Sunday, 22 January 2017

And they call it puppy love

About a week or so ago someone who was important in my life when I was a teenager passed away. I can't remember if she had COPD or emphysema (or maybe they're the same thing, I don't know). She was a lot of fun to be with and had a larger than life personality. Always laughing. I think there was very little that would bring her down. I hadn't seen her in many years, but we got to reconnect on facebook. I still can't believe she's gone.

Thinking about her has made me nostalgic about my teenage years. And, as usual, when I think of my teenage years I think of my "love at first sight" crush. His name is Jan (pronounced with a soft J).

When I was 13, I was sitting on a bus with a girl named Marianne. (She was really nice and sometimes I wonder what happened to her, too.) We didn't go to the same junior high school but we had a mutual friend. While we were talking the bus stopped, and on walked Jan. I caught my breath when we looked at each other. As we stared at each other, Marianne told me his name and said he was a nice guy. She knew him from her school.

A few years go by and Grade 10 comes along (I was 15). Phys-ed wasn't coed yet. It was the portion of the class dedicated to gymnastics. Being a total spaz (some things never change), I looked on with immense disinterest at someone doing their floor exercise. On the other side of the gym, the boys were doing their portion of gymnastics.

There was one girl sitting beside me on the bleacher - come to think of it, her name was also Marianne. Or was it Marilyn? Anyway, she nudged my knee and asked, "Do you know that guy over there?" I asked who, she pointed out "the one who keeps staring at you." She then told me his name was Jan and he's a really nice guy. My heart skipped a beat. Or three.

I asked how she was sure he was staring at me and not her (I dared not hope his attention was meant for me). She moved away and acted like she was doing something. He didn't move his head, so yeah, he was staring at me.

And thus began our mutual crush on each other without uttering a word to one another. What I can remember:

I was incredibly shy back then (less so now, but still shy). I would assume he was as well, otherwise he would have done more than stare at me. Our lockers weren't far away from each other at all. He stood at his, laughing with his friends, and I stood at mine, laughing with my friends all the while stealing looks for as long as we could at each other.

I had a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey that I would wear proudly. One Saturday they played the New York Islanders and lost horribly. That Monday he stood at his locker proudly wearing a New York Islanders jersey and had a huge smile on his face. I was not amused.

Once in a while if I was around the gym area at lunch time I'd sneak in a look to watch him play squash (or racquetball, not sure which).

My friend Jane joked about him having "the hots" for me (because that's how we spoke back then), and it became a running joke with her; she would do play by plays of where he was looking and every time his gaze came back to me. She thought I was joking as well because I didn't tell her how I felt about him.

Then summer came. I figured there's no way I'd see him at all but I saw him twice. Once when my friend Cathy and I went for a bike ride and we went down the street he lived on, apparently. He was playing squash (or racquetball, not sure which) against a pink garage door, with a friend who wound up being Cathy's first boyfriend. I was surprised to see him there but instead of taking the bull by the horns, I rolled on by.

I needed a new bathing suit. We went to the shopping mall just north of where we lived. There was a sports clothing store there and my mother and I walked in to look at some Speedos. I walked in far enough so that it was too late to walk out when I saw him behind the cash. My breath was all caught up - on one hand here's this boy that makes my heart do back flips, and on the other hand is the all-seeing, all-knowing mother who I didn't want to know I had a crush on him (I didn't want to be subjected to any teasing.) I had to look all cool and collected while checking out bathing suits. I found a Speedo I liked (white with little Canadian flags all over) and I brought it over to the cash. My mother wasn't right beside me so while he wrote up the bill, he cleared his throat and asked in a low whisper what size it was. I blinked, paused slightly then said the size wondering if it affected the price somehow ... ? I remember my mother had this look on her face as if to say, "Did I hear what I think I heard?" Thankfully, she didn't ask anything after we left.

We went back to the same store near the end of the summer because I needed a track suit. The owner of the store was the one who served me. I wound up coming out of there with a neon orange Adidas track suit because everything else was dark blue and I was sick of the same dark blue. Neon orange was a huge risk since it was 1978 and neon wasn't in style at all back then.

Grade 11 started soon after. I decided I had enough of merely staring at each other, so I began to say hi to him. That's it. I'd say, "Hi Jan" and he would answer with a quick "Hi" and that was it. One day when I said hi, his friend slammed his locker and asked loudly, "Aren't you going to tell her?" as I walked away. I didn't know what that meant until that fateful day when he wasn't there. At the very end of the school day my friend Jane ran up to me, breathless and laughing at the same time while telling me Jan moved to San Francisco.

My heart fell to my feet. That's when she realized that I wasn't joking all that time, that I really really liked him. Because she saw the tears.

I was devastated. The next day I told my mother I wasn't feeling well enough to go to school, even though I had a French test. Surprisingly, she didn't question me. I remember she looked very sad as well. I think that marked me because she was rarely empathetic towards me. She went to work, and I cried in my room all day long. Played records, 2112 by Rush in particular. I was listening to the B-side when this syrupy ballad started me bawling all over again:

Tears by Rush

Every time I hear that song I remember how heartbroken I felt. Ouch. My 16 year-old self needed a hug.

I never knew why he moved away, so in the throes of my teen-aged tearjerker daydreams I made up a story of how his parents must be brain surgeons that are needed in a hospital there because only that could explain the sudden departure. It's okay; I'm laughing myself as I type this.

So skip to the summer of 1980. My mother took me on a trip to California, just me and her. I was reticent but she mentioned San Francisco so I jumped at it. I never expected to ever see him, but I couldn't help but wish it would happen. I remember this song was playing in the bus from the airport in San Francisco to our hotel:

While You See A Chance - Steve Winwood

And every time I hear this song, I think of him.

Before we left, my father had just come back from Mexico and bought a dress for me. It looked ... Mexican. Traditional Mexican. I tried it on and both parents actually oohed and awwed together. I think it was a conspiracy because once I started high school, I was finally allowed to wear jeans/pants to school instead of skirts or dresses and I was quite vociferous about never going back. My mother said I needed a dress for when we went out somewhere nice to eat. So there I was in Chinatown, wearing a traditional-looking Mexican dress, facing a very busy-looking street. As I looked to my left, I heard horns honking to my right. Traffic was backed up because there was Jan behind the wheel, car stopped in the middle of the lane, staring at me.

All I could think was, "Holy shit." He had to put it in gear and move because the other drivers were becoming insistent. I turned to see where my mother was, and he drove off. Didn't circle back around, at least not as far as I knew.

Finally, a year later at the Canadian National Exhibition, I saw him there. I walked by with my friends and he was there with his friends, one of them being Cathy's ex-boyfriend, so no one else was inclined to stop. We got far enough away, I told them I wanted to go back and see Jan. I ran back, said hi to him. And he said "hi" the same way he did before. That was it. Did either of us see a chance and take it? Yes and no. But it was enough to embarrass myself by running back to my friends and yelling, "HE SAID HI TO ME!" Fuck, that was embarrassing. One of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I couldn't walk right up to him and ask how he was and was that him I saw in Chinatown. Nope.

That was the last I saw of him.

Throughout the years, every once in a while something triggers a memory and I wonder whatever happened to him. Now, with the internet, every once in a while I'd google his name, but nothing would come up. I tried facebook before but there are some profiles with no pictures and are completely locked down, so how am I to know. I think the last time I tried looking and came up with nothing (it's been quite a while), I began to wonder if something bad happened, like maybe he's in prison, or worse. So with Donna's death and me thinking about my teen years, I tried facebook one more time. Surprisingly, I found him.

And my brain went, oh. It's him.

It was all very anti-climactic. I don't have to wonder anymore. At least he's alive and not in prison. He's still handsome. I hope he has made a good life for himself. I'm not going to contact him - I would doubt he has pined for me and thought about me off and on through the years as I have him, and he has very few people on his friends list. I suspect he only uses his account to keep in contact with family/close friends.

There's no chance of another random encounter since he lives in Europe now and I live in another province, and I doubt we would really recognize each other if we happened across each other.

Thinking back on all of this has given me a good chuckle but damn, why did we have to be so shy?

[Note:  the thought of him still makes my heart pitter-patter, and I have exercised restraint and have not contacted him but if he were to contact me I would welcome him.]


  1. Well written...I'm wondering if the best part of this story was you consoling yourself to a Rush album, you would have to be the first female in the history of mankind to have felt this way; still, good on you.
    Crazy young love is just 2/3rds of what it really is: crazy & young.

  2. Thank you for your kind words. While I tend to march to the beat of my own drum, I had friends who were even bigger fans so I'm sure they did the same.

    I wouldn't want to be a teenager again (unless reincarnation actually exists, haha); nearly everything seemed life or death with raging hormones coursing through our bodies.

    Funny though, I had crushes after Jan and had my fair share of make out sessions at house parties with boys long forgotten, but none of them made my heart skip like his stare did, lol!