Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The First Fish in the Sea

One of my seniors drolly sloughed into homeroom yesterday red-eyed and clearly downhearted. He slumped his shoulders and dragged his feet like Charlie Brown after a bad day before plopping into his desk pouring his sad, sad head into the palms of his hands.

So, playing the role of concerned mentor I asked him, “What’s wrong, buddy?”

He answered, “My girlfriend since seventh grade broke up with me after prom over the weekend.”

And I thought, “Ouch.” What can anyone say to something like that? Kids hate the ol’ “It’ll get better with time,” and “There are more fish in the sea” is more played out than a Sarah Bareilles love song. So all I said was, “I know that really hurts, man. I’m sorry that you’re having to go through that right now.”

I know. I’m like Confucius, right?

In any event, it got me thinking about the gal pals of my youth. As an awkward, pimple-stricken thirteen-year-old with a bowl cut, I unexpectedly found myself with the first real girlfriend of my life. There were opportunities for me to latch on with some other junior high honey before then, but up until that point I avoided them for two basic reasons:

1. I didn’t really see the point of having a girlfriend in seventh grade. There would be no real dates, no deep conversations, and no real meaningful interaction. Also, because I was a huge wuss at the time, I also assumed that there would be no kissing. As far as I was concerned the most I’d get out of a relationship was a handful of boring telephone calls and exile from the boy’s lunch table to sit with the girls, as was the fate of some other boys in my class. No, thank you.

2. I was mortified at the idea of getting teased. When you get your first girlfriend, adults give you that stupid grin and poke at you about finally “getting into the game.” I hated the idea of that, and no girl was going to make me deal with that sort of embarrassment.

Well, almost no girl. As a student of a private Catholic school my class only had about thirty kids in it. But kids gotta have dances, so to avoid awkward sock hops with like fifteen girls swaying back and forth to some Boyz II Men song, all the area Catholic schools teamed up to allow a more diverse smattering of white, middle-class Catholic kids to interact with each other.

With that in mind, every school sort of had That One Girl whose name spread through our hallways like a whispering mist of love. Mysterious, enigmatic girls with names Jessica, Anna, Brittney.

And, in my case, Meghan.

These young ladies were of a special ilk at our little weekend dance gatherings. For a shy kid like me, the only contact you got with this sort of gal was by watching them from halfway across the room during slow songs while the more boastful, athletic boys got the guts to ask these glowing beauties to dance.

Understand that at 13 years old I was 5’10” and about 130 pounds, with shoes the size of carry-on luggage. I stuttered and cracked when I spoke, couldn’t dress as well as the other boys, and spoke to girls like I had a severe mental handicap. This, ladies and gentlemen, is not the recipe for an adolescent Don Juan.

So how I ended up with one of The Pretties (who in retrospect were sort of like the leaders of the Five Families in “The Godfather”) is still a mystery. It’s even more mysterious when you consider the pathetic way I asked her out in the first place.

Somehow I received wind that Miss Meghan thought I was cute. (It was eighth grade; these things get around). Incredulous, my buddies told me this was too good an opportunity to pass up. Despite my severe inexperience with the female gender I heartily agreed. Gathering up my teammates in between games at a weekend basketball tournament between all the Catholic schools in the area, we approached m’lady, me trembling like a strung-out Chihuahua in a subzero blizzard.

Upon arrival I realized that she had her entourage behind her as well—a group of burgeoning eighth grade girls in modest cheerleading uniforms—and that made me even more nervous. They all went to a different school, after all, and I didn’t really know any of them, Meghan included.

If I would’ve followed my instincts at that moment, I would’ve suddenly looked surprised and pointed at some invisible distraction in the distance, then while everyone peered to see what it was I’d bolt back to the team locker room, pull my knees to my chest and rock back and forth on the dirty floor with my thumb in my mouth.

But I had come this far. People were watching. And Meghan was Meghan. I had to do this.

Tilting my head to the side and rolling my eyes, holding my arms out like someone instigating a fight, I asked her, “Will you go out with me?” I didn’t even look her in the face, so to this day I have no idea whether she was flattered by my clear anxiety or just felt sorry for me, but in either event she quickly replied, “Yes.”

I replied with “Alright,” turned an about-face, and happily fluttered in the opposite direction, not realizing until much later that I probably should’ve asked if she wanted to go sit somewhere and hold hands.

Oh well. No matter what I did wrong I still had my first girlfriend and she was a doozie. It was my first experience with reciprocated infatuation and I was on cloud nine. My stomach burned like I had just gulped down hot chocolate every time I thought of her, and when I slow-danced with her at the following weekend’s sock hop I was almost positive I was going to pass out from overexposure to glee.

It was dark in the gymnasium, colored lights twittering around us in circular orbits while we swayed back and forth. Some mid-90s R&B ballad melted like honey in my ears and I truly did not know what do with my jittering emotions. My hands, which have always been sweaty, were most likely burning permanent hand-shaped salt stains into the back of her shirt. But it was my first time dancing with a girlfriend, so my heavy emotions trumped whatever insecurities I was experiencing. No harm, no foul.

Behind our awkward twirling, her posse of cheerleader friends was miming their desire for me to kiss my new steady gal. We had been dating only a couple of weeks, and in my head I remember thinking, “It’s too soon!” and the pressure of the situation was too great for me to actually make the move. It embarrassed the hell out of me and caused temporary paralysis. That moment very well could’ve been my first kiss.

It wasn’t, though. I never did kiss her—it took me almost three weeks just to build up the nerve to hold her hand. That’s not a joke. Quit laughing. I was thirteen, okay?

As a result of that timidity she broke up with me about a week later. Well, I shouldn’t say that “she” broke up with me because after all this was eighth grade. Her best friend called me and broke up with me. I never would’ve thought it would hurt so much to get dropped by a girl I wasn’t even dating.

The next year I moved and transferred out of the Catholic school system, and can’t really recall ever bumping into Meghan again. Still, she was my first real girlfriend—despite my constant apprehension and gracelessness.

But I’m so over it. It got better with time. There were more fish in the sea.


Adam said...

F***in' sock-hops, man. They were like bad dreams with Dr. Seuss names.
I was always that one Public School kid, ya know. Sheesh.

Kevin said...

I had very similar experiences in junior high.

My first "girlfriend" and I "dated" for like 5 months, but had like maybe 2 conversations in that timespan.

The second "girlfriend" was more of a similar experience to yours. It was a very intimidating yet attractive girl. However, she dated literally everybody in the school. Still, when it was my turn I was pretty excited. We did hold hands regularly, but never kissed. It ended after 2 weeks with a message left on our answering machine...with my mom standing next to me listening to it.