Friday, June 5, 2009

the things we choose to ignore...

Today I passed this young couple in an outdoor mall. They were holding hands in the interlocking-finger fashion. In my life I must have seen thousands, maybe even a million, couples holding hands and walking. But for some reason today, this particular couple reminded me of the very first time I ever held hands with a boy.

His name was Mark. I was a freshman in high school. Mark was a senior, and the lead piper on the bagpipe squad. I know it seems weird to say this, but his bagpipe skills were outrageously good; the boy could wail. In fact, he performed this solo at graduation later that year that impressed us all. His fingers moved like hummingbird wings over the stops, fluttering to create this quick-paced melody which transported us back in time and place, a time and place where burly men wore skirts every day and ate mutton stew and liked it. So I was extremely flattered one day in the autumn when Nancy, a fellow Highland Dancer, told me that Mark had a crush on me.

I’d never had a boyfriend ever. More than that, I’d never even had a boy pretend to be my boyfriend, or rumor that he was going with me, or steal a kiss during P.E. and run back to his friends, or anything. The closest thing to it came when, in eighth grade, Trent asked me for the stupid pink barrette I’d worn in my hair that day. He asked for it so he could wear it in his black, feathered hair to make the other kids laugh. (I liked Trent major, so of course I nearly died of hyperventilation in the girls bathroom moments following the transaction.) As far as male attention of the romantic ilk, that was it. So here in my first year of high school, to learn that a boy, a senior boy, had an actual, bona fide, personally declared, openly-defined Crush on me was almost beyond comprehension.

Soon after Nancy’s disclosure, I had a letter passed to me in the band room in first period. That’s right, the band room. It was from Mark. The first thing I noticed about it was he had very feminine-looking handwriting. The second thing I noticed was he wrote it in pencil. A true musician. I don’t remember exactly what the note said but, to summarize, this lead bagpiper, Mr. Lungs, wanted to be my boyfriend. At the end of class, I met him at the door and told him yes.

My first boyfriend! This was awesome! Right then and there, he asked to walk me to my next class. I said okay. And then…Mark took my hand, interlocked my fingers with his, and we headed for the A Building.

We walked across campus holding hands. Something you see every day, I know, but for me this was mind shattering. I had never, NEVER, walked with a boy, as my boyfriend, to a class, holding hands. With people around! People saw us holding hands! That means they think we’re boyfriend and girlfriend! Because we are! We were “going” together, ya’ll. The kicker? I didn’t even like him. Felt absolutely nothing for the guy.

I was blown away that a boy liked me, and that he’d admitted it to someone aloud. I was further mind-blown by the fact that he did something about it! He asked me to go with him! So what was I supposed to say, no? No, I won’t seize this entirely new and exciting enterprise, all because I’m not even remotely attracted to this person, or have had any real connection with the guy prior to this blessed day? Sure, the note he’d given me represented the most words he’d ever spoken to me, and we’d never so much as spent an afternoon hanging out together, but so what? It’s a boyfriend! In all honesty, I’m not sure if I understood back then that in order to date someone, first you have to like them. To my naive adolescent mind, all that was required was he had to ask. Don’t trifle with small matters such as my own feelings about him. Just date the dude! He said he wanted to! Sadly, there are times, even as a grown woman, when I recognize that first impulse inside me to not disappoint a man who shows interest. At fourteen, however, it was more than an impulse; I truly didn’t know to do any different.

I’d had this wah-wah feeling in my stomach the moment Nancy told me. I ignored it. The stomach feeling came back the moment he took my hand, but even still I went along with it. I remembered all the hookups from junior high, the boys and girls making out in the back of science class during the movie on cellular osmosis, and thinking…what in the world does that feel like? Does it feel like you’re going to be sick? Walking down the hall holding hands with Mark made me want to put my head between my knees, what does kissing do to you? I guess you learn to live with it, I thought. I guess you don’t mind the nausea after a while. You keep holding the guy’s hand and call it good. I resolved to forget what wasn’t comfortable about being Mark’s girlfriend, the whole didn’t-want-to thing, and forge ahead.

I made it a week. By the following Monday I had prepared to break up with him in the most staggeringly mature manner my fourteen year-old self could invent. I wrote him a note, and passed it to him in the band room, first period. My heart was pounding, and I dared not look behind me. I wondered if he’d start crying, or maybe throw a music stand. Not much time passed before I got a tap on the shoulder, and someone handed me my note back. He’d written on the back side of the paper his reply. He said it was okay, that he understood. No drama whatsoever. And after that, we never really spoke again.

Later that year at graduation, listening to his amazing bagpipe solo, I felt proud to have been his girlfriend for a whole week. The hands making that music were the same hands that wanted to hold mine. Never mind I didn’t like him; he had liked me. And I was proud of that.


Sylvia said...

Thanks for posting, Mary. You're such a gifted writer - reading your posts is always a real treat. :-)

(P.S.: If you had been 22-23 and me, you would have ended up marrying the guy because it wouldn't have occurred to you that your own feelings mattered. Yikes.)

colleenita said...

Mar! I love this so much.

Anonymous said...

Mary@McCormick: What a great post. Isn't it funny how we used to think? I can remember the same sort of feelings back in high school but never really thought about it. Ohh those terrible ackward high school days.