Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Boys on the Side

I’m glad the yelling has stopped.

For the past two nights, my dreams have consisted primarily of people screaming at me.

People such as my mother, my old boss, even some very dear friends (the kind of dear friends who, in real life, wouldn’t yell at me if I was standing in the path of an oncoming Mack truck).

I know this is my subconscious’ (can you anthropomorphize your subconscious?) way of relieving my inner anxiety over becoming a parent.

My pregnancy books tell me it is completely normal to have nightmares during this time.

Your brain is working overtime to prepare you for the upcoming major change to your life, and all the fears and trepidation head straight into your dreams where they can express themselves freely.

Still, it’s not fun waking up and thinking people are mad at you.

So, I was surprised with last night’s string of dreams that ran the gamut from weird to whimsical.

I dreamed my friend from college was married both to her real life husband and the Oscar-winning actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman. I had spaghetti with the polygamous couple and their two children. Odd.

I dreamed my dad was still living. We were back in my high school bedroom. Dad had all these wicker baskets on his lap (including a cornucopia horn!), and my bunnies were jumping in and out of the baskets while Dad happily petted their little furry heads.

Mom was also in this dream, showing me photos from the past. I saw 70’s era photos of my cousin Michelle, Aunt Jan, and Aunt Laurie. In some other photos, I saw my cousin Naomi (not even born in the 70’s!) as a little girl.

In another segment, I was at Windsor Baptist Church (which also included a 360 degree revolving balcony) racing up and down the aisles with my friend Tania and her two brothers.

My last dream had me huddled outside the door to my high school study hall. I was with my friends - the 2 Amy’s - along with some boys from our class. For some reason, we couldn’t enter the study hall without a “buddy," and there was an odd number of us, so we were afraid to go in.

Eventually, we burst through the door together and raced to get seats at the back table. I slid in to my seat, next to my high school crush, Jeff Z.

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about Jeff.

Jeff is among the very few boys who were nice to me in my childhood. Those boys include Jason, my across-the-street neighbor; Tony, the boy I met at summer camp; Shane; my best friend’s brother – and Jeff.

Jeff joined our class in high school. It was nice to have someone new. Someone who didn’t know all our sordid little secrets, our rank-and-file social standing, and stupid past mistakes.

Jeff was a fresh slate.

He was a toothpick-sized kid, of normal height, with some Asian heritage in his past, reflected in his olive skin and dark, almond-shaped eyes that twinkled with humor and wit.

I liked him (not LIKED him, but liked him) almost immediately. For one thing, he was smart. In my years at Berean, the only academic competition I faced was from Josh – who, as we all know from my bruises and bloody noses, didn’t welcome it.

Jeff was really smart. He was real competition, and I loved going head-to-head over who was getting better grades, who could answer the fastest, and who would be at the top of the class.

I could tell he liked it too, from the steady gleam of rivalry in his eyes.

Secondly, Jeff was sarcastically funny. He walked that fine line between witty observation, without ever dipping into the nasty, mean, hurting-other-people-for-laughs that was considered kosher in my conservative, Christian high school.

Unlike the other boys in high school who made fun of me, or even the boys in my own class who avoided me, Jeff talked to me...like a real person.

My least favorite class was Keyboarding. I am a right-brained person, and my motor skills are more tuned to (as my friend Julie would say) “riding the short bus.” Typing just didn’t come naturally to me.

Keyboarding was made much more tolerable thanks to my seating assignment right next to Jeff. As we sat bony shoulder to chubby shoulder over the course of a couple of months, we developed our own little…friendship, I guess.

In spite of our Laurel and Hardy appearance, we shared an eerily similar taste in what was funny. The same things made us laugh, and I enjoyed the sarcastic back-and-forth banter we shared during class.

I found myself looking forward to Keyboarding with an almost unbridled sense of joy. I still remember stepping into the class and seeing Jeff sitting there, looking bored as all get-out. As soon as he saw me, his face would light up.

I found my feelings of friendship were growing into something else. Something I was afraid to acknowledge.

Well, it was bound to happen. Sooner or later.

Jeff and I were at our seats, hands flying over the keys, and talking.

“You’re looking at your hands again,” Jeff deadpanned, his eyes never leaving the screen in front of him.

“So what? Mr. H isn’t even looking,” I defended myself, while sneaking another look down at my hands.

(Side note to Mr. H.: I still look at my hands when I type, and the world has yet to implode.)

“So, *Thad was talking to me after last period. He think I should ask *Penny to go out with me.”

I felt my heart sink. I had known this was coming. Jeff was too smart, too funny, and too cute to go without a girlfriend for very long.

No matter how much I liked Jeff, I despised his close friendship with Thad, an upperclassman who was enormously popular in spite of being a colossal dill weed.

“Well, Penny’s really nice,” I said sincerely.

The truth was that Penny WAS really nice. She was smart and funny, too. It wasn’t her fault she was slender with long, blond hair and a bright, welcoming smile. I couldn’t blame her for being desirable.

(I could, however, blame Thad, who I personally wanted to stake to an anthill in the middle of the desert.)

In truth, I was fortunate to avoid going to school with any “mean girls.” The only “mean girls” I encountered were several years older than me, and I wasn’t even in their realm of consideration.

(Side note: Although our class did not contain the height of sterling moral character, at least we didn’t hook up with each other, and then lie about it when other kids turned us in. Oooh…remind me to tell you THAT story sometime…)

“Penny’s all right, I guess,” Jeff shrugged. “She’s not who I’d pick if it were up to me.”

(What is it about high school kids that makes them think who they date isn’t up to them?!)

I didn’t pursue that line of inquiry. I had enough rejection issues going on.

I knew there was no way Jeff could date me, even if he wanted to. It would be social suicide. While Jeff wasn’t unkind, he wasn’t going to throw himself on the ever-burning altar of high school popularity for me, either.

“I’d like to date a girl who is smart, funny, and mature,” Jeff said, his eyes steady on his screen. “I haven’t told Thad what I’m going to do yet.”

I remember thinking that was a good thing, as no doubt Thad would have dragged him out into the courtyard and beat him senseless for even thinking about dating the school’s fat girl.

“What do you think I should do?” Jeff stopped typing, turned his head, and looked straight at me.

I didn’t even hesitate. “You should ask Penny out. She’s great. Thad’s right. I know she’d say yes.”

He nodded slowly at me and then said the words I obsessed over for years later.

“If things were different…” His voice trailed off, as he snapped his attention back to his screen.

I felt my throat close a little. It was the closest any boy had ever come to admitting he liked me. I felt a tiny sliver of joy in my heart. It felt good to know that while Penny might be getting Jeff, she wouldn’t be getting ALL of Jeff.

Jeff took Thad’s (and my) advice and asked Penny out after our next class period. They dated for a while and even attended our school’s Junior/Senior Banquet (our sterilized equivalent of prom).

I let Jeff go.

I still sat next to him in Keyboarding. We still vied for the top spot scholastically. We even traded sarcastic barbs once in a while, but there was a finality, a sadness, in our unrealized friendship.

I missed him.

Shortly afterward, I prayed and told God (I love how we “tell” God stuff) that He had made it clear through my experience with Jeff that His will was for me to remain single.

I “told” God this when I was 17. I prayed for His guidance as I went to college. I prayed for good female friends and His protection against jealously as my friends dated and got engaged and married.

It wasn’t until I walked the hallowed halls of Moody that I discovered the world was full of “Jeffs.” There were nice guys in abundance! Unlike my timid high school heartthrob, there were honest-to-goodness nice guys willing to date a girl who wasn’t necessarily society's ideal of pretty or thin or perfect.

I began to hope my “Jeff,” whatever his real name, was out there somewhere.

Waiting for a realized friendship. Waiting for love. Waiting for me. The real me.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

I may have dreamed about Jeff, my long lost love, last night.

But, my real dream was realized in waking up next to Brett, the one who loves me for me, no matter how different things get.

And, thankfully, no one has yelled at me yet.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent dill weed


Pappy said...

Just wanted you to know that I stopped by and read all your recent posts down to the "April Fool" account this evening. You truly are a talented writer, and I'm wondering if you might not consider looking into doing it professionally. You definitely have a gift. And I'm intrigued by the "blessing" that you cannot reveal yet. I often think of you and Brett, your mom, and of course your dad, and just want you to know that. I pray for you all and your baby.
Love, UJ

Karyn said...

You give me humor and hope in a day that's a little bit sad. Thanks so much.

Juliet said...

WHAT! WHAT! NO BOOK OFF THE PRESS YET!!! Could you hear me screaming? LOL

As you already know, I agree with your Uncle Jimmy. God has truly gifted you with writing. Maybe some day that book will become a reality.

And yes, God is so good to give you Brett! He's not Jeff when it comes to having a good sense of humor, but he's just what you need....a husband who loves his wife dearly.

Jennittia said...

Yet another touching story from our high school years! I wish I could remember things like you do-- but then again, maybe my subconscious blocked it all out on purpose!

Oh, I also look at my hands just about ALL THE TIME when I type!