Here's the text, though I can't imagine what it would be about this specific paper that doesn't work. Perhaps gremlins within wp don't like my writing :(
A Lifetime of Melissa
Last summer I became aware that, despite years of experience, my skill communicating with the opposite sex remained abysmal. During a daily walk through Omaha’s downtown I bumped into Jen, a girl from school, and we talked for a few minutes. Eventually she asked for my phone number. My sister tells me that I should have asked for her number in return at this point; instead, I stood twiddling with my cell phone, waiting for her to dial my number so I could get it off caller ID. Awkwardness built up until it reached some critical mass and I hid the phone back in my pocket, assuming that she didn’t want to share her number for some unstated, possibly sensitive reason. Delighted that she had shown interest, I forgot the awkwardness and remained in euphoria until a few weeks later when I was still waiting for her call. After regaling friends with the story, they agreed that it was a grand display of my typical incompetence.
Similar moments punctuate my past.
Life before junior high involved no female contact outside hugs from my mom or the occasional beheading of my sister's Barbies. Although puberty eventually brought a romantic awareness that still haunts me, it began as a fuzzy attraction to Starr Boes that gave nothing but amusement. I expressed my interest not with flowers or sweet nothings, but with tiny tinfoil balls carefully constructed from Hershey’s Kisses wrappers. Nate and I threw them at the back of her head during class. Starr wasn’t annoying and she tolerated the little metal projectiles well. Other girls would yell or tell Mr. Jensen, but Starr merely turned around and asked us to stop. Her exasperation always seemed upbeat, making her an ideal target for our interest and bombardment. Once, I managed to throw a large eraser across the room into her bib overalls. She opened her mouth as if to object, but only laughed and asked Mr. Jensen if she could use the restroom, while Nate and I traded high fives. I was disappointed when she changed schools the next year.
Tinfoil hurling lost its appeal when sleepovers catalyzed the change of fuzzy feelings into official declarations of liking. Eighth grade slumber parties always followed the same general outline. After playing capture the flag or soccer, we would make Totino’s Party Pizzas, which were delicious despite their tenuous connection to real pizza, and then we’d watch some movies. Eventually, we would arrange our sleeping bags and begin the delicate discussion of who likes whom by trading fart jokes and insults.
The discussion started as a question posed by one person to the whole group, and it always contained some extra condition besides just saying whom one liked. Mike would ask, “Who do you like, and what would you do on your first date?'’ Tyler might ask, “Who do you like and why?” and Landon might throw things off by asking, “Who do you hate, and what’s the worst thing you can imagine doing with them?”
Our small class rendered the ritual ridiculous. We started with around twenty-five people in first grade and dwindled as classmates moved to larger, better funded schools. Christian Center Elementary was, as its name stated, primarily an elementary school, so desertion was especially common around junior high. By eighth grade only three girls and four boys remained. This small group made possibilities for crushes within the class limited.
We only revealed the objects of our affection with an implicit understanding that everyone else had to do so as well. The mockery visited upon anyone who admitted liking a girl was great enough that no one would expose himself to it without company. If someone said that he didn’t like anyone, the group assumed that he liked the most embarrassing girl possible and was afraid to admit such. Having a ready answer was thus imperative for retaining any dignity. Mike and Landon both named girls from their church. Tyler was “dating” Charity, one of the three remaining girls, in some Christian junior high sense. It mostly entailed passed notes and evening phone calls, as neither could drive and their parents weren’t keen on chaperoning dates.
I’d brushed off the question many times. Girls only interested me in a vague sense and I’d not singled any out for special attention since Starr Boes left. Unfortunately, each time I denied liking anyone, the assumption that I liked Melissa Ewert gained momentum. She was that most embarrassing girl. She gave me the willies. I needed to like someone else before the assumptions became reality, dooming me to a lifetime of Melissa.
"Who do you like, and what would you do on your first date?" Mike asked one night, amidst rustling sleeping bags and grease stained pizza plates. Using a process of elimination, I scurried through candidates. Melissa was obviously not an option and Charity was already taken. Unlike Landon and Mike, I didn’t know any girls outside of class. That left Carrie. She was a little odd, and she had an unhealthy fascination with Pirates of Penzance, but no one else would compete for her and she wasn’t Melissa. I didn’t actually like her, so I was lucky that the night’s extra condition was “What would you do on your first date?” saving me from any need to explain my sudden infatuation.
"I think I like Carrie," I said.
Relieved of any connection to Melissa, I welcomed the incredulous chorus of "Carrie?!" After defending her, claiming that she wasn't that weird and was smarter than she seemed, I probably contrived some nerdy first date involving a space shuttle launch or Alaska. At least I was free.
That freedom led a short, if wonderful, life. Soon, pretending to like Carrie made me think about Carrie more. Then, after many sidelong glances, I convinced myself that she was cute. My liberating fake infatuation became burdensome and real. Before this infatuation, I happily avoided schoolwork by reading Tom Clancy novels and playing Sim City. My only thoughts for Carrie had been vague annoyance at her incessant pencil tapping during math. Now my every moment was centered on her and on our future together.
What precisely I thought would happen in this future is unclear. From a practical standpoint, any relationship was impossible. Although I’d been in class with her for at least six years, Carrie’s presence now caused me to cease all motion and sweat profusely. No one wants to enter a lasting relationship with a moist, inanimate blob of flesh. Nonetheless, I felt certain that were Carrie to realize just how much I liked her, we could make a great couple.
The most direct way to let Carrie know my feelings was to tell her. However, my communication with girls up to this point, as you’ll recall, had been limited to hurling little balls of tinfoil. Desperate cries of “Would you please stop throwing things at me?” were amusing, but I wanted a real relationship now. Telling Carrie that I liked her posed a difficult problem. Any time I entered a two-desk radius, simply controlling basic bodily functions became challenging. If I’d used any mental energy to speak, my bowels would have loosed. I decided to work in stages.
The first stage of revealing my feelings to Carrie was physical proximity. By altering my route to the garbage can, I could pass by Carrie’s desk multiple times every day, each time building a little more confidence. The tiniest bit of garbage warranted an expedition: bits of notebook paper, Kleenexes, pencil shavings, even tinfoil balls like those I’d once thrown at Starr Boes. A general obliviousness I maintain to this day precluded any consideration of what teachers, classmates, and Carrie thought of my eccentric trash habits. My confidence built up until I had the audacity to sit next to Carrie through the entirety of lunch. Throughout the meal my eyes were subject to an inviolable barrier directly perpendicular to my centerline; I exercised special caution by pretending that nothing to the left of that barrier existed. I am now certain that Carrie was painfully aware of my interest, but at that time I desperately wondered what the future might hold if only she realized that sitting next to a person and then ignoring that person was a sign of love.
My overtures ended with middle school; Carrie went to Roosevelt High School and I went to Sioux Falls Christian. I once saw her during an annual neighborhood-wide garage sale; she rode by on a red bicycle. A lesser person might have let the earlier trauma deter further contact, but moments after passing, she returned and rode up the driveway. She'd been cruising the rummage sales and remembered that I lived in the area. I’d progressed beyond the inanimate blob stage of conversation, but asking for phone numbers was still an act I’d only heard of in myth and legend. That she remembered my existence, much less where I lived, was enough.
That experience with Carrie should have taught me that mere proximity was not effective communication, but I've always had problems paying attention. After three months of passing the coffee shop where Jen worked on my daily walk, I realized that nothing would develop without further action. Emboldened by rejection from a girl at a different coffee shop, I was feeling reckless and stopped in to say “hi.” Remarkably, we had an entertaining conversation, I didn't order for many minutes. When she handed me a large latte instead of the small I’d ordered and said "Don't get used to it," I stood reenacting my previous cell phone fumbling until I realized she'd given me a free drink. Riding a wave of free chai and euphoria, I nearly left without her phone number again. A few days later, after saying "Hello" to my wall a few times for practice, I dialed the number she'd written on my receipt. After three agonizing rings, a man said, "Hey, this is Jeff, leave me a message." Declining Jeff's suggestion, I began to wondered if throwing tinfoil balls would be better after all.