This is a simple column by a complex
A boy fell in love with me, instead of vice versa for a change. Of course, I was only 12, what did I know of love but chasing boys around the block for a forced kiss on the cheek and dreams let go of a forever after, after one too many of them mocking barf and bark sounds on my behalf.
Forgive my lapsed memory. I’m 38. I inherited my mother’s diffused circuitry, and only if the subject matter pertains to food, am I truly 20/20 recall.
But then, I made myself forget a lot of those times, the best times of my life, truly. Even better than marrying Eddie, giving birth by C-section to James, earning my first paid byline, etc., etc.
Bobby saw something special in me, enough to break up with my next-door-neighbor friend, Cheryl, who took it out on me in a nasty Dear Carol letter comparing me to butter that spreads easily. The first inkling, I’d overheard, in a conversation between him and Thahn in a neighborhood game of kickball, after Thahn and I engaged in our usual hate-filled wordplay.
“Do you like her?” asks Bobby, quietly, but loud enough for me to catch.
“Who, Cheryl? She’s okay.” Thahn replies, meaning more but never saying.
“No,” Bobby interjects, impatiently, dismissively.
“No, her,” and he points directly at me.
“Carol?! Ugh, barf, bark, howl at the moon! I hate that ugly flat-faced Chink!” says Thahn, who, btw, is half-Vietnamese and on that day coined the phrase: Pot, meet kettle.
Around the same time frame, William – Thahn’s younger brother, a year below me – decides to favor my attentions. I’d felt very comfortable, too comfortable, around him, ever since he bounded uphill from his backyard to relentlessly tease Cheryl’s younger sister, Regina, whom I’d been playing badminton with two springs ago.
Unbeknownst to me – until decades later when I’d reconnected with William via the Internet – William used me as a means to an end, to get to Bobby, his actual schoolboy crush ... my first experience, also, as a fag hag.
A lotta firsts.
Bobby seemed to really, genuinely like me. We had fun hanging out together, mostly playing basketball or volleyball with the other kids, or just sitting on his picnic table avoiding how much we liked each other. The closest he came, teaching me to say “I love you” in German. And, late into June, at Cheryl’s older brother Steve’s instigation, leading us into the woods for privacy and safety from prying eyes, so Bobby could drum up the courage to kiss my cheek, which he did at the 11th hour like a butterfly’s wings passing me on the way toward a higher branch. When I returned home that night, too late, I received the whipping of my life from my stern father. He threw me on the bed, after punching, kicking and slapping me repeatedly, whipped out his belt and beat me for 15 minutes straight while calling me a whore like my mother.
I would get into a lot of trouble, and earn a lot of whippings.
But I would’ve done anything then to be closer to two boys whom I believed fell equally for me at the same time, playing out the soap opera of my dreams, little ole doggy face nobody me, the one people ignored or laughed at, I might as well have been born with a birth defect or at least a penis shooting out of my ass.
According to Bobby, we spent six nice months together. The other day, as nostalgia hit, I reread his inscription (for the hundredth time) in my Newcomb Middle School, Pemberton Township yearbook, circa 1977, the one with the sunset and the gold filaments (as is, he wrote in caps):
I HOPE YOU’VE HAD A NICE
HALF O’YEAR WITH ME, EVEN THOUGH I DID NOT POP THE QUESTION. WE HAD (I
THINK) A LOT OF FUN. SO LONG, I HOPE YOU LIKE HAWAII. SOMEDAY I WOULD LIKE
TO COME AND SEE YOU AND I WOULD APPRECIATE IT IF YOU WOULD BE THERE.
He never did, and thanks to the terrorists of 9/11, he never will.
At the time, about five months pregnant with James, it didn’t occur to me to check the Internet for a victims’ list. I don’t have many friends, past and present, and frankly, what would be the point? So, I found out about his demise a year later, while randomly doing Google searches on former childhood friends. His name popped up immediately in association with the missing and presumed dead in the Pentagon hit.
Slowly, as if in a dream of a car accident, I read his full name, the middle name he refused to let anyone but me in on, his surviving wife Annette and daughter Faith, his impressive bio, Sunday School teacher, soccer coach, decorated Naval officer, successful contracting business, beloved son, brother, friend, and there, his tombstone, purple heart, numbers on a page.
Like most dramas in my cartoonish life, the full brunt of the loss hit me later, in layers, pieces, until recently, about a month ago, when a 2nd post-9/11 dream of him had me wandering inside the bereaved mind of his wife Annette, whom he met in high school as they, together, found Christ and redemption, places they’d been, relived, mourned.
I’m in mourning now, a kind of resurrection of a childhood loss I’d never quite recovered from. Because when my father suffered his first heart attack in the middle of a May midnight, and prepared us for a retirement in either Germany or Hawaii—where we’d been stationed three years prior in Ft. Shafter—I had to leave the only happiness I’d ever known, a happiness born out of an unconditional acceptance into the human race by a very normal, very decent, very kind and wonderful boy next door.
For once, someone else noticed me out of a crowd, for me, not my flat-faced Chink looks, courted me, considered me. The way he would, could teach the rest of the suitors, including my husband. In the school cafeteria or in 7th grade English Honors class, every single day until summer started, he’d stare across the room at me, for just a glimpse, then, when I stared back, he turned, grinned, blushed. Everybody in the school, in our neighborhood, knew he liked me. A lot. He made no bones about it.
When he looked at me, and when I looked back, I saw nothing but regard. The first time in my pathetic life, I felt loved and cherished in a way my parents, my brother, couldn’t possibly fathom.
How could I walk away
from that? Easy, I was only 12 to his 13, and as a child, I had no rights,
no control. I had to do as my father ordered, and leave, which we did late
this, the best part of my life, in the many futures of my darkest hours.
As I recall, I took a dump in the shoebox that contained his one letter and William’s seven or eight, including a Valentine’s Day card.
The hurt remained embedded within me for years and years to come, almost physically palpable. Through college, into my mid-20s. Whenever I heard a basketball bouncing in someone’s driveway, someone say sore-y for sorry, saw a flash of blonde, a sunset, “Logan’s Run,” Michael Moriarty, Tom Keane, Damian Lewis, smelled strawberry and sweat, Black Forest Cake...I thought instantly of Bobby.
And the frustration of being unable to see, hear and smell him again, feel loved and cherished again, made me want to cry, bang my head against the wall, have sex with nameless strangers, scream until I passed out, perform any number of self-destructive acts just to reach oblivion. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to a stalker, a stalker without his contact number, without any way to reach him whatsoever.
At some point in between my lonely cycles of abandonment, I resigned myself to drop the subject, stop mentioning his name (my brother would forever mock me five days into Sunday over this specific failing), and just settle.
For awhile there, I succeeded.
I made myself believe in the clichés. Life goes on. Time heals all wounds. We were just kids. Nothing lasts forever. It was puppy love. He forgot all about you the same and worse than William (who had no idea who I was when I e-mailed him out of the blue in 1997, but certainly remembered Bobby as the one who got away) had. William’s supposed lies were taken at face value, that Bobby had grown tired and bored of me before I’d even left, that William had tried to remind Bobby of me and gotten the brush-off, and Bobby had already found an easy replacement. Men were all the same, bullshit artists, maybe I’ll go gay.
Seventy-five percent of the dedications, the inspirations, the lame poetry, came because of him. Still. Every song is him. Every man who symbolized a super-intelligent android-like loner on the verge of heroism, a world apart and strangely inviting with few words but much definition, had his template. Men I’d pursue had some aspect of him, purely a subconscious thing. Eddie actually resembles him, but with red hair and darker eyebrows.
Silly me, I thought Bobby and I were over. In the romantic sense, sure. We really were just kids, after all. I feel for his loved ones, and am envious in that they had ample opportunity to be blessed by his presence.
But in every other sense that matters, lives and breathes, never. For I mourn not just Bobby, but who and what he represented, a golden childhood, a magical promise, that delicious sense of pleasant surprise just when you’re treadmilling around town by rote thinking that’s all there is, shrug, accept your lot in life... WHAM! ...
He loves me.
He said so in German.
I never returned the favor, not so much as my hand on his.
So here it is, a four-page three-letter tribute to the only boy who captured my heart and soul, and took them with him to heaven.
Yes, Bobby, it was fun.
ich liebe dich
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