I had a huge crush on a girl in my history class junior year. Lisa was one of those girls who was seventeen, but could pass for twenty-three. She was tall and blonde, beautiful and smart. She also had no idea I existed. I didn’t help my case any. Every day, I planned to ask her out after class. Every day, I would trail out the door after her, follow her down a couple of flights of stairs past our lockers. Every day, I wouldn’t say a thing. In my journals at the time, I called it “folding up like a wet paper bag”. This went on, day after day, week after week.
Puberty pumps enough chemicals into your body, your blood could pass for Spanish Fly. I think I fell in love with fifty different girls in high school. That didn’t mean that love was any less intense or real or less painful each time it amounted to nothing. My crush on Lisa was the worst. It wouldn’t go away. I thought about her all the time. It drove me crazy. I was getting ready for dinner one night, washing my hands in the bathroom and berating myself in the mirror for folding up yet again. I just couldn’t believe that I was so taken by this girl, someone who had no idea who I was. I wondered if she had ever thought of me at all –
Hmm. That might be a good line for a poem.
I remember coming into the kitchen, looking for something to write on. All we had were small Post-It notes by the phone. My love poem to Lisa ended up taking up about fifteen pages, approximately one line per Post-It. I typed it before I went to bed. Later on that week, I turned it in for a class assignment. I also – finally – got up enough nerve to ask Lisa out. She said no. I was crushed, but I got over it. That would have been the end of it, I’m sure, except I missed a day of school a few weeks later. That afternoon, my friend Dave called to congratulate me. For what? I had won second place in the short story competition at school. Terrific! I had been inspired by a huge thunderstorm and wrote a short story about a distant relative of Doctor Frankenstein who assembles his dream woman from miscellaneous parts. Dave also mentioned I had won second place in the poetry competition as well. Poetry? I hadn’t entered any poetry contest. The only poem I had written lately was…
I wasn’t above “repurposing” my original work, but this time I was going to pay for it. My English teacher really liked To a Special Girl, so she submitted it to the contest for me. Second place meant a twenty-five dollar prize, but it also meant everyone was going to know about it. Lisa was going to know about it.
Would that be such a bad thing? I imagined the scene in my mind as if it were out of a movie.
INT. SCHOOL HALLWAY.
The hallway is deserted and lonely. It’s black and white with the lights above shining down like streetlights in the fog. BOB enters to get his books out of his locker. A tall silhouette appears in the background.
I really liked your poem.
(surprised, but plays it cool; read Bogart-esque)
I just had a question.
(biting her lip nervously)
Did you write it about me?
That’s right, sweetheart.
(romantic music begins; he turns dramatically to unbear his soul)
You see, I wrote the poem and it won a prize. That shows that my feelings for you aren’t just an act. They’re real.
The music swells to a crescendo. LISA runs to BOB and we FADE OUT.
It was a nice fantasy and it lasted almost thirty seconds. Dave gave me a run down of the other contest winners. Guess who won first place in the poetry contest? Now, the movie scene replayed in my mind, but somehow differently.
INT. SCHOOL HALLWAY.
The hallway is deserted. The camera is at an odd angle, like something out of the old “Batman” series on television. BOB stumbles into the shot and tries to open his locker. LISA walks in behind him, looking slightly annoyed.
I read your poem.
You didn’t write it about me, did you?
(circus music begins)
You see, I wrote the poem and because you beat it with a poem about shopping malls…
(he turns, read Goofy-esque)
Well, I guess that shows the measure of my feelings for you…
BOB sort of drifts off. The music sort of falls out of tune and we mercifully FADE OUT.
There was going to be a special ceremony held after school. I neglected to mention it to anyone related to me. I didn’t want any documentary evidence; no photos, no videotape. I knew what was going to happen. I could see it in my mind. The evening of the award ceremony, I arrived alone. Lisa said hello to me and introduced me to her mom. We all sat together in the front row. The president of the PTA came up to the podium to address the crowd with some prepared remarks and canned jokes. It was just like I imagined it was going to be. The third place poem winner went up to collect their certificate to the sound of applause. I braced myself as best as I could.
“And the second place winner goes for To a Special Girl.” I stood up and the entire audience collectively said, “aww”. I walked the long mile to the PTA president who shook my hand and handed me a check.
“So,” he said with a wink and a nudge, “anyone we know?”
To this day, I have never felt stupider than I did at that moment on stage with the audience laughing at me. I remember smiling and nodding and trying to laugh along with the joke, all the while wishing I was dead. I was actually kind of surprised that I didn’t die. But because I ended up not dying of embarassment, things seemed easier after that. I found I could talk to other girls without fear of folding up like a wet paper bag. I tried out for a play when I was in college. One time when I was working for our radio station, I ended up singing Karaoke in front of several thousand people because none of our other on-air personalities would do it. Today, I teach Sunday School and give presentations to clients and potential clients. I get volunteered to speak off the cuff about all sorts of things. I do it and sometimes I still feel stupid, but never at that level when I was seventeen.
My high school reunion is coming up at the end of the month. I hope Lisa attends because she never did ask who the subject of my poem was.