I am a firm believer in the idea that just about everything in our lives happens for a reason, even if the reason involves multiple layers of chance adding up to a certainty. Meaning even the unexplainable, given enough time, study and webs of connections, can add up to a certain amount of truth, even if we as humans cannot except that limited truth.
The beginning of ’87 put me in the middle of that scenario regarding my masculinity and my relationships with everyone in my life. I knew that at seventeen that I’d already been an adult of sorts, with everything that was going on with my family at 616. But while I might have been an overburdened high school senior with adult responsibilities and adult-level decisions to make, psychologically and emotionally, I was still a twelve-year-old. One damaged by bearing witness to my stepfather beating up my Mom on Memorial Day ’82, the abuse I’d suffered at his hands afterward, and my ostracism my first years in Humanities in seventh and eighth grade. I was “a dog that been beat too much” by my senior year at Mount Vernon High School, and I’d started wondering if I had stayed one year too long before heading off to college, because my last year of K-12 wasn’t going so well either.
I was also in the middle of my second classmate crush in five years. I was more than three years removed from my most intense feelings for Crush #1 (outed at Wendy in Boy @ The Window), only to feel stomach flutters for the young woman who’d been my Crush #2 (Phyllis) for about thirteen months. Except I was too scared to tell anyone, including myself, of how I felt about her.
Nor did I really understand why I felt the way I did when I was around her. With Wendy, I could point to personality, intellect, quirkiness, among other attributes, and the fact that prior to seventh grade, I’d never met anyone like her. Phyllis, though, I’d known for more than five years, and while she was attractive and smart, it wasn’t as if she was so unique.
Still, even in the back of my more mature and emotionally cold part of my mind, I knew what it really was. Phyllis had made this beaten and abused dog feel better about himself in the worst of times, between seventh and tenth grade, back in his Hebrew-Israelite days. Even if that emotional altruism was more about saving me from hell in this life and the next, and less about liking me, her actions tugged my deeply bruised heart strings. Not Phyllis’ fault by any stretch. Just a reality. I was a “sentimental fool…tryin’ hard to recreate what had yet to be created,” like the fictional man in Doobie Brothers’ “What A Fool Believes” (1979).
By my senior year, I thought about Phyllis from afar, just like I’d done with Wendy nearly five years earlier. With my imagination, I could almost imagine anything. Including all of the indicators of romance, from dating and joking to kissing, to getting together during holiday and summer breaks during college. Everything, except anything sexual. It wasn’t because I didn’t know how. It was because in the conscious side of my mind in which my emotional age remained at twelve, I couldn’t see any young woman my age as having a carnal side, of being anything other than a near-perfect being. Phyllis may as well have been a nymph or angel, and not a real person.
Somehow I knew I was setting myself up for a year of hurt. I knew that I had to grow up, to “be a man,” to find a way to actually say that I liked Phyllis, if only for myself to hear. And I did tell it, to myself, to her, to people I came for a time to trust. I even sent a letter to Phyllis after the fact, only to be hurt even more, just like the dumb ass Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins described in “What A Fool Believes.” “As he rises to her apology, anybody else would surely know…,” as the song goes. Only in my case, to crash and burn like the Hindenburg in New Jersey did in 1938.
By the end of ’88, though, I realized the truth. That my crush on Crush #2 wasn’t a real crush at all. It was my crutch, my coping strategy to deal with the fact that I really hadn’t felt anything about anyone in my life since those heady Wendy days. Those were my final days of childhood, those days before I’d learn for the second time in my first twelve and a half years how little control I had over my life, how little love and affection there was to find. As the song of that phase of my life went, I “never came near what [I] wanted to say, only to realize it never really was.” I never made Crush #1 “think twice,” and made Crush #2 reject me like Patrick Ewing in his prime smacking a basketball into the fifth row of Madison Square Garden.
I suppose that this happens to all boys and girls, men and women and transgender at some point or another in their lives. At twelve, it felt glorious, while at seventeen, it was painful and embarrassing. I’m just glad that I made it through that year, 1987 — though hardly happy to go and grow through the process — and came out on the other side of it ready to grow, risk and protect my heart again.