LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Because of the fading line between past and present on account of Facebook and Google, where anyone lost can be found, this column is going to take some delicate maneuvering. But after this weekend I realize there is one story that needs to be told — even if it requires a few aliases.
We were all standing around in the kitchen at my in-laws’ house Saturday, and somehow we got onto the subject of high school crushes. After my sisters-in-law shared their stories, my mother-in-law admitted that she, too, had had a lengthy crush on a boy. That is until the exact second he walked up to her and asked her out.
“After that, I never wanted anything to do with him,” she said.
That led us into a discussion about the extreme yo-yo that is the crush: the terrible, fantastic longing but, in certain cases, the instant cure, the eye-opening moment when you realize that this person you’ve dreamed about is devastatingly ordinary.
It was then that I shared my whopper.
Let me start by saying that, between the painful years of 14 and 18, I was the queen of the crush. Flat, short-haired, pimply-faced and extremely studious, trust me when I say even I understood why boys didn’t like me. But, oh, how I liked them. Studied them. Passed them in the hallway, clutched my books against my chest and nearly passed out with the sheer force of how wonderful and mysterious they were.
But there was one boy in particular. Let’s call him — wow, this is a powerful moment — John. John Lancaster. John was on the high school hockey team and when he stood on the ice he was downright beautiful. Shoulders broad enough to fill a doorframe, eyes steely blue, and as tall as a tree.
I have no idea what position he played but suffice it to say John Lancaster liked to bodycheck. Like, a lot. And when he would plow someone into the boards and then nimbly skate away, the victim would just lie there for a few minutes, as starry-eyed as I was. I’m not sure if it was the violence or the power or just the fact that John Lancaster just didn’t seem to care who he hurt, but I loved him.
When he wasn’t on the ice, I’d see him in the cafeteria and he’d always have on a faded, black baseball cap whose bill had been carefully rounded so that it shrouded part of his face in, what I considered to be, the most alluring way.
He was always surrounded by a big group of friends, and I’d take a peek at him every once in a while and wonder what he might be saying. On the very rare occasion he’d catch me looking, I’d stare down quickly at my sandwich, caught but also wondering if he’d looked at me on purpose.
Though the crush continued for a year, I never spoke to him. Our high school had a French immersion track, which I was in, and an English track, in which he partook, so we were never in any of the same classes. And ultimately I graduated from high school with not so much as a word to John Lancaster.
That is until my friend Tiffany decided to get married. In Manitoba, the wedding is almost always preceded by a social, which is essentially a dance party held a few months before the nuptials for the sole purpose of raising money for the bride and groom. Well, I was one of Tiffany’s bridesmaids so was hard at work selling raffle tickets — one of the ways you raise money — when in walks John Lancaster with my old friend, mmm, let’s call him Jake Adams.
The instant John walked through the door, my heart leapt into my throat and I was immediately covered in goose bumps. He was still gorgeous, his T-shirt whining over how many muscles it had to contain.
I gathered myself together and realized I was wearing a pretty fantastic dress. My hair was tied back in a joyful ponytail, not one zit marred my face and I was now 28, not 17. So wouldn’t it be rude not to go over and say hello to my old friend Jake?
I took a deep breath and walked up to the two of them. They’d by now gotten drinks and I’d had one myself. Jake turned around and gave me a quick hug.
Then I cautiously said hello to The John Lancaster.
“I’m not sure if you remember me,” I said. “We went to high school together.”
It was my big moment, the painful past plowing into the present. And then John Lancaster, in the highest, squeakiest, downright girliest voice I’ve ever heard, said:
“Yes, I remember you. How are you, Tara?”
And my crush, the painful, riveting crush, lifted, and I was free.