Biomythography - Note 27.2
Hesitation and Fear of Rejection
During a month of talking with a girl at school, I developed a crush. It was a heavy, serious thing. She became the best part of my day. We could talk about anything and everything. We often did. Her mind was quick. Her smile flashed. She hugged her textbooks in front of her when she laughed.
I longed to make her smile, to keep her entertained, thoughtful, and happy. Her opinion mattered. Every time I saw her in the hall or outside my classroom, my soul eased. When she glanced my way and smiled, it raised my pulse.
I wanted to express how I felt. My problem was that she hung out with a group of us, talking, flashing those smiles, and growing on all of us as the best part of our school lives. She was Chinese-American but then a couple of my friends were, too, so it didn't seem weird - not that any ethnic differences would have occurred to me. (Maybe they should have but I was fourteen. A lot of aspects of life hadn't come into my limited field of view including large social barriers that no one would think I could miss.)
There seemed to be a distinct likelihood to me, however, that this girl didn’t like me so much as she enjoyed our group of friends.
To make the prospect of revealing my crush more intimidating, sometimes she hung out with other girls who were also well dressed and smart. She stood off to the side often, holding a book and making witty comments. Then I would get cut off from her for half a day. I would muse about my unhappy life and write bad poetry. Later, I would see her through the door to my history class and she would notice me and turn with a grin.
And I grinned back and thought cheerful thoughts about her for an hour. Fuck the middle ages. I had that smile to think about.
One afternoon, a group of us sat talking between classes. A couple of the well-dressed young women came over to sit down with us. It wasn't so unusual that anyone raised an eyebrow. But I did get a sense that something was different.
"Have you thought about prom?" one of the well-dressed girls asked. She turned to me, scanned the group of us, and finished by looking at me.
"Not really." It was a thirty-five mile commute to school. And the prom was at school. There was nothing appealing about that.
"Well, maybe you should." She nodded to me. Apparently I looked slow on the uptake. "You really should."
My immune system was hyperactive as a teen and it made me impervious to some things that others could catch, like hints. But even I got the essential idea from the conversation. It did occur to me, at last, that there would be one thing appealing about the prom. And I knew who it was.
There was only one problem: she was going to reveal her disdain for me because my friends were better. Or my friends would hate me for daring to ask her. In fact, maybe there was a more pressing problem: me. I could imagine a lot of things going wrong. I could barely imagine anything going right.
Fortunately, two days later someone said something casually mean to me. It wasn't anything too bad, but it was meant to be an insult. To my surprise, she wheeled on our mutual friend and defended me. For the rest of the day, I replayed the event in my head. My mouth kept falling open. She had spoken up for me, had actually said good things about me right in front of other people.
Really, I knew I should admit to her how much I liked her.
This was different from kissing the girl across the street in elementary school or flirting and splashing with girls in the neighborhood pool or holding hands with my crush in sixth grade. All of that had taken place a long, long time before. Or so it seemed. For sure, it was before I entered this school of impressive kids from impressive families.
I knew. But I spent a week anyway, agonizing over how asking her would ruin my life. Finding out she didn't like me would do that. I had to resign myself to having my life ruined. What was so good about it anyway? Trash it. I could always jump off the bridge over the creek at home and die. But asking her wasn't as simple as falling from a bridge. I spent days trying to get her alone for thirty seconds. That was a challenge. Every time I started, our friends would see us and run up.
Finally, on a nice day, our teachers decided to take their classes outside. I saw my crush heading down the stairs early. I trailed her like the most incompetent spy ever. Out of breath, I caught up to her when she was sitting on the concrete rise that held up a garden bed.
She seemed a little more distant today, more hidden behind the books in her arms. But I had grown determined.
"I've been thinking," I started.
"Really?" She could be sarcastic like all of us in the school.
"I'd like to take you to the prom."
"Oh. That." She looked down at the sidewalk for a moment. When she looked up, she glared. "You know, I wish you had asked two weeks ago."
"Because I wanted to go to the prom with you." She was angry. I was crushed to feel it. "Now someone else has asked."
"Oh. So you're going with him?" Oddly, I wasn't as hurt by this idea. At least she'd be happy.
"No." She chose her words carefully. "I said I wouldn't go and that I didn't want to go."
What did that mean? Was she free to go out with me or not? I waited to hear the answer. After a few seconds, though, I realized nothing more was coming.
"So you don't want to go?" That seemed the most likely answer given the expression on her face.
"If I go with you, he'll know I lied."
"Yeah." I knew the mutual friend of our she was talking about. He probably already understood that she had lied to let him down easy. But if he had proof, he'd never let it go. He would never stop reminding her that she'd lied.
For a minute, I tried to coax her into following her heart and bluffing through our social circle bullshit. But hardly any words came out of my mouth, in fact. I had no social bluff of my own. Anyway, it was hard to look at her being unhappy and know that it was largely my fault.
She was adamant about honesty, too. She had always been strict with herself and her friends about it, too. Everybody. No lying.
"We have to go to class," she told me.
"Yeah." I was late already. My class had gathered underneath a tree. No need to make her late, too. I wandered off in the direction of the crowd. It took me a few seconds on the edge of the group before I could make myself ready to enter the circle of other students, though.
This was the second time as a teenager I'd gotten a lesson about social timing, And maybe about honesty. But that wasn't enough for me to learn.