There were crushes aplenty in the seventh grade, but it’s that age where boys don’t have any interest in girls, and if they do, they keep it to themselves or to their specific boy groups. (Unless you’re one of the popular, pretty girls. I was neither of those things.) I spent the seventh grade pining away for a boy named Tyler. He was a twin, and, even in 1997, shorter than me (who had yet to have my ceiling-bursting growth spurt…okay, I’m not that tall, but considerable compared to most of these east coast people).
Eighth grade was different. I no longer had any interest in Tyler or his social studies project on Kurt Cobain. The entire second semester of eighth grade was all about a boy named Travis, my first boyfriend as a teenager who, in the entire five months we “dated” had only kissed me once and hardly ever talked to me. Oh, middle school amour.
But before Travis, there was a creepy boy named James. Since I was always one of the last kids to be picked up from school, I was often in the company of the stoner kids who loitered near the front doors until they got bored and decided to go home and smoke their parents’ cigarettes or pot. James had chin-length dyed black hair with pale, acne-splotched skin and was a seventh grader. But his good friend Zach, who was new to the school that year and constantly buzzed around like a bumble bee on crack, sort of ran with my crowd.
Back then, boys, for the most part, creeped me out if I wasn’t totally crushing on them–like JTT. If they liked me and I wasn’t head-over-heels in 13-year-old love, I would feel sick to my stomach and hide my face behind my ubiquitous Trapper Keeper when I saw them. (Not that this happened all that much. Let’s be honest: the boys who outright liked me were considerably few. And mostly creepy.) But back to James…
This was the first James of eighth grade. The second would later corner me at a friend’s Halloween party, where I was dressed as a dead bride and wearing black Converse high tops, between a wall and a hay-bale and jam his sloppy clammy tongue down my throat. (I still shudder at the memory.) But that sunny day after school, creepster James whipped out his skateboard and taught me to do a few tricks. At the time, my bff Mary and I were infatuated with skater dudes, or at least boys who wore skater shoes and baggy jeans and listened to Nine Inch Nails. I could tell he liked me. Even at 13, a girl can tell. Especially if she doesn’t dig him. Fortunately, before he could ask me out (aka ask me to be his girlfriend), my late-ass dad rolled up in his silver POS Geo Tracker and rescued me.
But I still wasn’t safe.
Later that night, while Dad commenced with drinking himself into a stupor and pointing a hand gun at the TV while the Evening News played a clip of Bill Clinton, I got a phone call. It was James. Zach had given him my phone number. Balls to the wall, James asked me out. A total chicken-shit, afraid to disappoint anyone, I mumbled yes. James whooped on the other end of the line. I nervously said I had to go, that my dad was yelling at me (a total lie). The enthusiasm in my new boyfriend’s voice dropped, but he said, “Okay.” Then, horror of horrors, he said, “I love you.” Given that I had just learned from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” that “I love you” is a serious thing to say to someone, I was freaking out inside.
“Okay,” I mumbled.
“Now you say it,” James prodded.
My eyes flicked over to my dad, sipping wine from a mug in the living room, his attention anywhere but me. “I– I can’t,” I stammered.
“C’mon,” he said. “I need to hear you say it. Otherwise I’ll think you don’t like me.”
I honestly can’t remember if I said it or not. I probably did just to get him to shut up.
After I hung up the phone, I wanted to throw up.
“Who was that?” my dad bellowed.
“No one. Just a friend.”
I scurried into my room and tried to distract myself with television and my journal. But I didn’t sleep the entire night. I avoided James at all costs the next day, even taking the roundabout way to get to the pool for gym class so I wouldn’t have to pass down his hall and risk bumping into him. Zach made “ooh la la” eyebrows at me when we passed in the hall. But it wasn’t until the next day that he approached me and asked why I hadn’t stopped by James’s locker (it was an unspoken rule that anything less than super-popular seventh graders weren’t allowed anywhere near the eighth grade halls, lest they be glared at). I spluttered, backing into my locker, which I would have gladly crawled into had the cheap shelves holding the text books I never opened not been there. “What’s the matter?” Zach said. “You don’t want to go out with him?” I sucked in my breath. “No!” I half-shouted. “No, I don’t want to go out with him!” And that was that.
Boys can be pretty mean to girls, but the same goes for the opposite. This would come as the first in a long line of my never being able to break up with someone face-to-face. Truth. I prefer doing it over the phone. And once, even over email. Yup, when it comes to boys, I’m pretty much spineless. I generally prefer the fade — where I just stop talking to them, something I’ve learned and perfected from the boys I dated in college and my early years in New York. But, being only three years from 30, I’m working on that particular part of my guts. I swear.