Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Old Fake Fever

I had my first Valentine's Day with a boyfriend when I was in the 7th grade. It's a memory that has stayed with me. I didn't really like the guy.

For the sake of minimal privacy, let's call him Rabbit. He looked like one. He was the nerdiest guy in our class. I was the nerdiest girl. We were straight out of the "Nerds" movie with greasy hair and glasses and rabbity front teeth.

It didn't stop at looks. He was obsessed with the TV show "In Living Color." He liked to come to school with a stuffed sock and beat younger kids over the head with it. He prefaced all the boys' names with "Uncle." Except he pronounced it "Unca." So Chris was Unca Chris. Nick was Unca Nick. After getting a free poster of a kitten from the Scholastic Book Club, he drew a Hitler mustache and swastikas on it and hung it from the front of his desk, without a word of explanation to anyone.

Me? I talked without thinking. I was obsessed with Nickelodeon's "Hey Dude." At recess I sat on the blacktop with a notebook and wrote poetry and stories.

Really, who else was going to be my first boyfriend?

Now, when you have a boyfriend or girlfriend in the seventh grade, it doesn't mean much. You smile at each other. Sometimes you swing side by side on the playground. You write notes.

In the beginning, it was easy. Like having a boy for a good friend. Despite Rabbit's sock abuse and unintentional anti-semitism, he was a nice guy. Sometimes he told me that I was pretty. The compliment made my face hot and my nose smell like burning. I thought that meant that I liked him back.

Then came Valentine's Day.

The week before, Rabbit told our class that he planned some big surprise for me. The boys, being Catholic School boys, joked that the surprise was fellatio. On the bus, they told porno stories, starring Rabbit and me. I quickly grew tired of shouting at them to "shut the hell up" and sunk down low in my seat.

It suddenly occurred to me what it meant to have a boyfriend.

The morning of Valentine's Day, I pulled a trick on my mom. The old fake fever. Kids on TV were always trying it with a lamp and failing. I had discovered the right way. With the thermometer stuck in my mouth, I clutched my fist around it and gripped it TIGHT. Mom came and checked the digits, and wouldn't you know? I had a slight fever.

All day, I watched "In Search Of" with Leonard Nimoy and ate butterscotch krimpets. The morning wore on. I felt sicker and sicker.

My best friend Nikki called an hour or two after school let out. It had been her job to tell Rabbit that I didn't want to be his girlfriend anymore. 

"He came to school with this gigantic heart-shaped box of chocolates," she said. "When I told him it was over, he opened the box and threw the chocolates up in the air. All the boys were diving around, trying to catch them."

"I feel so bad," I gasped. "But I don't like him."

"You can't help how you don't feel," she said. "He just wasn't 'the one'."

She said this, as if it meeting "the one" was possible at twelve-years-old. Only nerdy girls think this way.

We wanted to meet "the one," because it would help us feel good about ourselves. Once we got boyfriends, we'd transcend all the mean things the boys at school had ever said about us. We'd love ourselves too. We'd know that deep down, we were okay.

Or so we thought.

The next day at school, Rabbit treated me as if nothing had happened. Instantly, we went back to being friends. I felt so grateful. But not so grateful that I saw the forgiveness for what it was. (Validation, maybe?) Some of the boys in our class called me a cold bitch. They said it with a smirk. I smiled proud. I liked it. It was better than being called a dork.

And then, I tripped through the rest of the non-Valentine's days of my youth to arrive at now. Here. Thirty years old. Single on Valentine's Day. What can I say?

I still feel as ugly, weird and self conscious as I did back then. I just care about it less. Today, I can see forgiving and forgetting for what it is. Someone saying, Hey, you're okay. I like you.

Thank God I don't need that anymore.

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