Wonder Years 2

I was in Mr. Fuoco’s seventh period science class taking a test. In high school, we’d have biology, chemistry, physics. In junior high, the subject was general science. I sat in the row farthest from the door near the windows, second seat from the front, and I was surrounded by popular pretty girls. Becky sat in front of me, next to her was Liza, and behind her, directly across from me was Liz. We must have been assigned our seats early in the year. I wouldn’t have sat up front if given the choice, and there I was amidst the goddesses, the musty smell of classroom around me, old textbooks and chalk, the faint whiff of clandestine bubblegum being chewed, strawberry-scented, the perpetrator knowing they could get away with it since they wouldn’t have to speak.

Mr. Fuoco stood at the front of the room behind a table, observing. Every once in a while he’d wandered toward the door and into the hall and come back quickly, as though he were trying to catch us cheating in the brief instant he left us unsupervised. I’d just come from lunch, which my mother had packed for me. At lunch I sat with Lex and Reed and ate. It was usually a turkey sandwich on white bread with American cheese, some kind of snack like butterscotch krimpets, and a juice box, Capri Sun or Ecto Cooler. We were maybe ten minutes in when my stomach started rumbling. I heard it gurgling. It was audible in the silence. But so far, no one else had noticed. I paused a moment from writing and looked out over the sea of down-turned heads. A few kids played with their pencils, chewed on the ends before they went back to writing. I scribbled an answer, moved to the next question, and my stomach did it again.

I wasn’t great at science, but I wasn’t bad either. I didn’t like lab experiments, when they set us off in groups. I got lazy those times, let the other kids do the work. But I did well on tests, and here I couldn’t concentrate. The rumbling was lower down in the intestines. It wasn’t hunger. I could feel the movement sliding toward my pelvis. Oh god, please not now. I clenched a few muscles and held on for dear life and the feeling passed.

That year, in seventh grade, I’d had stomach issues, burning, sour sensations as I rode the bus to and from Cedarbrook. One day I’d left Mr. Buchwald’s eight period algebra class in tears and sat in the lobby until my mom picked me up. I’d hidden my tears as I left the room, but sitting on the cushions, staring out into the drop-off/pick-up circle, I let them flow and hoped that no one would see me. Still, this wasn’t stomach acid. The prescription-strength tagamet my doctor had prescribed me shortly after the incident in Buchwald’s class wouldn’t help me here. It was gas, pure and simple, and I felt it coming on again. I shifting in my seat and tried to ease it on down, silently. Let loose slowly, so it dissolved as it met the end of my colon. I just hoped it didn’t smell, and I paused a second and sniffed. It didn’t. I gazed at the clock and leafed through my test. There were twenty minutes left, and I had another page. I’d hoped to stop at just once, but I felt the rumbling again, and again, I let it out easy. How could I concentrate on science with this going on?

I considered raising my hand and asking to use the restroom, but this would only draw attention to myself and Fuoco might not let me go. It was a test period after all. “Is it an emergency, Jason?” he’d ask. And I’d bow my head and tell him, no. It wasn’t. But there was some urgency to it. The gas kept coming on in waves. It wouldn’t settle down. Did anyone hear my stomach rumbling? I did, but maybe that was just me. I turned back to the test when one of the waves caught me unaware. I felt it just as it was entering escape velocity. I jolted suddenly and squeezed my cheeks together but it was too late. A soft whistling like the sound of balloon deflating filled our corner of the room: “Feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeppppp!”

I’d caught it in time to mute the sound, but all three girls around me looked up and turned toward me. Liz, Liza, Becky, that beautiful triumvirate of long wavy hair, stylish clothes, and pretty eyes set their sights on me. I was mortified, frozen. My gaze went from Liz to Liza to Becky and back again. Fuoco hadn’t noticed, or he would have made us go back to testing. It seemed they stared at me forever. This was the end of my life, wasn’t it? The end of existence as I’d formerly known it. What to do? I scrambled for ideas, I thought of excuse after excuse, but they all struck me as thin, obvious expressions of guilt. Then suddenly my stare met Becky’s, and I had an idea.

I tightened the back of my throat, clenched my teeth and started to make that same sound with my mouth: “Feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeppppp!”

I turned to Liza and “Feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeppppp!”

Then to Liz: “Feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeppppp!”

I shrugged.

“It’s stress,” I whispered. “Just something I do when I’m stressed.”

They looked at each other a moment, confused, and then they laughed quietly and went back to their tests.

All of this, of course, is apropos of nothing. It had no bearing on my life or the person I’ve become. I didn’t even change the names of the girls I sat with as I have with other chapters. Yet, I remember it. And I figure that after the way the last section ended, there’s nothing like a fart joke to bring some levity to the proceedings.

So moving on then…


A few weeks back when I posted the first two sections of this memoir, Ryan commented that he remembered Elisa (or Emily, I think my thinly-veiled cover might be blown) dating Paul for a day, a fact that neither Emily nor I could corroborate. This doesn’t mean it’s not true. Oftentimes, when we’re young and fall for someone, we remember details the beloved wouldn’t remember, so intent is our attention on every aspect of that particular person’s life. As we entered the seventh grade, I continued pining for Jennifer Mills. Over the summer, I looked up her address and phone number in the school directory, and Jacob DeGeorges urged me to call her.

“But I don’t know what to say.”

“You call and say hello.”

“Well who do you like? Let’s see you do it.”

“I don’t like anyone.”

We sat upstairs in my parents’ room next to the phone on my mother’s nightstand. It was midday. My dad was at work. My mom was downstairs in the kitchen. If I called, I didn’t want my mom to hear. She asked me from time to time if I liked any girls, but I always shrugged. I was too embarrassed to admit to liking someone, too worried I’d tell her and fail to get the girl and have to admit the girl didn’t like me back. I figured I’d tell her if I had a girlfriend, but until then, I kept quiet about it. Jennifer Mills had blonde hair, blue eyes, a pretty smile, freckled skin. I thought of her often. I wanted to see her, I wanted to call, but I didn’t have the courage. Still, I didn’t want Jacob to know that. I picked up the phone and started to punch her number in. 663-177…I’m not sure how many times I dialed her number to the last digit and stopped, but it must have been numerous enough for me to remember her number twenty-five years later. It’s lodged there. If I’m lucky enough to make it to the ripe old age of nursing homes, I’ll probably prompt my caretakers to call it in dementia. I hung up, and Jacob laughed.

“You pussy,” he said.

I handed him the phone and turned the student directory to face him.

“There’s her number. If it’s so easy, you call.”

“But I don’t like her, you do.”

“That should make it easier then.”

He took the phone from me and punched in the number. I couldn’t believe he was doing this. He was calling Jennifer. He was going to talk to her. My heart raced. The light in the room was warm, bright. It fell through the gossamer white curtains, and suddenly, I felt too hot. Like the temperature had risen in a matter of seconds. My skin pricked up. I held my breath and leaned off the edge of the bed. I could hear the phone ringing from my position next to him. Someone picked up.

“Hello, may I speak to Jennifer please?”

I couldn’t believe it. Not just that he’d called and asked for her, but that he’d asked so politely. It wasn’t like Jacob.

“She’s not?” I heard him say. “Could you tell her that Jason called?”

I punched in the arm and mouthed, “What are you doing?”

He fell sideways at my punch but continued talking. He recited my number.

“Thank you,” he said. “Goodbye.”

“Dude, why’d you do that?” I said when he hung up.

“You wanted to call her but don’t have the balls. Now she’ll call back, and you’ll have to talk to her.”

But she didn’t. I don’t know if she never got the message or saw it was me and didn’t want to talk or planned to call and forgot. Naturally, I assumed the second option, that she didn’t want to talk to me. And yet, she’d talked to me all year. I was a friend. So it must have been one of the others. Still, I knew she lived on Adams Avenue in Cheltenham. And a few weeks later, I got out a map and looked for Adams Ave. My dad had an atlas of Montgomery County, and I poured through its pages until I’d found her street. I had told Drew Schiff about Jennifer, and I told him I knew where she lived.

“So why don’t we go there?”

“You mean, just like, show up at her house? Isn’t that kind of stalker-ish?”

“We can ride our bikes down her street. We don’t have to go to her house, and if you see her around, talk to her.”

Drew and I had done this before. In elementary school, I’d had a crush on Anna Freed. She was the prettiest girl in the school, and she went to the Glenside pool over summer vacation. I pointed her out to Drew and Rick, and they’d both been smitten as well. We spent the next few days after that drawing pictures for her. We must have been eight or nine years old, and our pictures all had hearts and said things like, Jason + Anna, Rick + Anna, and Drew + Anna in large bold print in the middle of the page. We found out where she lived and biked there, and we rolled up our drawings and put them in her mailbox. The poor girl, she must have been so embarrassed. I can only imagine her mother coming home and finding our notes and handing them over to Anna. We, of course, had never considered this. We only wished to declare our love, our worship of her beauty. Anna was tall with long tresses of chestnut brown hair. She looked like she was seventeen when she was ten. I can’t imagine that we were the only ones who noticed this, the only ones struck and bowled over. For some reason, perhaps because we were young, neither Drew nor I nor Rick cared that we shared the same object of affection. There was no sense that she’d be any one person’s girlfriend, that we should vie for her affections, be jealous of each other. We didn’t even know what a girlfriend was really. She was simply perfection to us, Aphrodite, and we wanted to make our worship known.

By the time I’d developed a crush on Jennifer, I’d also developed a sense of what having a girlfriend meant. I wanted to walk at her side and hold her hand. I wanted to take her in my arms and kiss her, though my idea of kissing was still chaste. It was an end in itself. It didn’t lead anywhere beyond the lips.

I wasn’t sure about Drew’s plan, but I said yes anyway since I wanted to see her.

Drew looked at the map.

“There’s a park right here,” he said. “If she asks what we’re doing there we can just say we came to go to the park.”

Drew and I went on lots of trips like this that summer. In June, we rode out bikes to the Willow Grove Mall four miles away. It was the farthest I’d ever gone on my own, and I hadn’t told my parents we were going. I guess someone saw us, however, and reported back to my mom. She pulled me aside the next day to talk to me.

“Did you ride your bike to the Willow Grove Mall?” she asked.

At first I denied it. But there was no denying my mom. She knew the truth. And yet, she wasn’t mad at me.

“It’s far away,” she said. “If something happens to you and I don’t know where you are, it would upset me. If you want to go next time, tell me. As long as I know where you are and who you’re with, I’ll let you go.”

This was a remarkable moment, genius on my mother’s part really. She was ceding some control, so it must have been difficult for her, but by ceding this control, she managed to keep me in check for the rest of my adolescence. Right away I understood the freedom she was offering me. As long as I didn’t cause trouble, as long as I was honest with her and told her what I was doing, I could go anywhere I wanted, do anything. That was the faith she was placing in me, the trust. The unsaid implication, of course, was that if I broke this trust, she’d take this freedom away. Understanding this, I adhered to her request for years, but I didn’t tell her where Drew and I were going that day. That would requiring explaining who Jennifer was. I could use the park, tell her we were going there, but why? It made no sense to travel all that way on bike when we have a park two blocks away. Besides, it wasn’t Willow Grove Mall distance anyway. Adams Avenue was two-and-a-half miles at most. So Drew and I left.

It was morning on an August day with a gentle breeze blowing, and we biked on the street, weaving around each other in figure eights, taking the route with leisure. Every once in a while, we’d do a wheelie and ride the wheelie a bit. It took us about twenty-five minutes to reach her street. I’d written the address on the back of my hand, which I hadn’t considered a bad idea until we left. If we saw her and she saw my hand, she’d know we came for her. I committed the address to memory and licked my thumb and rubbed the back of my hand until the ink was illegible. I had to seem cool, uninterested. “Oh, hey. Do you live around here?” I practiced the line under my breath. I’d pretend I didn’t see her, act surprised. “Do you live around here?” But when we got there, I didn’t see her number anywhere.

“Which one is it?” Drew asked.

I looked at my hand and tried to read the smudge. Had I forgotten already? I stopped my bike and planted my feet and looked around.

“The student directory said 347 Adams Ave. But the addresses here only go up to 200. Is there another Adams Ave?”

It turns out there was. It was all the way on the other side of Cheltenham. We rode around a bit and lingered, but after a while we got bored and headed home. I’d have to wait until school started to see her, but when it did, she was in my second period art elective, and I was overjoyed. I watched her as we went about the projects. I sat next to Leslie Tevis, and I told her that I liked Jennifer. That was the way it worked, right? If you can’t speak for yourself, tell someone else. Drop hints here and there. And whenever we walked from class, Leslie made sure to talk to Jennifer and try to include me. It was the only way I could talk to her, with the help of intermediaries. Still, it worked, and as we neared the end of the quarter, our first junior high dance approached.

“Are you going?” Leslie asked her.

The smell of paint and glue was all around us. The desks were slanted to make it easier to draw. We continued to work despite the conversation holding our interest more than the art. It wasn’t the kind of dance where you asked someone to go, so at least that pressure was off. It was the kind of dance where you showed up and hung out with friends. I wanted to go, I wanted to see her, I wanted to dance with her.

“Yeah, I’m going,” Jennifer said. “What about you? Jason?”

“I’m thinking about it.”

“Cool,” Jennifer said. “Maybe I’ll see you there?”

When the bell rang, I wanted to cartwheel into the hall. I wanted to jump up and shout. It wasn’t confirmation she’d dance with me. It was merely, “Cool, I’ll see you there.” But it must have meant something. It must have meant she wanted to see me there. But I didn’t tell anyone, not even Lex, in case I was reading it wrong.

I’d revealed my crush to Lex soon after we’d become friends.

“You mean Jennifer in our French class or Jennifer big tits?” he asked me.

“Well, um, Jennifer big tits, I think. But could we maybe not call her that?”

“Sure,” he said. “But she’s got a nice set of boobs. You’ve got good taste.”

Lex has two older sisters who talked like this, so he talked like this too. To him, it wasn’t meant as demeaning. It was observational, fact. She had nice breasts. He’d noticed. I’d noticed too, though I tried not staring.

“You need to romance a girl,” his older sister Ava had told us. “You need to make a meaningful gesture. Give her a flower maybe.”

His older sisters advised him. My own siblings were younger, so they had nothing to offer in this regard, and of course, I didn’t talk to my mom about it. A flower? I could hardly talk to her without another person around. How on earth was I supposed to give her a flower? That wasn’t me. I wasn’t the kind of guy who could randomly give a girl he liked a flower yet. Maybe someday, but not now. Yet, it seemed to work for Lex. He’d been spending every day after school with Elise. He didn’t say he liked her, but I knew he did. And if he liked her, he’d give her flowers. What could I do? I didn’t know. Maybe I could write a song. Though I’d never written a song for a girl before. Just my bad Metallica rip-off. I could play her a song maybe. But I never brought my guitar to school.

My musical taste had continued to develop. Lex had given me the two-disc Rolling Stones’ hits collection Hot Rocks, but I’d also found a faded vinyl copy of Through the Past Darkly in my basement. Every day when I got home from school and Lex wasn’t with me, I’d listen to one track over and over and think of Jennifer. I’d lift the needle and drop it on track four: “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” It was on Hot Rocks too, but I preferred for some reason to listen to the version on Through the Past Darkly. I liked the way the old record crackled through the speakers. The sound of crunch it made before the guitars came in. My favorite part of the song came thirteen seconds in. Amidst the background singing of a scat melody, Jagger interjects, “My my, my my!” As with most Stones songs, the subtext is sex. It’s not even particularly subtle. But I bent the song to my own ends and read it as a prelude to the dance, and the way Jagger sang those four words, mere sounds really, was filled with longing—longing to be with his beloved, with the object of his abject desire. His cry was a soul-filled cry of need. “I’m going red and my tongue’s getting tied!” he screams. And there was no more accurate reflection of how I felt around Jennifer (even if Jagger might have been referring to oral sex): flushed, embarrassed, and mute.

Jacob and I went skating at Abington High School before the dance. We rode our boards there since the school had concrete handrails on some of the steps that were easier to railslide than metal ones, and just before seven o’clock, I started to hustle home with Jacob lagging behind. I could see him in the dark of the street, his face beneath the brim of his baseball cap. He was getting off on making me late. But I didn’t care. I’d get there.

“So you’re really not going?” I said.

“No way,” he replied.

He walked a bit, put the board down and skated a block, picked it up again.

When we got to my house, his mom picked him up and I was glad to see him go. He knew how much I liked her, how much I needed to be there. It was an asshole thing to do, and yet, I remember skating home that night so fondly, my anticipation. I’d never been so excited. If I slow-danced with her, I’d get to hold her, and I wanted nothing more.

I got ready but wasn’t sure what to wear. Jeans, I guessed. A tee-shirt. I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard. I wanted to look like I didn’t care. Lex wasn’t going either. His nose hadn’t healed, so I was heading in alone. I preferred it that way. Not out of any sense of confidence, but rather, if I messed up, he wouldn’t be there to laugh or criticize. If it turned out she didn’t want to dance with me or even see me, I wouldn’t be embarrassed.

The cafeteria had been cleared, the tables and chairs removed, and my mom dropped me off at the side entrance. I was early enough that there were only a few people, but Jennifer soon arrived. She was with her friends, but she saw me and waved me over. “Hey,” she said. And the lights were low and the music played and we started dancing. I didn’t know how to dance, but I tried dancing anyway. I figured it was best to maintain the illusion of movement without moving too much. I swayed and swung my arms side-to-side. Two beats with the right arm forward, two beats with the left. C&C Music Factory blared from the sound system, “Everybody dance now!” Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam.” The DJ rocked a generic playlist of popular dance tracks. Then a slow song came on, and I stood to the side awkwardly. Did she want to dance? I couldn’t bring myself to ask her. And the fast songs came back on, and we danced with each other again. Or, we didn’t dance with each other so much as across from each other. I angled myself at her to make it look like we were dancing together, and she got close a few times, but still I didn’t know whether she wanted to dance when the slow songs came on.

Jennifer was wearing a white blouse and stone-washed jeans. She looked good. I wanted to slow-dance. What if she said no? Another slow song passed. “More Than Words,” maybe. “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.” I couldn’t make eye-contact. She stood across the room with her friends. Leslie Tevis was there and she was talking to Jennifer, acting as go-between. The blinders were on. We were in a room full of people, but I saw only her. There was an orangish ambiance to the lighting. The cafeteria was surrounded by plate-glass windows on all sides. I looked out the windows at the same hill, the same plot of grass I’d gazed out on that first day of French class, wondering what I should do. I saw my reflection, my hair was wild, tamed by the brush but sticking out on the sides. I wasn’t attractive. Why was she dancing with me? The doors were open to each side of the cafeteria. If you left you couldn’t go back in, but if you stepped out you could take a breather. I went out and breathed. But came back in quickly. I feared someone else would ask her to dance, but no one did. She was so pretty. I didn’t know why. Why would no one ask the pretty girl to dance? Or had they? What was she waiting for?

Leslie Tevis came to me.

“She wants to dance with you,” she said. “A slow dance. You need to ask her when the next slow song comes on.”

I was watching the clock. The dance ended at ten. Would there even be another slow song? Had I missed my chance?

There were seven minutes left. I heard the first notes. The last song the DJ played was “Stairway to Heaven.”

I was trembling as I approached. I felt I might disintegrate. The least tremor in the air would make me fall apart. She stood on the edge of the crowd, surrounded by all her friends. What if she said no? What if this was a joke? What if I went up, and she’d engineered this to make fun of me. “Tell Jason to ask me to dance. Make him think I want him to, and then when he comes over, I’ll say no, and we’ll all get a good laugh.” I wove past other dancing couples. The cafeteria was full of students with their arms around each other, swaying. I asked, “Do you want to dance?”

She smiled and nodded, and I raised my arms at the same time that she did. She laughed, “Yours go around my hips.” She placed them there. And I moved close and swayed. Her body was incredibly soft and at the same time, firm. She placed her head on my shoulder. I felt her breasts against my chest. It was bliss. Robert Plant sang, “And she’s buying a stairway to heaven…” I kept my hands glued where they were and tried to breath slowly, but it didn’t help. I felt the first stirrings of arousal and tried to fight it off. Not now, I thought. Oh please, not now. But I had no control. She was in my arms and soft and it was all I’d ever wanted and here I was getting hard.

This was the first time I’d touched a girl like this, held one this close. I hadn’t anticipated this would happen. Was there some way to avoid it? I should have asked Lex about it before the dance. I tried to adjust my hips so she wouldn’t feel it through my jeans. But we were so close that this was difficult, awkward. In the meantime, Jimmy Page had started to strum and Plant crooned, “And it makes me wonder…”

Our sway didn’t match the rhythm of the song, but it wasn’t yet wildly out of sync. To suffer like this, and yet, to be so insufferably happy at the same time. How could this happen? I thought it was only me. I believed that somehow other guys could control themselves. I hadn’t considered that this might be the natural effect of pressing myself so close to a girl I was sexually attracted to, that this reaction simply meant my body was functioning as it should, that a junior high school dance was a sea of twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys in close proximity to the female form for the first time in their lives failing to fight against inevitable erections while chaperons look on, thinking how endearing and innocent it all is because they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be that age. The reality is there’s a battle raging inside all those boys. I’d been set down alone in the jungle with neither a map nor compass to find my way out. We’d had a few brief sexual education lessons in health class in sixth grade where they explained how babies were made, scared us with pictures of sexually transmitted diseases, and worked to dispel myths like you can’t get pregnant the first time you do it or Coca-Cola can be used to kill the sperm post-coitus and prevent conception, but no one had ever sat me down and bothered to explain how to navigate this situation. And still we swayed and the song went on.

Over the speakers, the drums crashed and Page ripped into his solo. Our rhythm no longer remotely matched the song, but I held her and swayed, and through my struggle, wondered why on earth the DJ had picked “Stairway to Heaven” for the final dance when only half the song is slow and the other is a rock anthem. I wondered if we should speed up the swaying but worried this would only make it more awkward and she’d feel my erection against her, so I didn’t. As the song ended, I let her go. The song was seven minutes, seven minutes of pure and unadulterated euphoria. In spite of its hard rock crescendo, I couldn’t have been happier. When it ended, I thanked her. The lights came on, and I said, “I guess I’ll see you Monday,” and I turned and went outside to where my mom was waiting to take me home. “How’d it go?” she asked. And I answered, “Fine,” as I always answered, and she said, “Just fine?” as she always said, and I said, “Yeah. Just fine.”

I leaned my head against the cool glass of the window and replayed the dance. It had ended well. I popped Nirvana’s Nevermind in the tape deck. The streetlights pulsed a rhythm through the windshield and the music came on and I ignored my mom. Maybe Jennifer really would be my girlfriend now. She had asked Leslie Tevis to ask me to ask her to dance. It meant something. Maybe I should call her over the weekend. Maybe I’d have the courage now to give her a flower. I went to sleep that night dizzy, dehydrated, but happy, feeling warm. I didn’t call her the next day or Sunday either. When I woke, I went back to self-doubt. Maybe she’d danced with me because she felt sorry for me. It wasn’t safe to assumed she’d want to be my girlfriend. I had to tread cautiously. I’d ask Leslie to ask Jennifer what she thought of me on Monday morning. It seemed a solid plan. But when Leslie asked, in the hall after class, I was close enough to see Jennifer’s face and hear her answer.

She paused a moment, contemplating, and then said, “I like him as a friend.” The answer was so common. At some point in life, almost everyone hears this. And yet, it was the first time for me. The first time I’d held a girl like that, the first time I’d hoped like this. I’d met her at a pool party at the end of fifth grade. I’d dreamed of her all that summer, and next year, she’d gone out with Elton. They’d broken up and this was my chance, which I’d somehow ruined. Maybe I just wasn’t attractive enough. That was likely it. She’d needed someone to dance with and I’d been there, so she’d let me dance with her. Or maybe she’d felt what happened during the dance, the way I couldn’t control myself, and thought that I was a freak. Leslie dropped back to tell me what happened, but I told I knew.

“We’re just friends. No big deal,” I said. And I hid what happened. I didn’t tell Lex. Maybe if I had, the year would have turned out differently. He’d have brought it to his sister. He’d have told her what I’d done. She’d have known that I sent Jennifer decidedly mixed signals at the dance. She might have told me that Jennifer was just protecting herself in case I didn’t like her back. Then again, maybe she didn’t like me. But I couldn’t give up. I continued to be nice to her. To say hi when I saw her in the hall. The first quarter ended, and we weren’t in art together anymore. But I hoped when the second dance happened, the one around Valentine’s day, that she’d want to dance with me again. This wasn’t the case. This time Lex had come and Reed was there too. And Jennifer was dancing with Kevin…Kevin…I can’t come up with a pseudonym so let’s just call him Kevin Fucking Arnold. She was dancing with Kevin Fucking Arnold and midway through the dance, she pulled him into a corner and started to make out with him. I hated Kevin Fucking Arnold. I wanted to kill Kevin Fucking Arnold with his stupid hair and stupid grin. He had a coif like Fred Savage on the TV show The Wonder Years. Only his was a blonde coif. I heard him bragging about it later. And I wanted to punch him. But instead I moved on. I severed myself from that love. I’d wanted her so badly, and she’d made out with this twerp, this little fucking nobody. I might have had no confidence in myself, and yet, I had all the confidence in the world that I was better than him. What had she seen in him that she hadn’t seen in me?

The answer is nothing and everything. He’d picked up on cues. He’d asked her dance. He hadn’t needed a go-between. Yet, looking back, I can’t help but question if I’d hobbled myself. Did I really want this relationship to happen? What would I do once I had her, when it was me and Jennifer, or me and any of the others that I desired, those girls I desired later? Did I really want them? Or did I simply like the longing, that feeling of anticipation Mick Jagger captured so intensely in those four words? Wistful is my favorite state-of-being. I can still feel the light flutter in my chest, the way I felt when I first liked a girl, when the longing was new. Once a relationship is consummated, once the first kiss happens, where do you go? You stay together or don’t. And when you’re in junior high, there’s no staying together. I’d learn this with Lex and Elisa. The two of them, they were best couple. They’d won it in yearbook. And yet, it meant nothing. They got ripped apart. Anticipation, longing, desire. These were everything. If it hadn’t ruptured for them, it would have dissolved. If it had happened for me, it would have dissolved too. And yet, what sweet sadness. What a worthwhile endeavor, love. In all these forms, it’s wonderful. But back then, I liked it unrequited. I needed my love to not love me back, and this would only get worse. I spent the greater part of high school pining. Yet, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

“Oh m-my my, my my, my my…”

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