I never had a boyfriend in high school. It's not that I didn't want to date- I wanted a boyfriend more than anything. For some reason, the stars never seemed to align. Given my group of friends' penchant for trading off boyfriends and girlfriends, I marvel that a relationship never materialized but I'm ultimately glad. During that time in my life, my self-esteem was mostly based on others' approval and I'm convinced a boyfriend would not have made for a good combination.
Once I graduated from high school and was well ensconced in college, I found out about a few guys that had had crushes on me but never acted on the interest. It must have been a matter of timing or I hadn't "sent the right signals." No matter. I was flattered when I learned of their past interest but nothing more.
Still, there was one guy that remained an enigma to me. I'd had such a crush on him our freshman year of high school. It had been a rough transition from private Christian grammar school to public high school. Doug reached out to me, for which I've always been grateful. He was brilliantly creative. Picture a 14 year old tortured artist. We both loved art, writing, reading, and discussing things of a more serious nature. I wondered if there was more to our friendship and soon found my answer. He asked a friend of mine to freshman homecoming; there planted the seed that he would never be interested in me. Doug and I remained friends throughout high school but I don't think we were ever as close as we were freshman year. I always wondered whether I had misread him and whether there had been something more. I saw him a couple of times early on in college, the last time being after the death of our favorite English teacher and friend in 1999. There were vague promises to keep in touch but we drifted away.
Several years ago, my best friend and I met up with other friends for drinks after dinner. Who else would be there but Doug? I was so happy to see him again. We'd been out of high school maybe 5 or 6 years at that point. He was preparing to move to the West Coast and had a long-time girlfriend. He seemed lighter in spirit. I look back on that evening and recall much laughter and warmth. It's always interesting to relate to former classmates as adults. Do we fall back into our old roles or do our true selves emerge? What do we make of each other now that we're outside the fishbowl?
In the midst of catching up, two other guys at our table were flirting with me. Bolstered by their attention and a few glasses of sangria, I decided to confront the enigma. I was curious what he had made of me more than 10 years before. After all, I had nothing to lose. We were talking about our past. He was moving across the country and in love. I just needed to put it out there, once and for all.
"Doug, when we were in high school, I had the biggest crush on you." My face turned red because it's still hard to be vulnerable, even when you have no stake in it.
Doug has a big smile to begin with but his smile got even bigger at my pronouncement. He was shocked, he said. Because he'd had a big crush on me too! Who could have predicted this? We both laughed and wondered what might have been.
Later in the night, after the two flirtatious boys had procured my phone number, Doug came over to my side and whispered in my ear. "You are so f-ing beautiful." He said it with an open heart, confident that I could accept it as the gift he meant it to be. To this day, it is the most honest, if profanity-laden, compliment I've ever received. He had nothing to gain by telling me this. He was simply appreciating the woman I had become, inside and out. The post-college me was more confident and sure of herself than I'd ever been in high school. I think he'd grown up in similar ways. Together we ended a chapter in our friendship, the questions, the uncertainty, the unknown admiration.
Our paths diverged again after that night but I've never forgotten the beauty of his gift to me.