Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bad Boy

When I was 14, my best friend dated a guy who smoked Camels, wore black Converse high tops and a leather wrist band, and while the wanna-be cool kids like me wore their backpacks slung over one shoulder, this boy didn't even have a backpack. Since I'd never had an actual boyfriend, I was used to being the third wheel. In this case, I didn't mind in the least. I adored him. Eventually, my best friend tired of him and told me, in not so many words, that I could have him if I wanted. He was getting high too much (who wasn't?). He was on the verge of getting kicked out of school (who cared? He sure didn't seem to). "I think he really likes you," she told me. "He always asks about you."

I knew an opportunity when I saw one, so I quietly, without words, made my desires known (we each communicated so many things without actual words, in hindsight I wonder if communicated anything at all). I was just discovering psychedelic drugs. He was one of my guides, and the only one I knew who could ingest enormous amounts of LSD and still carry on a conversation--about the lyrics in that Doors song we loved in which *Jim Morrison crooned about “the end”* or *Janice Joplin and all her hair* or what we’d say to *Jimi Hendrix* if we got to meet him in the afterlife (“S’up,” is what he joked he’d say, with a casual lift of the chin). I worshiped this boy so much that I, a competitive gymnast at the time, failed physical education. After finally getting kicked out of school (for too many absences if I remember right), he'd rebelliously wander the halls, and then linger at the chain-link entrance to the pool smoking, waiting for me to get out of last period--no way was I going to act like I cared enough to don a bathing suit for a grade.

The weekend of my birthday, there was a big party at a friend's place that everyone was going to, but my dad was taking me and a friend to see *Howard Jones* (it was 1986 after all, and things could definitely only get better). The Friday before my birthday, on the stone wall that lined the park where a crew of us hung out, we had our most romantic moment yet. He didn't kiss me, but he gave me his watch to wear for the weekend. It had a Velcro band (again, 1986) and the watch face was big and digital. But I wore it through the entire weekend like the declaration that it was: "S & L 4Ever."

When I got back to school on Monday, I heard from a friend that he got drunk at the party and hooked up with another girl. An older girl. Who wore lots of make up. And denim skirts. Neither of which I could pull off. I was devastated. That was the end, "beautiful friend, the end" (Mr. Morrison had already warned me). We never got to kiss. Or hold hands. Eventually I gave him his watch back along with a note telling him how much I'd liked him and what an ass he was, but then followed it with: "but if you ever change your mind..." Even when my family moved from California to the East Coast at the end of that school year, I hadn't given up. I wrote him a long letter expressing all my unrequited feelings. No reply. You'd think a girl would get the message. I fantasized about the finally that I was sure we'd get to have one day.

In the last dream I had about him in my mid-20s, I was back in California, and we were sledding together in the woods down a snowless hill, cracking up the way you do when you're stoned, or in love. I saw him once more in real life on a return visit. We ran into each other at the park, on the stone wall. He was kind and polite but unromantic. He was nice enough to give me a ride in his truck to the bus stop outside of town. I can't say this for absolute certain, but it's possible that's the most alone we'd ever been, the two of us inside the cab of a truck with eight months and a gear shift between us. The conversation was awkward. I thanked him for the ride. And that was that.

Until today. While I didn't see him in real life, it's as close as some of us get these days: FaceLife. There he was. And wasn't. Staring at him through my computer screen, a fine man with a wife and children, it's hard to really get that it's the same person. Not because he looks different--in that, like me, he's no longer 15--but because I don't worship people now the way I did then. Or if I do, it last for 10 minutes, not 10 years. I kind of miss it, the deep knowing that yes, someone actually could be that perfect. There's an exhilaration to it. Like emotional bungee jumping. But I understand what that kind of worship really is. Then, at 7+8, it was all about him.

Now, I know that there's something almost harmful (albeit necessary?) about that vacuous, yearn-y feeling that can open up inside a person like an elevator shaft. Some of us spend a good part of our adult lives building the elevator, in the basement, so we can get on the thing and take a trip up to ground level...somewhere around our thirtieth year. At least that's what happened for me.

I'm not sure I wanted the guy as much as I wanted, like a friend recently wrote about an artist, to be him. Pure cool. Seemingly confident. Owner of a bad-ass watch.

Seeing his picture today put a period at the end of a very strange ellipses I didn't even know was still trailing after his name. I'll go sledding again with someone in real life. Someday. One day. In the meantime, solo sledding is pretty damn fun.

*Supplemental material*


Anonymous said...

You are pure cool. Thanks for writing and sharing. - Taylor

Larissa said...

O.K., that Howard Jones clip...I have no words! I love all that you said about "perfection" - I feel like I still fall for men the way I used to...only now it's not so devastating when they don't measure up to my "perfect" image (like you said). It's like now I know (somewhat consciously, somewhat subconsciously)that they won't - I'm just in a self inflicted state of denial/hope (sometimes I think these words are interchangeable).

Rosina said...

Great entry Laura, I remember the feeling too...it was a drug, an escape, an alternate reality. In my adult life I sometimes vaguely remember how inferior I felt to those impossibly cool kids in high school...I remember it like: how silly and unnecessary was that! If I was back there now I would be fearless. Well, I recently came across an online album of black and white photos of many of those impossibly cool kids in their jean jackets and just vintage enough cars...I felt it! I remembered how truly impossible the coolness was, I was right back there. In a way it was not a bad feeling, it was almost a sensation of letting myself off the hook for feeling that way back then and moving on.