Thursday, July 23, 2009

Crushes and True Love

First crushes are one of the most memorable moments of adolescence. Heart and hormones unite into a delirious concoction that elevate the subject to a higher plane. Suddenly, the world around looks three shades brighter as if life itself were a giant television and you'd brightened the screen by degrees with the remote. Gray, gloomy days look positively sunkissed and idyllic. Despite having a full load of classes with months to go until the next school break, it feels as if you are on summer vacation. Every day, mundane life recedes into the distance and is barely noticeable as shadows on the horizon. Your heart longs with the deepest intensity to see HIM (or her) and the faintest glimpse down the hallway is enough to make your heart jolt and thump hard enough that others, if they know to look, can see it pounding.

Aaaaaahhhhh, my first crush was lovely! I still remember it, as much as I remember him. His name was Kenny and I was a freshman in High School. He was tall, dark haired, green-eyed and played on the basketball team. To this day, I still don't know what position he played or whether he was any good in spite of the fact that I attended as many games as I could just so I could watch him. I also remember that he had a car, which only served to make me feel as if he were more manly than any of the other testosterone infused young men with whom I attended school. Although I wasn't old enough to drive, I felt much older than my tender years; adult even. My very existence was validated: I liked him and he liked me! Somehow, I had been lifted to a new level of existence, and yes, even status, all because of a boy. But Kenny wasn't just any boy, he was the popular guy who chose me out of a sea of incoming freshmen girls. In my imagination, and there may indeed have been some truth to it, all of the girls were jealous that I, despite not being on the cheer team, had been able to catch his eye. Each day, I spent hours picking the right clothing and taming my shaggy 80's mane of long hair, perfecting the sphere of bangs perched precariously atop my forehead.

My bliss was complete the day Kenny came by our house to take me on my first (almost) date. I was getting to go by myself in a car with MY almost boyfriend. He came by my house to meet my parents and face my father. If you've met my dad, you know that he is stereotypically Italian. Thus, Kenny towered over him in height. But being Italian means that my somewhat shorter statured father towered over him in presence and attitude! They faced off like a pair of male dogs eyeing each other. I know they shook hands, and in retrospect there may have even been some knuckle rolling. Fortunately I was oblivious of the unspoken exchange, because I was blinded by puppy love. With the interrogation behind us, I glided to the car and allowed him to open my door for me. My happiness was complete! When I returned home that evening, although I still can't remember where we went or what the function was, I spent countless hours planning how we would be able to get married after a long four year period of high school sweethearts followed by another long four years as college sweethearts. Ahhhh, silly girl!

The next day, I awoke suddenly more aware of my phone than I had ever been. "Ring! Ring!" I consciously willed it at 7:30a.m. on a Saturday morning. As 10:00 a.m. rolled around I became despondent! Then I became panicked as the day ever so slowly unfolded. I heard the grass growing, the trees drinking, and even the paint on the neighbor's two story garage drying. Kenny never called. Somehow I made it through the weekend. It was torturous!!! My mother forbade me from calling him, because "Nice girls don't call boys!" So, I was left wondering if the switchboard was routing his calls to another number or if we had power. We did. I checked many times that day, we had a dial tone.

All of a sudden, my euphoric plans for myself and my future came to a screeching halt. Anyone who has been rejected knows how bad it feels. Sleep is hard to come by, a general fatigue overcomes the body, and one's stomach is constantly queasy. I thought, "Surely he'll talk to me at school on Monday when I'm at my locker between classes!" Nope. Nothing. Crickets. I mooned about for weeks and months. The rational part of my mind that had been overcome with infatuation was now consumed by the urge to know "Why?" I frequently drove by his house to see if he was home and pretended I was visiting a friend when he was out washing his car. I found reasons to linger in the building where I knew most of his classes were just waiting for him to see me. My drive to connect with him, even fleetingly, reduced me to a benign, desperate stalking schoolgirl. I was no longer the "woman" I'd imagined myself to be in his presence. I'd deflated to half my age. Somehow in my adolescent mind I thought, "If he can just see me, he'll like me again!"

The school year slowly ground by, day after day until track season finally arrived. I was on the track team my freshman year and I will never forget how my Kenny bubble finally burst. Our team was at the track and field stadium and all of the participants were lined up for registration. I was standing in line joking with friends, desperately attempting to look successful and happy because he was around. My sense of self preservation had returned and I was determined not to be obviously pathetic anymore. I remember hearing friends jumping up and down on the huge, thick pole vaulter's mat and I even remember the b.o.--combined with sweat--combined with rain smell of that mat. My ears detected the timbre of his laughter and I looked over to see him in full repose with my best friend. My peripheral vision caught movement and as I focused in, I saw him leaning over to delicately, deliciously kiss her lips. It was the kind of kiss that every young lady dreams of; the kind of kiss that holds a promise. My stomach plummeted through my body, exited, and landed right there on the cinder track in front of the new couple. My naked heart was exposed for all to see. It took a monstrous and exhausting force of will to fake happiness and continue as if I hadn't been struck with a two by four. In that instant all of the memories of my best friend turned to dust and I loathed her as only a besotted, thwarted schoolgirl can.

Then I began to hate myself! "How could I be such a loser?" I berated myself over and over again. Why didn't I get it before? It was only then that I realized Kenny had seen me all along. He just didn't like me anymore. I finally realized all of my efforts to be funny enough, beautiful enough, and smart enough for him to like me were in vain. Thus ended my first crush. It then became important to me to prove to him, and to myself, that I was superior to any girlfriend he currently had. As I pulled myself out of my emotional hole, I became defiant in my attitude, "I'll show him what he's missing!" "I am the best thing that COULD have ever happened to him!" I hated that I had abased myself and abandoned my dignity all for wanting him to like me. How ridiculous is that?

Years later, a dear family friend laughingly said, "Oh do you remember the time your dad threatened that guy--what was his name?" "Kenny something I think!" Dear reader, all those years later, the why became apparent. My father's b.s. detector had apparently, and in retrospect rightly, been pinging a silent, screaming alarm. When I had taken a few moments to stop at the powder room my father took the measure of the man and instantly disliked him. I learned that my dad actually showed Kenny his gun collection. Now I know that there are a lot of urban myths about this, but my father is an avid hunter. He'd been to Africa to hunt Cape Buffalo and he hunted doves and geese annually. To my friend's best recollection my father actually said, "Young man, do you see that gun over there?" My would-be beau politely responded, "Yes sir I do." And my father said, "Well I don't have a problem using it!" Any amorous ideas young Kenny might have had for the good Doctor's daughter evaporated in a cloud of fear, partly I suspect because my dad could see ill intentions from a mile away. As it turns out, father's b.s. detectors are operational even when their daughter's aren't.

Now, many years later, I realized how fragile infatuation can be. During those months, I was willing to sacrifice myself and my dignity all for a man all upon the altar of 'love.' Now after having been married for sixteen years wife and being the mother of a ten year old daughter, I can chuckle at myself. I can tuck that lesson about preserving dignity into my pocket and show it to my daughter when she is ready. During these subsequent decades, I've learned a lot about love and what true love really is.

I am reminded that even when Kenny couldn't really 'see' me, Jesus really did. He saw beyond the fresh faced hope of a school girl and into her very heart. And unlike Kenny, Jesus stopped and took notice. He loved me for all that I was and even more importantly for all that I wasn't. He also saw all that he could help me to be and was willing to lay everything down to save me. Jesus totally abandoned his dignity just for me, just as he has for all of us. I think unrequited love is the perfect metaphor for the Jesus who waits for us! He's staring at the spiritual phone waiting for you to call. He sees time come and go, and watches the birth and death of stars. Yet, he became fragile man to prove his undying love. Jesus, the Lord of the Universe, did more than allow himself to be the subject of ridicule in the school cafeteria. He allowed soldiers to strip him naked, lash him with whips, tear open his scalp all to prove how much he loves us. He abandoned kingship, health, wealth, and even his own happiness so that we might have life. This is no crush, this is true, all consuming, love. Amen??? My heart is happy to know that he saw me and I am happy to return his love. Are you?

Hey, I finally got over my crush on Kenny! And then in college, I met this super HOT guy named Brad....

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