First Love



"And the girl in the front of the room,

So close, yet so far you know she never seemed to notice,

That this silly school-boy crush,

Wasn't just pretend."

-Social Distortion


Ah, Spring. Young turning...You know the drill. In honor of the slowly warming weather, I'd like to tell the story of my first (somewhat feeble) experiences with Love.

To this day, I have trouble approaching a girl that I like. I understand that rejection isn't the end of the world, and I can handle it quite well when it does happen. I also have no problem whatsoever with walking up to a total stranger and starting a conversation. In college I was always in charge of talking to the cute girls and putting in the good word for my friends. The problem was, when it came down to a girl that I liked, I suddenly became the shyest person on the planet, even if we were talking and having a great time; even if I could tell that she liked me, I always put off asking for her number or if she wanted to go out for too long and then just never got around to it.

I tried to figure out why this is, and without the help of a high paid shrink, was able to trace it all back to this one event:

It all started in Egbert Junior High back in the Fall of '83. I was your typical ungainly social misfit in the throes of puberty and with no idea what was going on in my own body, let alone in the world around me

I had a small group of friends that I hung around with. Some of them were still close friends in High School, but some drifted away. I'd always been a closed person emotionally. I never really told anyone, let alone my friends, how I was really feeling. I mean, let's be honest, at the ripe old age of thirteen, as far as I was concerned, no one in the history of the universe ever felt any of the emotions I had tumbling around in my head and heart.

I saw her one morning on my way to class and stopped dead in my tracks. I can still picture it in my mind's eye right now. I'm sure if I close my eyes, I can probably remember what she was wearing that day too.

She wasn't beautiful, but she was. I mean, she wasn't what my friends and I classified as beautiful, but she struck me as perfect. I spent the rest of the day looking for her in the halls, but to no avail. I actually started thinking she had been a mirage, but the pounding in my chest told me otherwise.

The next day I waited in the hall that I had seen her in, and sure enough, when the bell rang, there she was. This was no mirage. I was in love. Definitely not lust, because my feeble hormones hadn't learned about that little trick yet. I had always been a late bloomer. It was about this time, or a little earlier that I snuck a peek at my first porno movie. When I watched the obligatory scene of the guy going down on the girl, I almost puked. I thought it was the single most disgusting act I had ever seen in my life. It took me two years to get over my revulsion, and when the opportunity finally became available to me, about eight and a half seconds to start enjoying it. But I digress.

I had all the symptoms of love: shortness of breath, that sinking pit feeling you get in your chest, sweaty palms, the works. Later I would begin noticing that food started tasting like cardboard, and I was pretty much never hungry.

I had to find out who she was.

I made a point of being the first one out of class when the bell rang and the last one in before the late bell. My plan was to spend as much time in the halls as I could in the hopes of seeing what other classes she was in. It never even occurred to me to cut class and look for her, thoughts like that wouldn't even enter my mind until High School. Yes, I was that much of a geek. Of course, when I did learn about cutting, it became an addiction. I spent more time wandering the halls than I did in class, but that's another story.

Finally, a few days later, I saw her going into a class that my best friend Tom was also in. Tom was an even bigger geek than I was in many ways. Much more book smart, straight A's, always knew everything. I mean, who else but a geek would know that an oyster is also called a spat?

The dichotomy about Tom was that as smart as he was, he was also even more twisted than I was. When we discussed how we would go about killing teachers and students that we didn't like (everyone did it, so don't look at me like I'm crazy) he would come up with some of the sickest, most outrageous things you could imagine. That boy put Stephen King to shame. He made H.P. Lovecraft look like Dr. Seuss.

After school, when Tom and I were hanging out, I asked him if he had any pull in that class. I should have known he was the attendance monitor. My evil plan was falling right into place. I asked him what it would cost to get me the attendance book to look at for an hour, but couldn't afford his price. So I asked what it would cost for him to copy down the layout of the seats, and the names of all the girls for me. He asked what I wanted it for, and I told him that our most hated enemy, Marty, liked one of the girls, and I wanted to tease him about it.

Tom was nothing if not thorough. By the end of the next day, I had a layout of the room, with all the girls names, addresses and phone numbers in my hands.

And it only cost me two G.I. Joe action figures.

Now all I had to do was match the name to the face.

Of course it was Friday now, so it would have to wait until Monday. I had to hurry home and pack my stuff to spend the weekend at my father's house in Queens.

Monday afternoon I was outside her class with the list in my hand trying to figure out which girl she was. I could have just asked Tom, but as a shy pubescent, it was against all possible rules of etiquette to let him know I liked any girl. And God forbid he decides to tease her himself because he thinks Marty likes her; I'd die. It took me three days to finally see her in her seat and triangulate who she was by where she was in the room using the few people in the class that I actually knew as reference points. I didn't know it at the time, but I was one row off. So for a week, I was in love with a girl named Sue. Nice name, but not the girl I really wanted.

By the next Monday, I had learned of my mistake and finally was in love with the right girl. Karen.

I was the typical nerd in love.

I spent hours a night just saying her name over and over to myself. Riding my bike past her house in the hopes of "casually" bumping into her. What I would say if that ever actually happened, I have no idea, but it was a fantasy, and it was my fantasy. I imagined what I would say if I ever did get to talk to her (and boy was I off!!), and everything else a thirteen year old would do if he was a complete loser and madly in love. This went on for the entire year. I would follow her around all day (it was cute back then; remember, stalking hadn't been invented yet). I tried to learn every possible bit of information about her that I could without letting anyone know I was interested. I tell you, had I spent as much energy looking for a cure for cancer as I did falling for this girl, I'd have found one in an hour. And probably not even broken a sweat.

The problem was, I was no closer to meeting her, or getting up the nerve to talk to her than I was when I first saw her, and the school year was coming to a close.

The only chance I had was going to have to be at our graduation/prom/dance thing (I really don't remember what they called it).

A new problem arises; I'm thirteen years old, so of course, I can't dance. (I swear, if my life was a movie, even I would skip it, too cliché.)

There was only one person I could go to for help in this area, my cousin Mary Jo. She must have been twenty-one at the time, and so as far as I was concerned, she was worldly. And for an adult she was pretty cool. Sometimes she was nuttier than my friends and I were. When I was little, she would baby-sit for me with her sister Dolores, and I would always turn them in to my mom if they smoked a cigarette. As revenge one day, they brought me next door to where this girl lived that was about my age and made me take my clothes off and run past her. And yes, I do plan on using this journal when I make my plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

The only downside of having Mary Jo teach me how to dance, is that I can't mention that I plan to use this information to dance with a girl. She would rib me to no end.

So I learned to dance. Of course, it was the 80's, and dancing basically consisted of tapping the left foot with the right, and the right with the left. Add a little swaying, and you're all set.

I practiced every chance I got. I was determined not to make a fool out of myself (at least not with my dancing ability). I had the foot work down pat, but my arms still flailed like dying fish in a net. Of course, I assumed that everyone else in school could dance like a pro, and that made matters worse.

It's funny. Until today, I had completely forgotten that we had a dance in Jr. High. I guess I blocked it out. It's strange how it all comes back, pain and all.

Tom didn't go to the dance; I guess he knew better. Sometimes I wish I had followed his lead. If I had known the ability of alcohol back then, I would have been blitzed for this dance, just to take the edge off.

So, I'm all dressed up; it's dark; the music is playing, and there across the room, sitting with her friends is Karen. I must have scolded myself a hundred times for not getting up the nerve to ask her to dance earlier. I kept moving towards her....then turning away. Move towards....turn away. I spent about an hour near the coat check room trying to decide if I would survive jumping out the plate glass window. I had pretty much resigned myself that either way, it was worth it when I heard some of the "cool" boys from school talking about MY Karen. This one guy, Lee, was the typical "cool" guy. Smooth skin, tall, thin, better build than me, more popular than me (actually, the school janitor was more popular than me); this kid had everything going for him. In my perfect world, he and all his little cronies would be lined up and shot at my command.

He was telling his friends that he was going to ask Karen to dance. I could not let that happen. If she doesn't dance with me, that's okay, but she can't dance with him. They hadn't seen me by the window until I walked out and pushed past them to get to the dance floor. I was determined to ask her first. It was a moral imperative. As I was approaching the main dance floor, one of my friends stopped me to ask me something stupid. I tried to push past him, but when I did, he fell into Marty, my most hated enemy. More hated than even Lee. We got into a verbal altercation, and by the time I was able to break away from it (amid the chicken calls, and hooting), I was just in time to watch Lee ask Karen to dance. My little world shattered.

I spent the rest of the night hanging out in the coat check beating my head against the window hoping in vain that it would break (my head or the window, by now I didn't care).

I graduated from Egbert a week later, but made sure I found out where Karen would be going to High School. Luckily it was the same one I was, New Dorp.

I swore to myself that I would find a way to talk to her this summer. I'd have sold my soul in an instant for the guts to just say hello to her.

That summer, my mom and I went on a bus tour to Florida and then a cruise to the Bahamas. No matter how much fun I had, I didn't stop thinking about Karen. I met two older girls on the bus, and we became fast friends. At some point, I told them of my predicament, and they were very helpful with their advice. They came up with a plan that I would never have thought of in a million years.

Call her on the phone. Genius, pure genius.

Now I had a plan. I got back to Staten Island and started working. First, I need her phone number. Check, still had it from the list that Tom gave me. Next, I need a good time to call. Summer vacation…late afternoon… kinda before she goes back out after lunch, check. All I need now is something to say. No check. Can't think of anything.

I ended up putting the whole plan on hold while my cousin was visiting from Missouri. This also gave me time to think of something to say.

A week later I was ready. I picked up the phone....stared at it for a moment....hung it up.

I spent three more days basically doing the same thing.

Okay, now I'm really ready. Pick up the phone...start to dial...hang it up.

Getting closer.

Finally, I let it ring.

And didn't hang up when someone answered.

It was her mom. I asked for Karen, and she told me she would be back in an hour, try back then.

An hour later, I could not pick up the phone. No matter how I tried to coax myself, there was just no way. An hour was too soon. Her mom said an hour, and I didn't want to seem as desperate as I really was, so I waited two hours. But then two hours wasn't enough. Soon it was 10:00 at night, and too late.

I called again the next day, got her mom again. Karen was gone for the weekend, and wouldn't be back until Monday.


Monday was too soon to call, I mean, she just got back from being away; she might be too tired to talk.

Tuesday I called again. Mom once more. This time she asked who was calling. I was stumped. Couldn't remember my own name. After a few moments of "Uhh, ummm, uhh," I remembered, and told her. After she hung up, I smacked myself upside my head. IDIOT. I gave out my name. What was I thinking.

Two days later, I called for the last time. I didn't plan for it to be the last time, but it was.

Her mom now asked me where I knew Karen from. I told her from school. She asked what I was calling about. How do you answer that? I flustered around for a moment and blurted out, "I wanted to ask her a question." I swear I almost said that I had a question about our homework. That would have gone over well, two months after graduation and all.

I told her mom that I would call back, but never did.

Two weeks later was the first day of High School. I saw her in the halls, and realized that this was like a never ending story. This would probably go on through graduate school. Me following her in the halls like a puppy dog in heat, her walking with her friends ignoring me. I had to do something. I resolved myself to talk to her if it was the last thing I ever did.

One day at lunch, I was sitting with a bunch of friends at a table amazing them with my stories of the cruise to the Bahamas.

When the lunch lines broke up a little, they decided to go get food. I still had yet to have more than a little snack at lunch in my new school, mostly because Karen was in the same lunch period as I was.

When I was alone at the table, I chanced a glance back at where she was sitting just to see if I could catch her eye. It was a little game I had been playing with myself for a week now.

When I looked back, not only was she looking at me, she was walking towards me, and she was not alone. She had her little "group" with her. My throat dried up instantly.

They surrounded me at the table, and began taking turns firing questions at me. They all asked me something, all except Karen. They asked who I was. Then they asked if I was the guy that was prank calling Karen all summer. I replied that it wasn't a prank. So another girl asked why I was calling. I said that I had needed to ask her a question.

"What question?" another asked.

I couldn't answer. Soon they were all barking questions at me at the same time to the point where I was just snapping my head around and around to see who was saying what. I looked at Karen, and could see she wasn't too happy. But whether she was unhappy about me, or what her friends were doing, I'll never know.

I seemed to have been shrinking slowly since they walked over. By the time they had finished with their questioning, I couldn't see over the top of the table.

One girl told me never to talk to Karen again. I wanted to tell her that I never had, but by then I was too small. A cockroach actually tripped over me while I was on the floor. Then a flea came by and started making fun of me because I was ugly, even for a flea. Another flea came up to me, this one was a bully flea, and he must have punched me in the stomach. At least that was what it felt like.

When the girls walked away, I reverted back to my normal size, but my stomach still hurt like hell. Damn flea.

I wiped my eyes, and when my friends came back, I acted like nothing happened. I never told them what had just gone on, and they never suspected that I had just had my heart torn out and stomped on.

It took me about two months to be able to eat lunch in that lunchroom again, if I would even show up. I think I was the only kid in High School that used to cut lunch. What choice did I have?

I still saw her in the hallway around school, but never looked at her for too long. And if she was with her friends I all but ran in the opposite direction.

Sometime later, I moved off Staten Island, and never saw her again.

I fell in love, and fell hard. Had my heart broken, and discovered the bitter taste of rejection, pain, and fear.

All from a girl I never uttered a single word to.


-Spat 4/7/97


If you have any questions, E-Mail me.