This being Valentine’s Day, I think I’m going to write about a girl we’ll call Liz, because that’s not her name.
Liz was a year younger than me in high school. And in my sophomore year, through forces I have never understood, she fell wildly in crush-love with me.
(The tracks of time blend together somewhat, and this might have been junior year, but I lean toward sophomore. Makes no difference at this point.)
Liz didn’t actually tell me how she felt: The one time I deigned to say hi and ask how things were going, she turned red and fled the room.
Instead, I got the lowdown from one or two of Liz’s friends, in whom she had confided her feelings.
They were good supportive people, Liz’s friends. When she joined a couple of activities in which I was involved — like orchestra and winter track — they joined alongside her. To the best of my knowledge, none of them had played a note or run a competitive step before that, but they were there for their friend.
When Liz got up the nerve to walk to my house after school one day and ring the doorbell, they went with her then, too. (I had jazz band that afternoon, and was not home; my mom caught me up on it later.)
This went on for a couple of months until the fever broke. I don’t know what happened
— maybe she saw me scratching my arse or something — but at some point, she woke up one morning and I was not the most fantastic unattainable dreamy guy in the world any more. And life went on.
Liz and I did not know each other when she fell for me, nor did we have friends in common. Our circles did not overlap.
Based on that, I’ve guessed that she was drawn to some image of me that she’d created, or that I projected from afar, rather than the feeble broth that constituted my actual “personality” at age 15 or 16.
(I fit into a couple different pigeonholes back then. I made honor roll every quarter so I was a smart kid. I played in a garage band and had long hair and swore sometimes so I was a “bad boy,” or maybe looked like one from a distance. And I did a couple of sports — some passably enough to reach varsity as a sophomore — so maybe I looked like a jock from some angles too.)
It seems clear to me now that I should have made more of an effort to reach out and talk to Liz, down to earth, person to person, just as friends.
Even a few minutes of direct exposure to me would doubtless have convinced her that I was really a shaggy, callow asshole with bad breath. The weight of her crush would have lifted in an instant.
But I never did that; I remained at a distance. And she was left to pine and labor in romantic discomfort for weeks, if not months, until it ran its course.
I still think of Liz from time to time, though we haven’t crossed paths since we were college-age, 20-odd years ago.
(The last time I saw her, she was working summer checkout at a grocery store. Thinking it would be nice to say hi, I went through her lane, not noticing it was 10 items or less. The idea that I did something awkward to get her attention must have been deliciously ironic; I got the sense she enjoyed it.)
Valentine’s Day, I suppose, is a day when we’re supposed to hope everybody magically falls in love.
But I can’t help being realistic, and thinking about the tangles of romantic attachment a little differently. Instead, I hope somebody somewhere on Valentine’s Day gets the liberating chance to see a crush for who he or she really is.
I hope some modern-day equivalent of me goes up to the modern-day equivalent of Liz and just talks with her for a couple minutes, at the end of which she is a little disappointed but a great deal more relieved, and freed perhaps of some built-up romantic illusions.
There are unhappier endings.