Twenty years later, I still cringe at the memory. Oh, let’s call a spade a spade: it’s memories. I was then as I am now, a hopeless romantic. Only as a sixteen-year-old who’s lived a blessedly sheltered life, I was perhaps a little less prepared for a little thing called “reality.” (If, by “little,” you mean something the scope of the Grand Canyon.)
I was primed for falling in love, steeped in pop songs that crooned Two worlds colliding…and they could never tear us apart. And then it happened. We worked together, and when I heard his voice upon entering the building, my nerves electrified; when his arm brushed mine, I thought I would burst into flame.
Young as I was, I knew better than to call it love, but it was strong. I think he knew the effect he had on me; perhaps it flattered him, or perhaps something about me was more attractive than I ever gave myself credit for. In any case, somehow one evening I was joining a group of them for a movie. Afterward, as I rolled down the window of my little white Escort and prepared to head for home, he loped down the street and leaned on my window frame. “So,” he said. “When we gonna go out, just you and me?”
I thought I might explode with happiness, and then…
Then I opened my mouth. “Whenever I can find the time,” I said.
That little exchange encapsulates all the romantic troubles I ever experienced. What kind of dumb answer is that?
Perhaps you’re not shocked to discover we never went out. And my romantic encounters in high school came to progressively more tragic ends. (Well. Tragic in a high school sense.) But now I recognize my escape. I was feeling wild and reckless, bewitched by freedom and hanging around a much more worldly crowd. Pushed just a breath, my life might have followed a very different trajectory, one that ended in real heartbreak instead of wounded pride that masqueraded as such.
As a mother, I now understand why a young and innocent girl might actually be attractive for the very awkwardness that causes her such agony. The world is even scarier now than it was then, the body and soul even less recognized for their beauty and goodness, and treated with even less respect. I would give a lot to shepherd my children safely through the mine field of young “love,” but I know also that there’s no teacher like an awkward, narrow escape.