My first week of fourth grade in a new school, I saw a girl who seemed the most lovely creature I’d ever experienced. At nine, girls were more of an annoyance than something to be noticed. But Debbie was entrancing, and held me in her spell.
Fitting into a new school for the third time in as many years was my main goal, so Debbie took a back seat. Besides, single-digit-aged boys have little use for romance. Still, I cultivated my secret love for this willowy, pretty girl over the next few years. We were in different classes and didn’t see each other except at recess. Well I saw her anyway. She never seemed interested in the “new kid in town.” Perhaps, I reasoned, she was just fickle.
Fast forward to Eighth Grade Graduation and the requisite dance afterward. As it probably remains so today, there were boys on one side, girls on the other. The most popular found the bravery to actually make it onto the dance floor, where they clumsily learned to groove to the music. I was more interested in the band, The Apple, which featured my brother Bill playing flute. Too nervous initially to make my move, I used every bit of energy to appear cool, disinterested. My eyes kept swiveling toward where Debbie sat, surrounded by her friends who ignored the many male glances in their direction.
Thinking of how lovely Miss Debbie looked, her hair carefully brushed and framing her delicate face, had my heart pounding. Four years I had hid my feelings for her. No more, I decided. It was “go time.” Now or never. The “now” part turned into 20 minutes. Each second seemed an eternity as my soul’s competing angels argued. “Ask her,” Lefty demanded. “What if she says no?” Righty asked. On it went, until I finally stopped that heated debate, balled my fists and punched the air, Ali style. I was just gonna do it.
Striding across the cafeteria floor, dodging a growing number of clumsy dancers, I kept my eyes fixed on Debbie. She saw me, her mouth dropped open, and she quickly turned away. Her friends saw me too. They giggled, prodding Debbie to look up as I arrived in front of her.
“Hi Debbie,” I stammered. “Want to dance?” Those were, to that point, the hardest words I had ever spoken. More giggling, but not from Debbie.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Carrie, the main character had a way of freezing people as she turned to stare at whoever pissed her off. Debbie’s head turned toward me in this fashion, her face frozen in a grimace. Her eyes narrowed into slits, her jaw clenched. Then she answered.
“I… wouldn’t dance with you… if you were the last person on Earth.” She seemed to hiss, rather than speak. I half-expected her to growl and spit as well. Her friends gasped, one of them uttered a nervous laugh.
“That was mean,” one of them whispered to her, looking up at me with a sort of apologetic smile.
Stunned, my mouth opened to reply, but no words found the sound. Turning away, everything seemed to move in slow motion. It felt like a hundred eyes followed as I walked straight to an exit and into the night. Humiliation burned my eyes to tears, and soon I was running. Four years of being nice to her, holding doors open, smiling her direction whenever our eyes met, had been wasted. What kind of person could do this to another? Nobody had ever been so cruel to me.
I should have danced with Lovely Louise instead. She liked me, even though I wasn’t aware of it. She actually smiled back whenever our eyes met. Louise was sweet and kind. Debbie had morphed from the fantasy girl I had imagined into a cruel little weasel. It didn’t matter at that point.
After a summer of recovery, high school beckoned. A different girl was now on my radar. She was much sweeter, and beautiful. I hadn’t noticed her before, and the chase began. I was much more cautious. We exchanged notes, as puppy lovers do. Smiles, flirty winks, forced laughter at each other’s jokes became more frequent. At a basketball game, Eloisa and I sat together. I had just showered after our freshman game, even though my time was mostly spent on the bench.
I didn’t dare try to hold her hand, but we were having fun. We were entranced by each other. Drinking in her loveliness, I was close enough to smell her sweet scent. My hormones raced, my lips ached to meet hers. As the game ended, we made for the door. I didn’t know we were being stalked. We should have moved faster, but the gym doors were narrow and prevented a quick escape. Finally outdoors, our hands brushed. She entwined her fingers with mine. We walked toward the parking lot, making for Main Street.
“Patrick, let’s go home now,” the voice said from behind. I froze.
It was Mom. She had been watching her hormone-charged son making moves for nearly two hours. For whatever reason, she didn’t approve. Eloisa was a sweet girl, but she and I had definite makeout plans, and Mom knew it. Her 14-year-old virgin, she decided, wasn’t quite ready for young love.
Turning to face her, I gave her a sly grima
ce, as if to say “Ma, I got this… please?” What I said was, “I’ll walk home, we’re going to hang out with…”
She didn’t let me finish. “I said we’re going home. Now. Come on.” That was it. Nobody, not even the school board or governors argued with this woman. She was battle-ready, and I heard it in the tone of her voice. It was probably the most humiliated I had felt since Debbie rejected me four months earlier.
Looking down at gorgeous Eloisa, I shrugged. She looked disgusted, snatched her hand away and stormed off. Mom’s plan worked; I never had a chance with her afterward.
As a parent, I learned later that Mom may have been a bit heavy-handed but she knew the dangers we faced. Teenage pregnancy must have been her main motivation. She probably smelled the fiery pheromones floating between us. Whatever made her tear us apart was of no importance at the time. I was mad at her for weeks. Twice in one year, my love life had come to devastating ends. It would be months before I made moves on another girl, but I had matured since then. My libido was a raging inferno, and it was later satisfied with one even sweeter than I deserved.
Debbie, wherever you ended up, I hope you found love. And compassion. I also hope your manners improved. Sweet Eloisa, I’m sorry but nobody in their right mind would disobey my mother… not even a testosterone-charged, beloved son. Hopefully, you also found your heart’s desire.
As for me, I am loved more now than I could have ever imagined at that tender age. It all works out. Puppy love, it turns out, is best spent on canines.