Thursday, November 15, 2012

Confessions Of A Love Whore

During my freshman year at an all-male Catholic high school, I was infatuated with a straight classmate. As in past entries, I refer to him as "James", because he so strongly resembled my teen romance ideal: James Marsden. James was only in two of my classes, and we never hung out off campus because he lived in another city. Yet I spent the next several years of my life in love with him—even though I never saw him again after the ninth grade. 

Just over a year ago, I rediscovered a love letter that I wrote to James back in high school. I never sent it, but I decided to share it with the world, because  it captured being hopelessly in love and hopelessly sixteen in a way that is universally relatable regardless of gender or sexuality. I timed its posting with the anniversary of Madonna’s Confessions On A Dance Floor, because I love that album like no other and wanted to underline that with an extra special blog post. This year, as the first in a series of deeply personal new entries, I thought I would celebrate “Confessions Day” by sharing the sobering follow-up to my unrequited high school love story. For some of you, it may turn out to be as empathetic as last year’s post, if less nostalgic and more humiliating.




I was convinced that James had feelings for me during that first year of high school, based on many brief but seemingly revealing exchanges. Even accounting for my overemotional adolescent perspective, I don’t doubt I was a little bit right: he was straight, but there still appeared to be something between James and I when we were fifteen...despite of our lack of any physical contact. It was fleeting and youthful, so much so that it would not have lingered on in the memories of people like James who live and grow in the real world. But for a cinematically inclined escapist such as myself, the experience was an unbelievably potent high, and I refused to leave it in my past. So I shed any semblance of shame and relentlessly pursued this literal dream romance. That is, until what began so subtly in our freshman year of high school came to an operatic finish in our freshman year of college.

I spent my sophomore and junior years waiting for my secretly admired to phone me out of the blue, revealing he’d been in love and waiting for my call until it became unbearable to harbor his feelings any longer. After two years of that never happening, I spent much of senior year trying to arrange an opportunity to hang out, hopeful that we could reignite a friendship if I could hide my feelings long enough to make him fall in love with me. Every effort to see one another failed, and I should have left it at that. But I could not allow myself to believe that James would not love me one day. I knew that to an outsider (which, at thirty-one, is what I am today) all of this would appear crazy. But to my eighteen year old self, the craziness was precisely what made it feel so romantic. Or, should I say, “so romantic comedy”.





By the first year of the 21st century, everyone but James knew about my feelings for James. Endlessly bemoaning the hole in my heart took its toll on my social life in the first semester of college, and never more than on New Year's Eve 2000. I was lonely and depressed, so I deliberately avoided Midnight by sitting in a movie theater by myself for the late show of The Family Man. It was my second viewing of the Brett Ratner film in which Nicolas Cage was a wealthy businessman who found happiness in an alternate reality where he’d married and had children with his great love, played by Tea Leoni.  At that time, I was living a life of privilege and being afforded opportunities that I would not be able to fully appreciate until many years later. But I was consumed by the perceived void left behind when James went to a new school and I turned him into a benchmark which no other guy could match. I constantly dreamed of giving up all the monetary perks of my life in order to be with him, if only because such a sacrifice, I thought, would prove that my love had always been real.

My freshman year at Emerson College, and James’s first year in the military, both coincided with the peak of AOL Instant Messenger’s popularity. Somehow I got a hold of James’s screen name on there, and before long we were, like in my dreams come true, "talking" all the time. 
Right after Valentine’s Day 2001, following weeks of daily correspondence, I decided to throw caution to the wind and tell James everything. And when I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING. What I wrote was not that far off from my unsent love letter in its massive length and total shamelessness. But the difference was that what was sweet when I was sixteen was desperate when I was nineteen. I shared the unsent love letter with the world because I thought it was relatable for anyone who remembers being that age and feeling those feelings. But I cannot bring myself to ever re-read the one that I did send.

James did not get to read the letter for several days, during which time we continued chatting online regularly. Then, one afternoon, I decided to escape my anticipation anxiety with film that I felt paralleled my longing: John Cromwell’s 1934 Bette Davis-Leslie Howard adaptation of W. Somerset Maughm’s Of Human Bondage. It was my second viewing, having seen the film two years prior when I began appreciating the films that made Bette Davis a star. But that day, it was not a piece of cinema history. It was a piece of reflective glass, and it was my life that was being reflected. 





As soon as it ended, I went from my living room to my bedroom, where my pre-wireless laptop was connected to the modem. My AIM Away Message was onscreen, awaiting a response from James. That day, the message was a quote from Edgar G. Ulmer’s film noir classic Detour.

“That’s life: whichever way you turn, fate sticks out a foot to trip you.”

There was no word from James when I got to my laptop, but seconds later, before I could look away from the screen, his response appeared before my eyes. I don’t remember all of what he wrote, except that it was the longest piece of text I’d ever seen on AOL Instant Messenger written by anyone but me. Only the Cliffs Notes version remains in my mind: that he appreciated my friendship and respected me tremendously as a person but that he didn’t share these romantic feelings and would not be comfortable continuing to communicate with me at that point in his life. He was never anything but respectful, kind, classy….all the traits that made me fall for him in the first place. He did not respond the way I had dreamed of, but he wished me well on the rest of my life journey. Had I respected his wishes, we might have crossed paths down the line and formed some sort of friendship as mature adults. I should have left things there, because his message, while unbelievably disheartening, gave me the chance to quit while I was (sort of) ahead.

Alas, I had to continue playing the role, in my mind, of the hopelessly-in-love ingĂ©nue who would stop at nothing until she won the heart of her leading man. We shared our last correspondence mere minutes after I’d watched Bette Davis die onscreen in Of Human Bondage, and yet I was still convinced that my relationship with James was following a screwball comedy archetype. At the time, I thought I was being quirky. I now realize I was overbearingly obsessive. I continued to send long emails. I uncovered his new AIM contact information after he changed screen names.  I even tried to buy his love the following Christmas by mailing him a gift: a CD book containing twenty favorite movies on forty Video CDs. The package, and its included letter, was opened and returned to me, minus any written response. From that moment on, I feared I was, to James, becoming the star of a different kind of film. The movie collection looked like a generous peace offering when I mailed it out. But it looked more like a threat than a gift when it was spat back at me. I trembled at the thought that James now saw me as Jessica Walter in Play Misty For Me, whereas all along I saw myself as Madonna in Who’s That Girl. Mainstream audiences clearly never appreciated the outrageous charm of Who's That Girl the way that I did. And James, clearly, did not find anything charming about my outrageous persistence.





Eighteen months after the worst Christmas gift idea of my life, I had finally purged this infatuation from my system. Prior to that, every few months I would find myself unable to resist emailing self-indulgent letters to James, letters that inevitably were really being written to/for myself.  With each letter I was deliberately inviting him to loathe me, instead of wanting him to love me. At that time in my life, the former came much easier to me than the latter, and I knew it would for James, too. I hoped we could share, if nothing else, that same contempt. As I grew to forgive and love myself for acting in such an over-the-top manner, I moved past that moment in my life, and opened the door to meeting my best friend and entering my first relationship. I don’t know if James ever did end up hating me, but I have often hoped that he forgot me.

The conclusion of my story about the young man I refer to as “James” may not be what some readers of last year’s entry had hoped for. It certainly was not what I was hoping for when I was a teenager. But today, I’m thankful for the way things turned out. In interviews collected in the book The Girl Who Walked Home Alone, Bette Davis told author Charlotte Chandler that “a watched telephone never rings”. I know that firsthand from the years I wasted as a lonely teenager relishing the role of “lonely teenager” far too much. Admitting my defeat forced me to finally acknowledge and improve upon the aspects of my personality that are adorable onscreen but destructive in real life. And, combined with my ABBA love, it gave me a unique appreciation that eventually lead to “Hung Up” becoming my favorite Madonna single of all time.






No comments:

Post a Comment