To set up this story, you have to know a bit about where I am from. I grew up in the Central Valley of California, between fields of corn, rice, and cotton with dairies and orchards all around. When your nearest neighbors are old farmers that are still a couple of country blocks away, you learn to appreciate the social aspects of school, no matter how positive or negative they might be. That being said, all I wanted to do was to make friends and be accepted.
We were rather isolated growing up. My parents worked hard to support us and my sister was always buried in the books, so I was left to my devices which normally revolved around music, movies, and video games.
Our elementary/jr. high school was placed smack dab in the middle of all those aforementioned farms and ranches, and while we only had around 80 kids in our 8th grade class total, most of them were either the offspring of the richer farm owners, or the poorer kids which included the migrant worker’s children and a few others such as myself.
While I had started going to that school since 3rd grade and knew all the kids rather well, only a few of them I would have called my friends. We were the geeky, video game playing, rock music listening, comic book collecting few. While we sometimes mingled with the rich kids, it was mostly because they needed us to do their homework for them. Once we were in 8th grade, I had gotten smart enough to make some extra pocket cash off of them from charging a couple of bucks to copy my work. This at least gave me access to some snacks and soda or whatever. What I lacked in money, I made up for in brains.
That was all well and good, but in the end all we really wanted was to belong to the group. We wanted to be accepted by the rich and popular kids, no matter how much we acted as if we did not care about their opinions. Now, what made this difficult was the fact that I was always a rather tall and chubby kid. By this time I was already 6’1, somewhat overweight, not huge, but I did not flatter much because I wore sweat pants and baggy shirts everyday. I could not find pants that were comfortable to my awkward size, so sweat pants were the way to go. This made me a huge target for ridicule of course.
I mean, not only did I not have decent looking clothes, they were not name-brand, top of the line stuff. We also could not afford to get my nice sneakers or the name-brand backpacks that most of the other kids had, so therefore I was even more of an outcast. Like I stated before, I was overall a happy child, but I just wanted to belong. Add that to the fact that my hormones had recently started raging out of control to that point where even the slightest touch from a girl could set you off, and I was not comfortable in my on skin.
To move on though, 8th grade started off as most years did, nothing special, just back to school stuff. While we were trying to figure out all of the new comics and cards to trade with each other, we were also trying to gauge where we stood with everyone again. About a month into the year, a new girl appeared at our school. We will call her Annie for this story.
I was immediately drawn to Annie, not due to a sexual attraction even though she was cute, but due to the fact that she was wearing some kind of grunge band t-shirt. I cannot remember for the life of me what band it was, but it was that signal, that flag that we wear on our chest. Your t-shirt was a way to signal to others things you were into, hoping to get a response. Add that to the fact that I knew how hard it was to be the new kid, I reached out to her within the first few days.
We immediately hit it off. She was obviously one of us outsiders that was not into designer jeans and top-40 music. She was someone that was into rock, movies, and Star Wars. Up to that point I had never met a chick that was into Star Wars before like us geeks were. This was an immediate point of convergence.
Needless to say Annie and I became good at-school friends rather quickly. If you are not aware, an at-school friend is someone that you talk to and hang out with, but only at school. Never outside of that. We started writing each other Star Wars and other assorted film quizzes, always trying to stump the other with our facts and useless knowledge of the film industry. We also started recording all of the band names and singers we could think of, writing them down in a notebook. She would go for awhile, then pass it to me to think of more. We held this fantasy that someday we would name everyone. We thought we were so smart, but thinking back we really only had knowledge about a small subset of music. Mind you, we were more informed than most of the people at the school, but still, it was small in the grand scheme of things.
Being in this group of outsiders, most of just wanted to be part of something, but Annie…she was different. She came with this walk, this air, this attitude that strongly signaled that she did not care about what they thought. She was happy with who she was, or at least she faked it rather well. It did not take long for her to pair off with one of the other outsider guys. Up to that point, I did not even think about things in terms of having a girlfriend, but I knew then that I had a crush on her. Oh well, she was now taken.
Mind you, in my mind, I had no idea what having a girlfriend really meant, or hell, I was not even sure how to handle a crush. I just knew that I liked this girl, but she was taken, so that took a lot of the stress away from those thoughts anyway. Up until that point, the idea that a girl would actually like me back was so far removed that it was alien. I held this belief that no girl would ever be interested in me enough to even hug me or hold my hand. The idea of sex with a girl was something that I thought about, but never once actually considered it a possibility in my life. Girls were like foreign creatures to me. Like I stated before, until Annie, I had no idea that there were even girls that were into the same things as us guys were. What a revelation!
To move on, even though I was in a small group of outsiders that even contained a couple of girls now, I still wanted to be accepted by the “cool” and “popular” kids. I believe the others had similar feelings, but they would never admit it. We all got picked on and shoved around some. Rarely did anything escalate into anything more than words, but once in awhile a small shoving match would break out. We would all make up stories about girls outside of school, or elaborate lies about thinking that X girl liked us. It was just a way to try to help our self-esteem by feeling more connected to those “cool” kids. Of course most of it was bullshit and while we were smart enough to know it, we all accepted it because our lies reflected each others lies. If one tumbles, they all do.
One day I was rather ripped-apart for the awesome sweats that I was wearing. Then during the next class period, Annie asked me “Why do you let them pick on you like that? So what if you like wearing sweats. They are comfortable, fuck ’em.”
Now, I did not think much about that at the time, but in the years since, I came to realize that this was the first time that a girl showed any kind of concern for my personal well-being. She cared for me, even if only on the most superficial level. She hated that they picked on me and wanted to try to help me through this rough time that was adolescence.
Then, as 8th grade moved along, she broke up with that guy she had dated, started dating this older guy from another school. I thought that was so weird. I barely knew anyone that was not from our school, so first, how did she even meet someone different and then how did they hook up? That was such a strange and confusing idea to me, being an isolated farm kid.
So I had a crush on a girl that I only saw at school and dated a guy from outside of the norm. How cool was she?! How could I compete? Well, this was the age that I learned about the powerful tool known as the “mix tape.” If you are unaware of this brilliant, yet hard to wield device, the mix tape is where you record a bunch of song on a tape, from your own collection and/or off of the radio and give it to someone in an attempt to let the songs tell your feelings for you. You give it to the person you have a crush on, silently screaming to them “Just listen to the words…it sums everything up! Just listen!” We would trade mix tapes back and forth, talk bands and songs, but mine were not so much to express my feelings as they were to try to get her to realize that we were so in tune with each other that we MUST be made for one another. We are kindred spirits, so please, be with me.
I know it is silly. Hell, I couldn’t even muster up the courage to call her once in awhile just to chat. I mean, what if I called and she was like “What the hell are you calling me for?” I would have been mortified!
At the end of the school year, I decided that I wanted to give her a present. Something to remember me by, but also as a gesture of affection. While I did not really have much money or know what I could buy for her anyway, I found something in my room that was perfect. We were both fans of Pink Floyd and I was given, sometime before, a huge poster for their album “The Division Bell.” That was it. I would give it to her after our graduation dance. She would finally know of my affections towards her.
The last week of school came. We went on some field trips to the bay area and whatnot. In a store on Pier 39 she wanted a shirt that had the “Fruit of the Loom” logo on it, but instead of saying the brand name it said “Freak in the Room.” She was short a few bucks, so my mom, who was one of the chaperones on this trip, gave her the couple extra bucks to get her shirt. Alright mom, more bonus points for me!
The day was finally here. The last period of the last day we were given an extended recess period to sit outside with our friends or do whatever and let it all sink in. During this time, some people got together, signed year books, exchanged good byes, some tears flowed. For the most part, I sat alone, away from everyone. I wept a bit. I was not mourning for this thing, this society that I loved, but for the loss of a certain step of childhood. I was about to leave the only real group dynamic that I had known, even if it was a shitty one. At least I knew my expectations here. To top it all off, many of us were going to different schools, including Annie. She and a few others were going to one high school, most of us were heading to another, just due to location. I was about to lose the first girl that was truly nice to me, that showed some form of concern for me, that tried to teach me that I could be happy without being part of the exclusive club. That was a big deal to this 14 year old boy.
Once we had our graduation ceremony we all shuffled into the auditorium for our final dance. We were not ones to enjoy the dances much as they were too poppy and all of the “cool” kids went to them, but as this was the last moments together, we all decided to go. For the most part our small group of friends just sat alone, danced a bit, but tried to talk the DJ into playing something that was not hip-hop or top-40 garbage. We did finally get him to play one Pearl Jam song. That was enough because Pearl Jam was Annie’s and my favorite band at the time. For the most part though, I counted the seconds until we were forced into the world as separate people, no longer the friends that I hoped we would continue to be.
When the dance came to a close, I told Annie that I had a gift for her. My mom brought it with her when she came to pick me up. When I showed Annie the Pink Floyd poster she jumped for joy, said thank you, and gave me a hug.
A hug. I know it does not mean much, but to me at the time, it was the greatest moment in my life. This was my first real crush, the first girl to care about me as a human being outside of family, and we just crossed the threshold into the world physical contact. No one but family had ever shown me affection before. My heart jumped and a smile was on my face for the next two days.
My mother drove me home, and the entire way I felt new. Finally I understood what Annie was trying to tell me many months ago when she told me to stop caring about what the “cool” kids say. I looked forward to the future in a new school with a positive attitude. Maybe I could reinvent myself? Maybe I could finally be the person that I felt I truly was, and no longer this awkward guy that planned everyday around how to avoid ridicule. Maybe, just maybe, life would hand me new friends and people, new adventures, and maybe I would find more girls out there like Annie.
That hug signified the first step into a world of manhood and I am happy that she was the one to give that to me. Over the years she and I talked a bit, wrote a couple of letters, chatted over social networking sites, but really never had a friendship again. While I reached out for her on multiple occasions, she rarely reached back. I don’t know much about her life since as she never really wanted to talk about it, but she always accepted friend requests and chatted a little bit.
I wish that I could find her today. She still has an old myspace page out there, but no updates or contacts in years. I hope that wherever she is, however she is doing, she knows that she made a difference in someone’s life, no matter how insignificant that may seem, or how insignificant I may be.