The events of this tale are some 41 years old. The event itself took place on a fine May afternoon, and my first year of junior high school was coming to an end.
By the end of the school year in May of 1981, I had been routinely hazed and bullied by not only the class I was in, but the next one up, day in and day out. I didn't understand it; I had been kind of popular in sixth grade, but as soon as seventh grade hit, whammo, and none of the strategies that the adults had told me to use to deal with it worked, at all. I was the single most unpopular person in the school.
But...science class. That science class, the general catch-all science class led by the same Indian man who had taught science to my brother, five years earlier. Rather than have desks, the classroom had tables, which sat two students. For a while--I don't remember when in the school year, nor for how long--I was sitting next to a girl, ML; and unlike every other girl in my class, she treated me nicely, and was even friendly with me. I couldn't believe it, but it was so. So science class, for that brief interval, however long I sat next to ML, became the high point of my day.
And she was pretty, too. I mean--well, I'll get to just how pretty she was in a minute, when I explain why I was thinking about this incident over the past few days. I did develop a crush on her pretty quickly.
Anyway, time passes, seats get shuffled, life goes on. Never really talked to her after we were no longer sharing a table in science class. But there was a guy I was friendly with in that class, and eventually the shuffle put him very close to her.
I just heard you think, "Ah, he went out with her, and you reacted badly, right?" No. Well--maybe he did go out with her, but I never heard of that happening. No, it was much, much worse than that. I mean, I did see them talking, and I thought about how much I didn't like that she seemed so friendly with another guy, but at the same time I didn't have the right to be jealous, so mostly I just felt confused.
One fine day, my friend says to me, "Hey, [Fungus]!" When I looked up at him, he pointed at ML, and said, "She likes you!" ML gave me this lovely, sunny smile.
I had to say something cool. I had to show how unruffled I was by this revelation! It was the most wonderful news I'd ever heard (c'mon, I was thirteen) that this girl I liked actually liked me back, and I wanted to say something that was funny and cool, to show that I was open to the idea of dating her, but without looking desperate.
I said, brusquely, "Tough!"
...please wait a moment while I finish cringing.
Yes, I do believe that sunny smile faded while I tried to figure out how to follow up my brilliant verbal riposte. Metaphorically, I skulked away from the scene with my tail between my legs. That hadn't come out right at all and I didn't see how I could possibly fix it.
School ended for the summer. First day of school in September, Home Ec teacher is calling roll and says "ML", and while I'm looking around the room to see where she is, someone says, "She moved away over the summer."
Fast-forward five years. 1986, Secret Admirer comes out on video, and it was a movie I'd wanted to see, so I rented it. I watched it, and in the first freaking five minutes of the movie I see Lori Loughlin--an actress I'd never seen before, at the time--and holy shit she looks just like ML!
ML didn't have the "Breck girl" hair that Lori Loughlin has. She had ordinary girl hair. It was fine, believe me. I actually checked my junior high yearbook, and the resemblance was uncanny. I actually entertained, for a little while, the notion that maybe that's where she went! (What the hell, if I had professional movie makeup artists and stylists working on my hair, and taking a personal interest in it, I bet I could be a Breck Girl, too.) But no, that wasn't the case.
So, this past weekend, Saturday night--when I was waiting to make sure the butt volcano had ceased erupting--I watched Secret Admirer again, and the resemblance triggered that memory, and I had to pause the thing while I grimaced and cringed at the memory of that May afternoon in 1981.
It's literally been forty years since I had a crush on ML. It faded away, like such things do when you're 13, and by December of 1981 she was the last thing on my mind. Which is good, because whenever I remembered her, I remembered how I'd greeted the news that she liked me, and the epic cringe was too painful to withstand.
A couple of years later--1982, 1983--I was at a mall with some friends around Christmastime. I was coming out of a store, and this girl who had been sitting with a couple of friends in the seating area just outside the store jumped to her feet, grinned happily at me, and waved. I turned around to see who she was waving at, and she pointed right at me.
In retrospect, I think it was ML.
I didn't recognize her. I think I waved back, but then turned away and didn't do anything else. Because I'm stupid.
* * *
Well, hell. I didn't have any self-confidence. By the time she waved at me in that mall, I was pretty sure that the only reason a girl would wave at me was to make fun of me. It took a very long time before I was able to comprehend the idea that a female could possibly be interested in me--it was years after high school was over.
That incident in 1981 was merely the first in a long line of pathetic struggles. But it's the biggest cringe I've got.