Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
I peaked at 12 years old.
I had my very first
girlfriend, and my very last one for a long time, it would seem. She
was the neighbor to my best friend Dave, and was also best friends
with Dave’s girlfriend, Paige. I was sitting at home one night
when I got a phone call from Dave. He asked if I wanted a girlfriend.
What kind of stupid question was that? Of course I did. I was in
seventh grade. That was one of your main goals; obtain a Michael
Jordan rookie card, beat Super Mario 3 with no warps, and learn about
the female form, hopefully first hand. I was hopelessly ready. I was
voted to be next year’s Beta Club Vice President. I’d practically
memorized The Breakfast Club. I had my first pair of name brand
My dad left when I was a kid, so we didn’t have much
money. My mom had just taken a job as a night nurse. In one of our
family counseling sessions, she asked what we wanted when she got her
first paycheck. I tearfully confessed a good pair of shoes. All
because the year before, I’d been hassled by a much younger kid on
the bus because I had off brand sneakers. That was the kind of
community I lived in, a suburb full of nouveau riche assholes and
their inconsiderate spawn. Reebok Swingmans. They were black
basketball shoes that had these little stegosaurus spine plate
looking things that ran up the sides. That was the first pair of
shoes I ever wore to school with pride. I can’t imagine the joy my
mom must have felt to be able to give her kids what they wanted for
the first time. She’s the best. Go hug your mom.
Yes, I wanted a
girlfriend. I was fully ready to jump headfirst into adulthood, meet
the love of my life, and ride off into the sunset that was eighth
grade, a year where I would be celebrated for my acerbic wit and
Melanie was athletic,
competing in softball, volleyball, and basketball at the seventh
grade level, and was even asked to play on a couple of eighth grade
squads. I was also into sports. I was the manager of the seventh
grade basketball team. I kept stats, refilled water bottles, wrangled
up warm up jackets, rounded up shoot around basketballs, and yelled
far too passionately about a sport I would never participate in.
next year, I got in for a minute during the kids vs. teachers game at
the end of the season. My shoe was untied when I went in the game.
They had to wait on me until I tied it. I hit a 3-pointer on my
second try, and the gym erupted. In retrospect, I’m sure most of the
people there thought I was the “special” kid who just hung around
the team because he didn’t have any friends. Looking back, I’m not so
sure they were wrong. If camera phones would have been around, I
might have been able to parlay that on court appearance into
We ran in the
same circles, got sorted out into similar social classes. We were
fans of sports. In junior high, you either liked sports (cool kids),
played Magic the Gathering (combo nerd/smokers), had your hair parted
down the middle (bad boys), or played “wolves” at recess (the
artsy weird girls who grew up to be the secret desire of most
She was also musically
inclined. She played clarinet in the band. I was fourth chair
trumpet, which is nothing to shake a stick at. However, her
woodwindery put my trumpeting to shame. I assume. It’s hard to stand
out in a junior high band, but her playing was sublime.
know I just said that it’s hard to stand out in a junior high band.
But I did. Not for my playing, however. I was the kid who ate the
icing scraps from everyone’s celebratory quarterly goal completion
cake. You see, at the end of each quarter, if every kid got all of
their mandatory assignments done, we had a band party. There was
pizza, soda, and cake. LOTS OF CAKE! For some dumb reason, a lot of
the kids with edge pieces didn’t want their icing.
take an edge piece? Leave the heavy duty icing for the heavy duty
party veterans. Stick to the safe parts of the cake. Let the bad boys
take care of the edges.
trombone kid (tromboner; a phrase I coined that caught on, much to
the chagrin of my band teacher) said he didn’t want his icing, so I
told him that I’d take it. Next thing I know, my plate is piled high
with gloriously sweet and rich buttercream. I ate it all, every bite,
a couple pounds worth by my estimation. My next class was Social
Studies with Mrs. Tomlinson.
name. She may or may not have been banging the janitor who walked
funny. Never confirmed. Big time hockey fans,which isn’t a judgment,
just an observation. Someone said they went to a Blues game and saw
them kissing on the Kiss Cam. Also never confirmed.
were preparing to take a test when I felt really, really sick. The
next thing I knew I was projectile vomiting all over the desk, the
floor, and the chalkboard in front of me. It must have gone 5 feet in
the air. Proud is an understatement. My vomit ran down the chalkboard
and collected into the tray where the chalk and erasers were kept. If
you had to clean that up and you’re reading this, sorry. My bad.
I thought we would’ve made
for a great trumpet/clarinet duet. I would play the solid foundation
of the song, driving the tempo with a fervor one can only experience
from brass. The punchy timbre resonating from the horn sounded
confident and sure of itself. She would flourish and trill, painting
the pretty picture with her delicate notes and precise timing. It
would have been beautiful.
Her brains!!! Her brains,
she was smart. Top 5 smartest in the class, I’d venture to say. She
excelled at every subject, consistently earning high marks all
throughout school. She was always held in the highest regard by the
faculty and her peers.
don’t know what happened to me in eighth grade, but teachers must
have thought I was on drugs. Maybe my grades slipped, maybe my
attitude changed, I don’t know. All I know is that I was sent on a
day trip to an anti-drug seminar with some of the more unsavory
characters in my class. We watched a strongman rip a phone book in
half, which amazed all of us who were still struggling to cross the
ever important threshold of benching 100 pounds. Not being able to
bench 100 pounds was as bad as never having kissed a girl, or being
scared of the Friday the 13th
movies. Good luck surviving, well, without lying anyways. On that
same trip I held a sign up against the bus window insinuating that
the bus had been hijacked and we were all kidnapping victims. I
almost got suspended for that one. Always willing to make a joke,
even at my own expense.
of my favorite teachers, Mr. Krizan (real name) had a monkey puppet.
I thought it would have been hilarious to ask him to “remove his
hand from that monkey’s anus”. It was a moment of utter hilarity
for me. I should’ve been carried out on pre-teen shoulders. I
should’ve been hailed as the comedic genius that I was. Instead, I
caught the cold, steely gaze of the most tenured teacher in school.
He scolded me for my interruption, and I never bothered butting in
again, well, not until years later.
Melanie won some
presidential accommodation for her excellence in the classroom,
something to that effect. Point being, between my obvious
intellectual pedigree (Beta Club Vice President) and her sterling
GPA, we would have made brilliant babies, had she desired.
There we were, on a
school night, officially a couple. We never talked to each other to
confirm it. I put blind faith in my friend that he’d talked to his
neighbor, and she was bored enough with her life to accept me as her
is around 1997, at the birth of the internet. Things were different.
I remember that there were a couple of pretty serious junior high
relationships going on. I remember that one kid had sex in eighth
grade, and he was immediately made King of the School. He was awarded
everyone’s buttered noodles as a prize. Sexual relationships were the
exception, not the rule. It was a simpler time, when we thought a
blowjob was when a girl blew air into the hole at the tip of your
penis. Simpler times.
I remember not being able
to sleep. This was my first girlfriend. This was it, the moment I’d
waited for. I thought we’d show up together and the school would howl
at our arrival a la Kelly Bundy’s entrance on Married With Children.
I thought we’d be royalty. I thought it would last forever.
I showed up to school the
next day, anticipating a life changing experience. I’d seen Corey and
Topanga, Doug and Patty, and Kevin and Winnie. I was ready for it. I
just had to look the part. I wore a purple sweatshirt, my lightest
colored pair of jeans, my Swingmans, and short socks.
socks were things of magic. They were reserved for special occasions
like school dances, weddings, funerals, and apparently the genesis of
a blossoming relationship. Short socks were in short supply. I saw
some kid get ridiculed for wearing long socks with shorts, so I used
to roll my socks down to my ankles, which looked like I stepped in a
giant white donut and never decided to step out of it. I wore husky
jeans, which only seemed to come in dark blue or black, I suppose to
give off the illusion that you were slimmer than you actually were. I
had a couple of pairs of light colored jeans, and they were for
special occasions only.
I walked into the
gymnasium where we gathered before the 8 am bell. I saw Dave and
Paige sitting together at the top of the bleachers. I joined them,
thinking nothing of their privacy. We talked about Melanie and how
cute she was and how excited she was to be my girlfriend. We talked
of double dates, trick or treating in Dave’s subdivision, high
school, college, the childbearing years, and growing old, four
friends living out their respective twilights together.
She walked in through the
doors on the northern side of the gym. She was absolutely glowing.
Her dark hair bounced with every step, only kept in place by a what
I’m sure was a strategically placed hair clip. Of course she obsessed
over the placement of that hair clip. She had a man to impress. I
watched her take her normal seat with the girls who played sports.
She unzipped her Adidas jacket, found my face in the darkness of the
gym, smiled and waved.
again, 1997 here. Adidas jackets were all the rage. All of the cool,
rich kids had them. The really cool and rich ones had brightly
colored beads on the ends of the strings that tightened the hoods.
The beads were like war trophies showing off how much wealthier their
parents were, how they came from a loving home, still nuclear in it’s
description. The jackets were so popular that they started
disappearing from lockers all over school. The theft of the coats
became so widespread, that kids sullied them by writing their last
names across the inside to better identify who would actually be
spared when the rapture came.
I waved back at Melanie,
probably far too enthusiastically. Her jacket fell away and revealed
her PURPLE SWEATSHIRT! That’s right, we matched. There was some
cosmic force at work. What were the odds? 1:100? More? I don’t know.
All I knew was that serendipity herself was smiling on down on us.
All I had to do was not screw it up for the next 50 plus years.
The first class we had
together was English, which was taught by a lady related to one of
the cast members of Party of Five.
fact greatly shaped my idea of how accessible celebrities were. After
all, if this lady was friends with a TV star, then maybe I could
actually meet The Ultimate Warrior. He was my favorite wrestler. My
brother and I used to rent VHS tapes of old WWF pay per views. We’d
fight and argue the whole way home over which we’d watch first.
Ultimately, we couldn’t agree, a fight would ensue, so mom would take
them away and hide them under the seat of the car. She worked nights,
so once she fell asleep we’d sneak out and retrieve the tapes, watch
them, and promise not to tell her. I possessed a real Bobby the Brain
Heenan level of cunning. Come to think of it, maybe it was her way of
forcing us to compromise. I just, in this moment, realized that mom
tricked us into getting along. Shit.
This particular teacher
seated our class alphabetically, so we weren’t terribly close to each
other. I sat in the last seat in the first row, pretty much the most
easily ignored spot in the whole classroom. Combining that with my
proclivity in the subject, I was left mostly to my own devices, and
ignored the class. However, on this day, I paid particular attention
to Melanie. I watched intently, her swaying hair, her furrowed brow,
seeming puzzled at what was happening in the lesson. I stared daggers
at her, hoping she’d look back at me and smile.
My second to last class
was Spanish, a course I shared with Melanie, Paige, and Dave. It was
a little more casual than English, so I was hoping for some
one-on-one time, maybe get to know this stranger who was suddenly my
girlfriend. Spanish class was spent memorizing words and plugging
them into worksheets, easy work, for the most part. I was typically
done before most of the class.
dandruff as a kid. Combine the itchy scalp with the infrequent
bathing, as was the case for several adolescent boys, some days were
worse than others. On this particular day, I scratched my scalp and
gave my hair a good shakedown, causing flakes to float silently down
onto a green three ring binder. It was hypnotic. I’d get lost in the
process, amassing an impressive volume of white, which was a stark
contrast to the hunter green, like snow falling on a knoll. I
probably did this for 20 minutes, unaware that I was in violation of
several “don’t be weird now that you have a girlfriend” codes.
At the end of the hour,
I’d determined that I would finally talk to Melanie. Our first day as
junior high royalty had been pretty nondescript, and I wanted to let
her know that I cared. Finally, the bell rang, and I mustered up the
courage to talk to her.
I walked toward the end
of the row with a cocksure smile. This was my moment. She was my
girlfriend, after all. It was time to start acting like a couple. My
heart raced, my brow moistened, my mouth dried up. Some physiological
change occurred, an occurrence I wasn’t expecting. I was met at the
end of the aisle by Paige, Melanie nowhere in sight. Paige handed me
would’ve been proud of this note. It was truly junior high origami at
it’s finest. A simple sheet of 8.5×11 paper folded unto itself so
many times, it defied the laws of physics. You needed the jaws of
life to get it open. Is this a skill you learn as a girl to thwart
boys, the more impatient of the sexes? This must have been the final
project in the mastery class of paper magic, the one where girls made
that folded up numbers rhyming game, the one with the bubblegum in a
dish, and you made a wish for a certain number of pieces.
I took the paper in my
hand, sat in the hallway, and unfolded it. I read the words of a
smart, athletic, beautiful, musically inclined girl. She didn’t want
to be my girlfriend. She hoped we could remain friends. It was over.
She’d see me around. The balloon-like letters didn’t soften the blow.
Her words looked like they could have floated away, if only the ink
were a lighter shade of blue. But they didn’t float away. They stayed
right there on the paper, a tangible reminder that I was a mistake.
The last class of the day
was science. I liked that class. Our teacher was a mousy woman with
hair down to her ass.
nephew played basketball at a neighboring school, and missed two free
throws at the end of a game, which kept our undefeated record intact.
We ridiculed that poor kid, and I’m sure she found out about it.
Science was also the class where I’d set my watch’s alarm for 3:00,
hide the watch in my desk, and claim the beeping noise was a bomb
that would inevitably blow up if we didn’t leave.
watch was a Casio with a rubber watch band. I’d wear it all day, take
it off and smell the skin underneath. I liked that smell. I probably
still do. I don’t wear a watch anymore. But if I did, you could
probably catch me sniffing the skin underneath it at some point
throughout the day. Point being, some things, no matter how gross
they are, stick with you, no matter how old you get.
I sat at my desk, holding
that note. The kids around me were curious what had happened, as news
travels quickly along the fifty foot stretch from classroom to
classroom. Rumor had it that I was dumped. I told them I got dumped,
but I didn’t really care. She was nerdy and not my type, I said. It
wasn’t serious, I said. I didn’t want to be her boyfriend, I said.
But none of that was true. I threw the note in the trash on the way
out, and played it off like I wasn’t upset. Deep down, I knew better.
Melanie is married now,
and I’m in a happy relationship of my own. Part of me wonders if she
even remembers the day we were an item, but at my core I’m still a
little seventh grade kid, too scared to talk to a girl. Some things
change. I own nicer shoes and more short socks. I don’t play the
trumpet or follow basketball too closely. Some things stay the same.
I still love the Ultimate Warrior. I’m still a sucker for the edge