I wasn’t your typical angst ridden, obsessive teenager writing things that would embarrass me later. Unless you want to count the 4evers and hearts scribbled amongst the pages of my diary – but no one would ever read those. Unlike the majority of my female peers, I avoided passing folded squares of notebook paper professing one’s love for some unworthy boy.
Being a bit of a nerd I was, of course, afraid of rejection. But I was also disappointed in the process. In my mind it just wasn’t romantic for the girl to initiate things. My head was full of paperback and movie heroes that swept the geeky girl off her feet, that marveled at her wit and intelligence – not the bloomers peeking out from under her cheerleading skirt.
I didn’t write my first love letter until I was a freshman in high school – until I thought I’d found the guy that would really appreciate it. I never felt the urge until I met him.
His name was Ben and he was a senior. The all American guy – good looking, friendly, charming, athletic, talented, smart. Girls practically drooled on themselves when he walked by and I was no exception. Just to cement his dreamy status, he was one of the leads in Chorus – dropping by during our freshman class to show our guys how it was really done and send the girls into convulsions. That voice combined with the rest of the package was just lethal.
My cousin Ashley was also a senior and they hung out in the same group. We were allowed to eat lunch in the hallways back then and their designated area was by the trophy case. Trespassers were not welcome and invitations were coveted. The guys lounged around in their letterman jackets, leaning against the brightly painted walls like demy gods, goofing off and surveying the girls that sat on the floor in a neat row – their hair perfectly coiffed and their makeup shellacked on with a spatula.
Despite the fact that I was a freshman nerd, I was granted an all access pass. Having a hot cheerleader cousin had its perks. I sat with the senior girls and pretended I wasn’t dying to eat the half bag of Doritos concealed in my book bag, and that I was like, totally interested in what semi-matching outfits everyone was planning to wear the next day. I was nothing like them, but Ashley did her best to help me fit in. My paperbacks were concealed during lunch; traded for whatever girly magazine the rest were pouring over. I got contacts and kept my mouth full of metal closed as much as possible. I let Ashley cake layer upon layer of thick, too dark foundation on my pale skin and line my lips where I actually had none.
For school picture day she loaned me her clothes – a tight, low cut yellow sweater and a short, tight black skirt. She styled my hair into what was supposed to be a replica of her own messy bun, but with my Don King frizz, I ended up looking like the drunken librarian that stuck her finger in an electrical outlet. I remember she was mad because I had to wear my glasses; I’d ripped my contact that morning. Consequently, my mother refused to buy the packet because I looked like a nerdy baby hooker, and the only record that the day ever happened is a faded proof photo stuffed in a shoe box among my other macabre school things.
Ashley also took it upon herself to tow me along to events I would never have gone to otherwise – parties, college baseball games, trips to the mall. I was largely ignored by the guys, but her girlfriends always treated me kindly. They’d all grown up using our Papa’s house as a summer retreat and to them I was already a fixture.
The first time I really spoke to Ben was at a local college’s baseball game. We never sat in the stands, preferring instead to park by the surrounding fence and tailgate. Papa allowed Ashley to use his Expedition and she packed it with as many of her friends as possible. I, of course, always ended up in the last row.
That particular night I was a bit drunk, though on what I can’t remember. I climbed onto the middle seat of the SUV to sit for awhile because I was tired of standing. A nice breeze was coming through the open door on my right and I was gazing at the baseball field through the front windshield, not really seeing anything, a half smile on my face. The back left door opened a few minutes later and Ben hopped onto the seat next to me, throwing his arm over the back of the seat.
“Hey Alyson”, he said smiling.
“Hi”, I replied, more than a little awed. He was so close the sleeve of his letterman jacket brushed my cheek when I turned to look up at him.
I wish I could remember every detail of our insignificant conversation, because it was the beginning of the end for me. When he was among the senior lunch crowd or a teacher’s aide in chorus, there was a barrier. But in that backseat he was just a guy, being nice to a girl who should have known better.
We drank a beer together – him taking large comfortable swallows, while I struggled to keep my tiny sips down. I confessed my complete ignorance about baseball and he explained a few key points, gesturing toward the game through the windshield while I watched his lips move. In the back of my mind I knew he was just being nice. He was nice to everyone. But the alcohol combined with a teenage girl’s need for acceptance won the “does he, does he not” battle. I was suddenly convinced that he liked me.
For the next few weeks I talked Ashley’s ear off about him – without much success. She never was one to pay attention unless the subject was one of her favorites: Ashley, what you could do for Ashley, or shopping. She largely ignored my hints that I wanted her to talk to him on my behalf. I know now that was likely due to the fact that she’d already infringed upon “the in crowd” enough, just by having me around.
I watched him in the halls and in the classroom – always waiting on him to notice me again, to swing an arm around my shoulders liked he’d done that night. But of course he didn’t. Every once in awhile I would get a half wave or a quick smile as he strode by, occasionally followed by a distracted “hey Alyson.”
I’d had crushes before, but I was absolutely devastated by his fleeting “moment of interest” and then nothing. That was when I decided that I should tell him exactly how I felt...in a letter.
The only letters I’d ever written before were to my Grandmother, a pen pal, and my diary. I knew nothing about winning a boy’s affection through words, but I was convinced I could do a better job of it than other girls my age. A smart guy like him would surely be more appreciative of a winning display of vocabulary, as well as a profession of deep feelings, than any of that check yes or no bullshit.
I sat Indian style on my bed for hours, alternately chewing my pen and staring into space. It had to be perfect – my words had to move him. And so I finally wrote:
I had a wonderful time talking to you at the ballgame a few weeks ago. You aren’t like the other guys at this school; you’re definitely a lot nicer. I think you’re super hot and really sweet. I’d be ecstatic if you would give me a chance to be your girlfriend. If you aren’t inclined to date me, I believe I could settle for being your friend.
Think about it and let me know.
(I pieced that together from scraps of rough drafts that I found in a shoebox. The actual letter, the one I passed onto him, was perhaps a little different. Either way, it’s painfully obvious that writing love letters was (is) not my forte, no matter how highly I thought of my academic prowess.)
There was a freshman named Angela who was on very good terms with the senior athletic crowd. She was a great big barrel of a girl – tall, with a giant muffin top and pancake-like breasts. Her blonde hair was always cut in a boyish way, shaved across the back of the neck, with frizzy bangs bouncing across her forehead. I never thought about lesbians when I was that age, but now I’m relatively sure that Angela was the first one to make my acquaintance.
Her sister was a gorgeous senior, just like Ashley (only a natural blonde; not a peroxide one with “fashionable” black roots). Though she was often a part of the lunch group, she spent most of her between class times with the jocks – Ben included. I decided that she would be the best one to give him my note. I knew she wasn’t interested enough to read it and she wasn’t the sort of girl to make fun of people or start rumors.
We had chorus together every other day. I waited until we were there on a Friday to explain the situation. I hoped that it would be easier for Ben to receive the note and read it without any of his friends noticing, what with everyone leaving for the weekend.
“Angela...do you think you could give this to Ben for me?”
To her credit, she looked neither surprised nor pitying when she took the proffered note and said “sure thing”. No questions asked.
The following Monday I asked if she gave it to him and she said she had, but she offered no more information. I felt awkward asking anything else, so I waited.
A week went by and nothing happened – except that I didn’t see him very often, and when I did it was just in passing. The seniors had plenty of things to keep them busy since the end of the year was drawing to a close. It wasn’t until he finally made an appearance to help with my chorus class that I received my long awaited answer.
As I stared at him from my chair in the top row of the soprano risers, I know I looked like an anxious, wide eyed child. He smiled a sad little smile and shook his head at me. He looked genuinely sorry and he might have even mouthed the word, but my eyes had already blurred with tears.
We never once spoke about it and I spent my summer away from Ashley and her senior friends, avoiding the possibility of running into him. I was devastated by the rejection, of course, but more than that...I was angry at the anticlimactic end of it all. Shouldn’t there have been more drama over my first real profession of love for a boy – accepted or not? Wasn’t something else supposed to happen?
But over fifteen years later, I realize that I was lucky to have such a gracious, anticlimactic crush. And that I never again got the urge to write another love letter. I doubt, even at this age, that I'd be able to fill an entire page with flowery words and phrases. I wasn't that sort of girl, and I suppose I'm not that sort of woman either. "Let's get to the point, shall we!" Romantic, yes?
Ben owns a bar in our area now and I see him every once in awhile. He treats me like an old friend – sitting beside me and catching up on family and mutual acquaintances. When he came to my cousin’s wedding last year we all hung out on my patio, drinking shots of Jim Beam and laughing.
That night he put his arm around me while we stood around our friends and I thought about the last time he’d done so, in the back of my Papa’s Expedition, and I wondered if he remembered it too. I’m not the same girl that mooned over him then, it’s true, but he’ll always be special to me – firstly, because he received the only love letter I ever wrote, however miserable it was, and second, because he never once made fun of me.
Before he left that night, while our arms were still hooked around each other’s waists, he made a comment that he hadn’t realized I had a daughter. I looked up at him and smiled. The urge to ask him about the letter, about what he remembered from that time, had been with me all night. We were older, it wouldn’t hurt anymore, and I was simply curious. But rather than asking outright, I decided to remind him of my past interest in my own unique way.
“She’s four”, I replied to his comment.
“Who’s her dad?”
It was just the opening I’d been waiting for. I breathed a heavy sigh and rolled my eyes a bit.
“It could have been you, you know”, I said with exaggerated regret. We stared at each other for a moment – then suddenly burst out laughing at the same time.
Yes, I thought, he definitely remembered.
1 week ago