Saturday, June 2, 2012

Fifteen Candles

When I was fifteen, I had a first love. And fifteen years ago today, I laid eyes on that first love for the last time. It was June 2nd, 1997, and I saw the side of his face for a split second while he was walking out of the classroom after finishing a math final exam ahead of me. We had made eye contact briefly before the exam, when I came into the classroom and caught his attention right away. I'm pretty sure it's because I was painted orange: I gave myself a spray-on tan in hopes it would make me irresistible. It didn’t. But my cartoonish appearance prompted my last glimpse of the face I associate with "first love". When he walked out, I didn't see his face, just a whoosh out of the corner of my spying eye. But I still remember what I heard in my head as he disappeared: "And that was the last time I ever saw him." The voice wasn't mine, not at that age. For years I was haunted by it, and wondered if I heard myself in the future, as though I were starring in a "Wonder Years"-ish reenactment of my life. I still don't know.

All I do know is that that voice was correct.

I've posted vintage writing about my first taste of romance to this blog twice before, in the form of a paper I wrote at twenty-one and an unsent love letter that was written when I was sixteen During the last three years of high school and throughout all of college, my unrequited teen love at an all boys' Catholic school was the most recurrent topic of my creative writing, both in and out of the classroom. This piece, written for a religion class in the 10th grade, was the first time I ever wrote about him. I wrote it as honestly as possible so that it could be a keepsake for my emotions. Then I went back and switched the gender and tweaked the details to mask my sexuality. With each paper that delved into this subject, I exerted less and less effort to hide myself. By college, there was no shame whatsoever in my creative confessionals--for better or for worse. This version presents the "honest" account, as originally written, but with the name changed to "James" as a nod to my other great unrequited love in high school: James Marsden.

I wrote this when I was sixteen years old and related way too much to Sixteen Candles. As with everything I wrote about first love at that time, the cynical thirty year old I've become can’t resist the urge to laugh at my shamelessness and naiveté. I survived middle school thanks in large part to John Hughes and Molly Ringwald. And thanks to the perfection of their first film, I spent high school waiting for my ‘Jake Ryan’ to return when I needed him most.

Bob Jeffrey 2/23/98

Value Sheet Essay
                        The Most Unforgettable Person In My Life
I have been fortunate enough to have a great deal of unforgettable people in my life. My parents have had a tremendous influence on me, and have loved and supported me every day of my life. I am also very close to all of my family members, and I have been blessed with many great friends. Yet the most unforgettable person in my life is someone who entered my world unexpectedly, changed my whole life, and then left as “cinematically” as he came.
I still remember the first time that I ever saw James. I was sitting in math class, feeling nervous and vulnerable because of my new setting. It was my first full week of being at St. John’s Prep, having just put behind me two painful years of Masconomet Junior High. I had lived a “social nightmare” at Masco, and my greatest fear was that because it had transformed me into this shy, insecure, almost reclusive teenager who found himself no longer trusting anyone, St. John’s would be like Masco revisited. I looked up from whatever it was that I wa doing, and I saw an absolutely beautiful person walking up to the teacher .He had short, dirty blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and soft, pouty lips. I sat there staring at him, all the while trying to make myself at least somewhat inconspicuous. I had a crush on him immediately, despite the fact that I knew nothing about him. Who knew that that beautiful, mysterious stranger would go on to become the love of my life.
I realized later that day that this “stranger” was also in my gym class. Gym was always my least favorite class, but once I learned that we were sharing the same class together, I immediately began trying my hardest to become at least somewhat athletic. I really wanted to impress him rather than come across as a scrawny little nerd who was always screwing up the game.
I began listening in math class to find out what his name was, and learned that his name was James. I saw James a lot in class and in the hallways, but never actually said anything to him. Yet I found myself noticing that we often made eye contact, and sometimes I would see him looking at me in the same “fascinated” way that I was looking at him. This seemed illogical to me since we had never actually spoken, and since I was neither attractive nor outgoing. As time went on, though , it became undeniable that we seemed to have a certain “connection” going on, just through eye contact. Then one day I was walking through an empty hallway at school when I noticed him approaching. I was nervous, but excited at the same time because I knew that this was an opportunity for me to finally converse with him. We merely said “Hey” to one another, but the word had a much deeper meaning at that moment than it ever had before. When we said it, we were staring right into one another’s eyes, and there was a certain flirtatious, almost erotic feeling in the air as if we were both madly in love with one another and knew it, yet for some incomprehensible reason we wanted to hide it. Part of this was likely fear, and part of it may have been a game of “hard-to-get”.
That greeting was definitely the spark of our friendship. Over the coming weeks, we gradually got to know each other better in Math and Gym class. Despite the fact that we were friends, I couldn’t help but be intimidated by his “social status”. James was extremely popular and well-liked, and while I wasn’t exactly unpopular anymore, I was far from being King of the Prom. James never gave me any reason to feel intimidated, though. In fact, he gave me every reason to feel anything but intimidated. Whenever I was called on in Math class and didn’t know the answer, he’d whisper it to me. Whenever I performed miserably in gym, he’d help me to do better, and he was always boosting my morale whenever I felt like I could never improve athletically. As our friendship grew, I realized that I didn’t have a crush on James. I was in love with him. It wasn’t teenage puppy love, nor was it just a sexual attraction. It was bona fide, old fashioned, true romance. I thought about him every minute of every day, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him in school, and often at night I would have dreams about professing my feelings of undying love to him. So many times before in my life I had thought that I was in love, and I probably was. Yet while the love I had felt for “the others” was real, it wasn’t true. When I saw James, I saw the man with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I knew that James was, without a doubt, The One.
In spite of my feelings for James, I tried my hardest to hide my love from him. I was fearful of rejection, and feared that if I told him how I felt about him it would end our friendship. I couldn’t risk losing what I already had, and so I never revealed my love. Still, he did give me a lot of reason to think that he might feel the exact same way about me that I did about him. James was sort of a “tough kid”, and often hung around with that type of crowd. I really wasn’t, but I tried to act like I was to impress him. He was never really fazed when I would act this way, and he always treated me the same. When we would speak, he was always very kind, soft-spoken, and easygoing, which was quite different from the way that he might act with his friends. He was always very supportive and a great listener, and I still treasure the conversations that we had together. Towards the end of the year, when he joined a second semester religion class I was taking, I began to notice the reoccurrence of The Eye Game. One day in religion we were having a class discussion, and so the desks were arranged in a semi-circle. James was sitting directly across from me, and as usual I was gazing at him with every chance I got. Once again, I found that he was very often staring right back. Several times I would look up and meet his eyes. Sometimes he would look right away, other times he would wait a few seconds and keep staring. We continued this flirtatious behavior throughout the whole class, and it felt like we were both fully aware of what we were doing. Nonetheless, we never actually spoke of it.
In May of that year, I learned that James was leaving the school. To this day I don’t know why he left, but he had already had his files transferred and was set to start there in September. I was devastated when I heard him talking about this with some of his friends in religion class. Still, as always, I hid my feelings and didn’t let them know that I had even heard what they were saying.
That night, I wrote James a letter. I didn’t actually tell him that I loved him, but I did tell him that I had heard he was leaving and that I wanted to let him know that he had been an amazing friend to me that year, and that our friendship had really meant a lot to me. I left my number at the bottom of the letter, and said that I would really love to hear from him that summer if he ever got a chance. I held on to that letter for the last several weeks of school, and anxiously awaited the last day of school so that I could send it out. I didn’t want to send it out before school ended because I was worried that it would make our relationship somewhat uncomfortable in school I thought that maybe this letter would help make him realize that I loved him, or at least that it would strengthen our friendship and help to lead to something else.
The last time we spoke was about a week before school ended and our meeting was hauntingly reminiscent of our first “conversation”. It was in another empty hallway. I saw him walking towards me, only this time when he saw me, I am almost sure that I could see a smile light up across his face from ear to ear. We said that usual “Hey” to one another, only there was a certain feeling of happiness and love there that was more evident than ever. A week later, it was the last week of school, the end of that fateful year we had shared together. I walked into my first final exam, and unknowingly looked right at him. At that moment, our eyes met once again. As I was finishing my exam, I looked up just quick enough to glimpse him walking out the door, though he didn’t see me. After that day, I never saw James again.
            All summer long I waited for that fateful phone call, but never received it. I was so worried that perhaps he was offended somehow by the letter and that he hated me now and that we would never be friends again .I suppose my fears were a result of my own insecurity, for James certainly didn’t give me any reason during the year to feel this way. The three months of summer vacation went by fast, and during that whole period I never once took James off of my mind. Despite my secret devotion, I never heard from him over vacation.
            It was September 16th, four days before my birthday. I had just gotten home from school, and my Mom told me that there was a message from “James” on the answering machine. I have several friends with that name, so I hoped and prayed that it would be The James. Before I could go to listen to the answering machine, the phone rang and my Mom answered it. She said that a “James” was on the phone but she didn’t quite pick up his last name. Immediately, I knew he had called. I nervously picked up the phone, and was immediately soothed by the sound of his voice which was as soft and gentle as it was during all of our conversations in school .He called to thank me for the letter, and we ended up talking for a half an hour about the previous year of school and about his new school and about many other things I did my best not to lead him on about my true feelings, maybe even going too far to hide exactly what I wanted so much for him to know. Nonetheless, we had a terrific conversation and that day remains to be one of the best days of my life. All that night I felt completely optimistic, teeming with child-like joy and so very, very much in love. Sadly, that was the last time that I talked to James.
            Every day since then, I have prayed that we will be reunited and that we will be together forever. I still love James more than ever, and I know that he is The One, the one with whom I want to spend the rest of my life. I went into St. John’s Prep a scared boy and came out a confident man who finally knew what love really was. James changed my life in a way that no one else ever could have, and that no one else ever will again. I don’t have a girlfriend, or a boyfriend for that matter, nor do I have much desire to have one because James is the one I love. It simply wouldn’t be fair to the other party or to myself to go out knowing that there was someone else I wanted to be with. Very few people know about James. It has always been my own secret love story, but I know that it is, in fact, a love story that is just beginning. I firmly believe that we will be together again, and that when we are, we will stay that way forever. 

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