second on the way next Spring.
    The best part of the relationship (aside from the great ego boost I get when she sends pictures–time has been super kind to her and she looks like she did back in the day) is knowing we both started out the same. Two innocent, ignorant kids sitting in Winston Dorm, eating at Lenoir Dining Hall, often trying to figure things out while relying on one another for support.
    To a lesser degree, she’s still a support outlet for me at times when I have questions about child rearing or remembering who I am. Most recently, she gave me the best advice ever as my wife and I awaited potentially scary pre-natal test results.
    Remember that Wear Sunscreen speech written by Anna Quindlen? One of the stanzas says:
    “Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need
    the people who knew you when you were young.”
    That’s why I make the effort with that first love of mine (as well as many others, some of whom are on this blog as regular posters.)
    Track down the friend,Ian. Tell her what you posted here. It will make her day. And you’ll walk on air for a while, with feelings as giddy as those you would have felt as a 17 year old.
    And Tessa won’t be jealous. And Lucy will imitate your goofy, happy gait.
    Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

  7. Scott M.

    Awesome story. It prompted me to write a long, rambling anecdote about one of my freshman experiences at UNC. It was originally going to be a comment on here, but it kept getting longer until I realized it was far too personal.
    It’s basically the tale of how my crush borrowed my class notes after she missed class, and how I left her some messages in the margins.
    It eventually led to a very bad date… and actually, I think the date happened despite the messages, rather than because of them.
    In any case, thanks for a wonderful story.

  8. CL

    I’ve been thinking about this. Maybe said crush is aware of your rise to literary fame, and is reading this blog right now!
    Ian’s crush, reveal yourself!

  9. salem's little sister

    My high school boyfriend’s best friend declared his long time love for me the night after I broke up with the boyfriend. The friend said years ago in high school, he was planning on asking me out and the day he was going to, my boyfriend beat him to it. Neither had any idea the other liked me and I was oblivious to the friend’s crush. I could not have been more shocked and all I could do was grab him and kiss him right there on the steps of Sigma Nu. It was one of the greatest, sweetest, purest kisses I’ve ever had and then it was over and that was that.

  10. kmeelyon

    oh ian! this is beautiful! how crazy that you’d never before noticed the secret message.
    i just got back from lunch with my high school ex-boyfriend, from 21 years ago. so the timing of this story is lovely. ah memories.

  11. LFMD

    OK, I will admit it. I came back to see if Ian’s crush revealed herself.
    SLS – what happened to the friend after the kiss on the Sigma Nu steps???? That was that? That was what? Did you date? I know that you have been on Mommy Duty and all, but surely you can elaborate for us! Sounds like one of those John Hughes movies that I loved so!

  12. salem's little sister

    I love LFMD. Truly, that was it. Just one precious kiss and we went back to being friends(love that Dave Matthews) and never talked about it again. I haven’t seen him in years, but hear he’s doing well, married with kids. I hadn’t thought about it in forever until reading Ian’s blog today. *sigh*(sweetly, not ironically)

  13. xuxE

    that is crazy that you found the note only now.
    young crushes are beautiful. my 8 year old has a crush on his teacher. totally transparent. totally and utterly devoted. thank god she is great and thinks he is amazing. it’s such a sweet and vulnerable state to be in.

  14. jordi's friend jill

    Am I the only one who can’t stop thinking of what that poor girl went through after she signed Ian’s yearbook? Wondering if he’d found what she had written, waiting patiently for him to respond, saying goodbye without knowing whether he had never seen it or had chosen to ignore it?!? As someone who has done unimaginably stupid and subtle things to get a boy’s attention, my heart is breaking for her!

  15. CL

    Jill, I’ve been thinking about this story for days too. You never really know what she was thinking of, though. Maybe she was just being nice? Or maybe she really really really wanted him. We just don’t know. If e-mail had been around in those days, maybe this story would be different…

  16. Drake

    Very well written (as always). Interesting to me especially because I found a similar note from a girl who I thought was “just a friend” — or I should say “thought of as just a friend”. Her “I love you!” was written very small on a page in the middle somewhere and I didn’t see it until after college.
    It was starnge for me to realize that I was “the crush” of someone I’d never even considered romantically. All the while feeling similarly as awkward as Ian did.

  17. ken

    What make the story great is how the love was unrequited. If you had discovered this note right away, it probably would’ve resulted in an awkward date and forever sullied your great memory of the relationship.
    I’m reminded of two things:
    1) The John Powers line from (I believe) “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?”, which is “I was never that young again.”
    2) the lyrics echo, Billy Bragg’s “The Saturday Boy”, quite closely. Listen to it. Great song.

  18. oliver

    That sounds like a real sledge hammer to the head. I need a word like “bittersweet” but more ala “mind-blowing-sweet.” I think you might be writing about this again and again.


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