When I was in high school, I had a crush on a boy. It was my first crush on a boy. It was what made me realize that my ‘curiosity’ and ‘uncertainty’ weren’t going away any time soon. At a time when an adolescent realizes what it means to be truly attracted to someone, and the elation that can come with that, it was a time of sorrow for me. It meant keeping my interest to myself, lest I face further ridicule and persecution than I already was at the time for something that was becoming more and more obvious to those around me, as well as to myself. It meant I was gay.
He was a couple of years younger than I, handsome and popular, with a big, welcoming smile and an easy way about him. I had only known him since he entered high school whereas we attended different elementary schools and had not grown up together. We knew one another from shared activities, as well as a few friends in common. We weren’t really friends ourselves, more like acquaintances, but we got along okay. He sang in the high school choir, as did I, and each time I spent another 42 minutes in that classroom I would steal glances at him, watching the way his eyes lit up when he talked with others; watching the ease with which he carried on conversations and drew others to him.
I came to the realization that I had a crush on him my senior year in school. I can’t pinpoint exactly what attracted me to him. I didn’t know if it was his good looks, his charm, or the way he seemed to so easily navigate the halls of a building that felt to me like a prison, and I an inmate desperate for parole. It seemed like everyone liked him, for one reason or another. I suppose like most other adolescents, I wanted to be liked, certainly, but I never had a desire to be overly ‘popular’. I suppose that was my introversion rearing its head at an early age. Many people who have known me since then have told me they remember me being ‘quiet, but very nice.’ I had friends, I had a ‘group’ I hung around with, but I’ve never been that comfortable with socializing ‘en masse…’. I’m still not comfortable with that, even if I’m not quite as quiet as I used to be.
Not only was he popular with other boys, but with girls as well. I don’t recall seeing him without an audience of young women with cheeks blushed and eyes dancing as he plied them with his charisma. My longing was mixed with jealousy then for the consideration he gave to them, wishing against wishing that it could be me who enticed that assiduity from him. I had no idea what I’d do with his regard, should he choose to favor me with it….I was as inexperienced and unschooled a traveller on the path of passion as I was in most of life. I simply wanted him to smile at me the way he did at his female admirers. But my desires went unfulfilled and gnawed away at my heart day after day.
I hid my crush on this boy the way I hid most things: with humor, or at least my unsophisticated and fumbling attempts at it back then. I was no Oscar Wilde, despite my proclivities. I listened to the things that made him laugh or sparked his interest, and tried to insinuate myself into these conversations, and offer my artless and unrefined contributions to the chatter. I contented myself with simply being someone he seemed to find funny, and would pay some small amount of attention to, even if he suspected my real intent and behind my back the joke may have been on me.
I think the one thing I ‘regretted’ leaving behind when I graduated high school was him; or at least the ‘worshipful puppy dog’ existence I had back then as I’d follow him around, trying my best to remain an innominate and unobtrusive admirer (what would these days be deemed ‘stalking’ in many circles). I told one friend; a very close friend, about my crush on him, and she, thankfully, never mocked it or questioned it. She simply continued to love me and be my friend. It was truly the first evidence I had in life that being gay wasn’t going to be the ruination of my life, and that I wouldn’t find myself ostracized from society entirely. Over time I found many more people to surround myself with that didn’t find my being gay offensive or odd in the slightest. Over time I put my crush on him into perspective and the residual wound of unrequited love seemed to scab over for me. He became a fond memory I had, a romantic liaison that was to remain unrealized. He was never ‘the one that got away’….; more like ‘the one that wasn’t meant to be.’
Lovers came and went, as is frequently the case with youthful courtships. I gave away my heart without discretion, and learned painful lessons about ‘love’. I came to the conclusion, relatively early on, that in terms of affection I was more interested in quality than quantity, and set about looking for something more lasting and fulfilling than a night or a weekend dalliance. I learned to value and protect my heart and outgrew that naive schoolboy who first realized where his attractions lay.
One night I ventured out to a local gay bar to hang out with friends. I left the dance floor and walked out into another room in the bar to order a drink. I took my drink and stood against a column, silently watching others as they moved back and forth and carried on their pleasant banter with one another. Something, or rather someone; at the bar caught my attention as he stood and waited for his own order to be filled, and from across the dimly lit, smoke-filled miasma I thought to myself how much the young man standing there reminded me of this boy who I’d long since put on up on a shelf inside my mind as a youthful fancy. I found myself staring a bit, but went unnoticed in this, watched him interact with a friend or acquaintance of his that approached him, took notice of the familiar touch that passed between them, and it suddenly dawned on me….this young man and the one securely anchored in my memory…..were one and the same.
I recall a sense of both shock and serenity washing over me that night. This boy, now a young man, who stood just a short distance away from me, was gay….like me. It was both unnerving, to some degree, and liberating. The aforementioned scab that I’d carried for years simply fell off….just like that….even if the affection I had felt for him was still unrequited. Something about recognizing in him a similarity between us that I’d lamented for so long when I’d come to recognize my true interest in him….suddenly made it all okay. Even if he’d never paid that much attention to me….even if we’d never been the best of friends….even if I’d never had the chance to tell him that he was my very first crush in what would be the true ‘lifestyle’ I would lead, the person who brought me, albeit grudgingly, to this enlightenment of my true nature….it was okay that he’d been that person, just as much as it was okay that I was the person I was.
I approached him, re-introduced myself, and carried on an only slightly bumbling conversation with him, getting reacquainted, even briefly, several years since we’d last seen one another. His charm and affability had not faded. His smile was just as engaging and his eyes lit up just as brightly as I had relegated to my memory. He was still handsome, still charming, and yet my heart was not filled with the same wistful melancholy to realize this about him….it was filled with elation to realize that someone I’d found so alluring….was completely worthy of that devotion.
We are still connected via social media to this day. Time has done little to ravage that attractiveness, even as his once dark hair is tinted grey and his face shows, like a roadmap, the lines that we all acquire as we live our lives. We have only passing contact now, occasional ‘liking’ of one another’s status updates and such, and it’s nice to know that he’s found success in life, as well as in love. The years have been kind to him.
The years have also taught me that the often-times hurtful and onerous attractions we harbor in childhood don’t have to plague us for the rest of our lives. They’ve taught me that time; while a terrible beautician, is a very capable healer. Sometimes, no matter how difficult and strenuous childhood experiences can be….a little patience can fix a lot.
The years have also taught me something else. Yes, he’s a handsome guy…..and just as nice as he is good-looking….and I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to know him, even slightly, as an adult. But when all is said and done…..he’s really not my type. ;0)