Thursday, November 15, 2007
Memoirs from Puberty: Chris
I guess since I haven’t had anything current to blog about lately, I got to thinking about the past. Every once in awhile I get nostalgic for the distant days of yore, the formative years of she who would eventually become a peculiar sort of romance writer. Ah, first loves! Is there anything like the way we felt during those first infatuations, when the opposite sex was so mysterious and interesting? So come back in time with me, to 1970 when the sexual revolution was in full swing and hippies were singing the praises of free love, and I was an intimidated ninth grader trying to make sense of what was going on in my body.
The musical “Hair” was in its heyday. While I had no idea what most of those naughty words in the songs meant, there was a strange appeal in the shows two stars, Claude and Berger, as they appeared in photos on our album jacket. The drugs and nudity and the pall of Vietnam frightened me, but there were songs in that musical about love, and that I could understand. So I was drawn to Claude and Berger, and frightened by them, and that was how I felt about sex, too.
So...ninth grade. Chris, the guy who sat in front of me in geometry and across from me in study hall, was not my “first love.” I’d been sweet on Jeff since fourth grade, but redistricting had separated me from my grade school crush with the big blue eyes. Anyway Jeff was a little kid thing; Chris seemed altogether different. My interest in him crept up on me, even as puberty did. At first I was simply intrigued by him because he was so shy. The boy barely spoke to anyone. I wondered why; my imagination invented all kinds of alluring mysteries. And as I studied him, for the first time in my life I began to notice masculinity.
My obsession with Chris’s masculinity took very interesting forms in my innocent psyche. I memorized his shirts. They were knit pullovers and cotton oxfords, and for the first time I realized males wore their clothes differently than females. I was fascinated by the colors and patterns of Chris’s shirts, and on days when he wore my favorite striped oxfords, I was happy. I still remember those fabrics. Chris was the first male to allure me by turning up the cuffs of his shirts to reveal his wrists. At fourteen he was barely a man by any standards, but there were definite signs.
I loved to pile my books on my desk in geometry class, and set my hand on top, close enough to Chris’s back to feel his body heat. It was inexplicably thrilling. The warmth that came off of him seemed so different than what came off me, as if it had a different chemical composition, as if one could get drunk by feeling it.
How I yearned to know the secrets of this magical creature! I shared a table in study hall with Chris and a talkative nerd named Rich (nicknamed “the Bod” based on an odd last name which shall remain unrevealed here). Every word I said to Rich was meant for Chris’s ears, and I longed for some sign that he recognized I was alive. But he kept to his strange silence, working away on his assignments as if no one else was in the study hall.
Was there anything particularly attractive or amazing about this boy? Not really; he was fairly plain, with a decent physique, and with no unusual attributes except intelligence. I never learned about his hobbies or interests, never knew the bands he liked or the TV shows he watched. So he remained in effect a blank slate, a young everyman upon whom I could project my budding fantasies about masculinity.
Chris was the first boy to make me feel like sex was not necessarily a bad thing.
His was the face and body and voice that maleness wore as it changed my mind about the sex act. What had previously seemed, as it does to all children, as repulsive and bizarre and inexplicable, began to have strange appeal. I felt that with this one person, it was possible such intimacies could be not horrifying, but rather pleasant and exciting. I could do it with Chris, only with him; he alone could make me want to explore such things.
So how did it all end? Well, sadly, upon graduation from our junior high, Chris and I were destined for separate high schools. As despondent as I was about this fact, I was determined to raise the courage for one final act of devotion before we were parted forever. I would ask him to sign my yearbook, and pray that he would respond in kind. I composed a few words that I hoped would convey my affection without embarrassing me; I wish I could tell you what those words were, but I don’t recall. The final day of school arrived, and trembling visibly, I asked Chris to sign my yearbook. We swapped books and wrote, and said goodbye, and I got on the bus to go home. On the way home I finally dared to look at what my beloved wrote.
It was: “Diane, you sure seemed to like the Bod. Have a good summer, Chris”
I realized too late that the boy of my dreams had totally misunderstood me! How devastating! And there was nothing to be done about it. Fantasy and reality collided and my little heart was shattered. There was really very little about my devotion to Chris that was founded in reality, but I didn’t understand that then; I couldn’t grasp that he had never picked up on the tiniest wisp of the roaring passion I had harbored, right behind him in math, right across the table in study hall.
Sad ending notwithstanding, this boy was the tool that nature used to urge me along the bumpy road to adulthood. And even if it was nearly all me and very little him, I still feel a pang remembering how he played that part in the awakening of womanly feelings in me all those years ago.
So whatever became of Chris? Thanks to the wonders of Google, I can tell you. He’s a very successful chemistry professor at a prestigious college.
And in the photo I found of him, he’s wearing an oxford shirt.