I found out this week that an old friend from back home in California has been diagnosed with cancer and is in the process of chemotherapy. We'd lost touch beyond high school, but from time to time I'd hear about him and was always happy to hear he was well. When I got this news, I had just come home from a night out drinking and was full of that New York ennui—will I ever have the career I want, why can I not meet the type of man I want to marry, what possessed me to shamelessly make out with a 20-odd year old with one of those wooden Abercrombie & Fitch necklaces on, if I don’t get a decent lay soon will I be able to prevent myself from savagely stabbing a bum in the eye with a Bic ballpoint—you know the routine. I read the email, and I started to cry. Shit like this isn’t supposed to happen to fixtures of your childhood. Those memories are supposed to always stay the same, untouched and safe and not threatened. I guess this is what being an adult is about, and I hate it to be frank. Anyway, here is the essay I wrote and performed about this friend of mine at Brutal Honesty this past July 2005. I love you, Sammy Joe. I hope this makes you laugh.
As the theme of tonight’s Brutal Honesty is Obsessive Crushes, I decided to go ahead and instead of talking about, oh, I don’t know, ONE particular soul-shattering romantic experience I’ve had, instead to talk about my consistent habit of developing unrequited, disastrous crushes when I was younger. “That’s why they call them crushes”, says the kindly Dad to Samantha in the classic teen canon film, Sixteen Candles. What the hell is his fat ass talking about? The smug bastard was married and had nothing to worry about. But I digress.
The first ever crush I remember having was on a boy named Seth. He was the chubby bully of the class at Little Lambs Christian pre-school in Pensacola, Florida. His attack method of choice was a swift bite, delivered to the calf or forearm of his opponent, often the class teacher, whose name I have forgotten but whose face I recall was one of a pretty, perpetually worried looking young woman. Having come forth with this, my memory of this time is admittedly fuzzy, but I am fairly certain Seth also bit me and, even though I surely protested this violence, that I liked it. I cannot recall obtaining a kiss from him, but I supposed a circular stamp of teeth marks—a visible token of male affection— was good enough for me. That I did not see this as a rejection of the most basic kind illustrates the difficult, often misguided life journey I was embarking on.
My next recollection of a crush is the one I had on Brandon, who was in 2nd grade while I was only a lowly 1st grader. Brandon was tall and had a bowl cut much like TV’s Adam Rich, star of “Eight is Enough”. He also had a Grizzly Adams lunchbox. These were all strong selling points, but the clincher was that his name complimented mine so perfectly. Brandon & Brandy. Clearly this was a sign that he was meant to be my husband. I sighed in relief. Whew! Glad to have that life milestone out of the way. All I had left to do now was menstruating and perhaps have some Botox and I’d be ahead of the game of becoming a fulfilled woman. Up next: being United States President by age 13. Now, I have never been strong at mathematics. And so I didn’t understand that in this equation, one did not equal one. There wasn’t consent on the second party’s part, and so this lovey-dovey numeric computation failed. Brandon, as you’ve gathered by now, was less then enthralled with my moxie and had other life goals for himself than being Mister Brandy Barber. Marriage on the playground during recess was not a priority to him, and my go getter attitude was received less with something far below enthusiasm. I do seem to recall him hurling a ball at me? It is worth noting that we were not involved in playing a game of dodgeball at the time.
The trail of stupid crush-induced tears continues on to The Big One: Sam Jennings.
Sam was a gorgeous blonde surfer, one of 6 boys in a Mormon family. He was funny and so cool. To other people. Not to me. I was new at school, having been transferred into the strangely named “Gifted & Talented” program in another school district. So I was new and an arty nerd. Nice combo. Sam Jennings wanted nothing to do with me from the moment he laid eyes on me. This proved problematic, as I had fallen helplessly, hopelessly in love with him. In the lunch line, Sam called me a flat chested baboon. I later remarked to myself, "He has such a great vocabulary.” When I told him that the Mighty 690, a local top 40 AM station, was my favorite, he shook his head at me and announced, "The Mighty 690 sucks donkey's balls". I was enthralled with his colorful, concise lingo. He threw half a hamburger at my head during a class trip to the beach. As I cleaned mayonnaise out of my hair, I marveled at his commitment to caring for animals by making sure some of the undernourished seagulls had access to his leftover food. If Sam Jennings had pulled down his pants in front of me at the cafeteria and produced a glistening turd onto my fake-marble plastic lunch tray, I am pretty sure I’d have smiled serenely and reached into my Jansport for some glitter to coat it in, ever so gently. My father, taking pity on my romantic cluelessness, had bought me a pair of Austrian crystal star shaped earrings. I snapped one of the tiny stars off its sterling silver post., and glued it to a piece of pink stationary that I’d scented using cotton balls soaked in my Mom’s L’Air du Temps perfume. I wrote a passionate, awful poem evoking images of a mysterious lover, and I included this unforgettably mortifying line:
Look for her by stars, but not of night.
The plan for this secret admirer letter, after it was snuck into his backpack during Social Studies class, was to have Sam Jennings searching furtively, high and low at the 8th grade dance—because yes, this obsession with winning his love spanned the years of 4th to 8th grade, on and off—Sam’s eye’s would light upon the single sparkling star in my ear, the remaining earring of the pair. He’d walk up to me, take my hand, smile, and walk me out to the dance floor, where we’d sway to “Always” by Atlantic Starr.
If there’s one thing that’s sure not to get an 8th grade boy’s attention, it’s women’s jewelry. At least a straight 8th grade boy. Sam Jennings did come to the dance, where he danced the whole time with Veronica, the new girl at school that all the 8th grade boys had apparently made a silent pact to be in love with that year. I stood off to the side in the strapless bra I didn’t even need, skinny and tall and winsome and crushed, moving my lips as the DJ played “Always”, no sound coming out of my mouth, pretending not to care while Sam stared over Veronica’s shoulder and right through me.
Years later, in high school, I began to date Sam’s best friend, another handsome Mormon surfer. We were very serious, engaged at one point, and Sam and I had no choice to become fast friends. And we did- we genuinely liked one another and laughed all the time. The past was never referred to in an unspoken agreement between we two, and I was truly glad of the chance to be his friend. One night, I was taken to a Mormon stake dance, and somehow, Sam & I ended up in a long overdue embrace during a slow jam (aw, yeah). It was done in a light hearted manner, the two of us laughing as the song began and our respective dates having dissipated. There was a strange, intoxicating moment where, when our hands touched, that I felt some twinge of that residual crush energy I’d long thought dead. He whispered into my ear what a cool girl I was. It was a bizarre, wonderful moment. I felt like I’d won, somehow. I’d won back a piece of myself that night from the 8th grade dance at the Jefferson Junior High School gym that I’d lost, or more accurately, let be taken from me. But what really felt like victory was the fact that, when we danced together, I had felt the unmistakable poke of Sam’s erection on my right hipbone. That longed-after attention, that yearned after boner was finally mine—my trophy.
NB: I’d like to think this habit of having infatuations with boys has ceased as I’ve grown older. I mean, that’s one of the pluses of being an adult, right? Learning from your mistakes, not pursuing people who don’t return your affection, seeking out those who appreciate what you have to offer instead of seeking approval from others, approving of yourself by doing so. And I am glad they happened way back when, not only to help me grow into the cynical, angry cunt I now am. But because the power of my crushes was terrifyingly strong over me, without the added assistance of caller ID, answering machines, cell phones, voicemails, the Internet, Google searches with someone’s name in quotes for better results, Friendster, and MySpace. It was bad enough to be in a classroom with these maddening boys all day, on the same bus route, in the same small beach town. Having such powerful, invasive tools at the disposal of a young, still sweet Brandy could only have aided and abetted something that, I’m fairly certain, would have left me a legacy of shame that I’d never be able to live down. Boner trophy, or no.