My husband’s fiftieth high school reunion is a month away. That’s right—his fiftieth! As he reads the personal updates and pictures he’s received from some of his old classmates, he’s been reminiscing about those four years of adolescent hopes and expectations. Occasionally, he’s shared a memory or two with me—the Saturday trips to Senator’s Wash, wishing he could play guitar as well as Bill Painter, and still being clueless over how he managed to receive an “A” in Algebra.
Last night, he pulled out his old high school annual and began paging through it. As his thoughts skipped from one year to the next, from person to person, he occasionally paused on a picture to recall the class they shared or something they had in common.
His pauses were longer as he looked at the girls.
Sometimes, I noticed him setting a finger on a particular photograph, as if trying to turn back the years to reconnect with someone who still held a special place in his memory.
That’s when I could sense his mind racing backward to a specific moment, when his hand might have brushed against hers or she said something that touched him and, even after fifty years, he still remembers every word.
I noticed one girl seemed to receive more of his attention than the others. And not just from the photo in the annual, but more recent ones he’d found on Facebook.
Immediately, I knew . . .
They were pictures of her. And alongside her, the man she’d married, her children, and yes, grandchildren.
And when I asked, he didn’t hesitate.
“She was a junior,” he said. “A year younger. We shared one class on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
“What was she like?”
“Quiet . . . at least around me. But then, I never had a lot to say either.” He paused for a moment, then added, “You really want to know?”
I nodded. I was curious, not only about this previously anonymous mystery girl, but also how she could still stir my husband’s memory from a time and place fifty years in the past.
“When did you meet her?” I asked.
He shook his head. “It wasn’t like that. We just started saying “hi” to each other. But I noticed her long before then.”
She’d caught his attention on the first day of class, when an alphabetical seating chart had placed her just a few chairs away—close enough to see every inch of her, but too far away to start a conversation.
“By the end of that first class,” he said, “I wanted to get to know her. More than that, I really wanted to ask her out.”
I couldn’t help feeling a tug on my heartstrings as he told me how, from that day on, he waited for her to walk into the room, hoping for the chance to say “hello” and call her by name.
I wondered . . . would she remain the unapproachable temptress, forever out of his reach, while he accepted his fate as a romantically-challenged, hapless innocent, resigned to worship her from afar?
As he continued with the story, I realized that sadly, my whimsical imaginings weren’t far from the truth.
He told me how she would sometimes stop to talk, asking how he did on the last test or if he understood the homework. And when she walked away, how the lingering scent of Shalimar, Breck, and Ivory soap would leave him intoxicated.
As the days turned into weeks, he memorized her wardrobe, saying a silent prayer of “thanks” when she arrived wearing a favorite sweater or skirt.
He was in the middle of describing the tempting details of one dress in particular—the cut and color of the fabric and how it wrapped her body like a second skin—when another memory surfaced . . . the countless nights he’d spent reliving the fantasy of cuddling with her on the front seat of his parent’s Ford, sharing a tub of popcorn while pretending to watch the movie. The night always ended with him sliding his arm around her and pulling her close, and in that moment just before touching his lips to hers, the thought of tasting her mouth driving his heart into a pounding frenzy.
To say he had it bad was an understatement.
“Let me see.” I sat next to him, wanting a closer look at the pictures.
It was easy to understand why he’d been captivated by her—that angelic face, the dark hair cascading softly around her shoulders, her bangs dancing playfully above sparkling eyes.
She was earthy. Soft. Perfect.
“Show me more?” I asked.
He picked up another year’s annual and flipped to a picture in the activities section. She was dressed in a vampy outfit, for what appeared to be a school-sponsored event or drama production I couldn’t help notice the thigh-high hemline of her costume, revealing shapely, muscular legs, their deep tan contrasting against the light fabric in such a way that questioned her need for clothing at all.
From the testosterone-charged perspective of a seventeen-year-old male, I could easily understand my husband’s infatuation. Hell, at the time, it would have been enough for me to consider the possibilities.
“Did you ever ask her out?” I asked.
He shook his head.
“What stopped you?”
He took a deep breath. “Everything.”
I knew exactly what everything meant. My husband has written several articles and spoken many times to seminar audiences about the difficulties of overcoming adolescent shyness. But I also knew as an adult, he’d become outgoing, gregarious, and socially engaging. So I had to know.
“Did you ever tell her about the crush you had?”
He hesitated. “There was no point. It was a long time ago.”
I tried again. “It might mean something to her, to know you cared.”
He looked at me, confused. “I doubt it would make any difference. In fact, I’d be surprised if she even remembered me.”
I let it pass—even though I strongly disagreed with him.
Personally, I would want to know, no matter how many years had gone by.
I remembered what it was like being on the receiving end of a boy’s quiet caution. And it left me spending far too many disappointing afternoons pretending to study, waiting for the phone to ring and hoping it was Jim, or Bill, or even Steven.
It was especially hard on Friday and Saturday nights, sitting in front of the TV, wondering if my lack of dates was the result of genetic misfortune—my face too plain or my body too boyish to motivate someone to ask.
I’m pretty sure it’s a big group . . . boys who wanted to ask—but never did.
And the saddest part?
The girls who never knew.
I know what you’re thinking . . .
Why would any woman still want to consider the question of what might have been, how our lives might be different if a silent suitor had been a little less cautious and a bit more bold—even decades later?
To help us heal old wounds.
Discovering there was someone out there who thought about us, wanted to spend time with us, and yes, even fantasized about being with us would provide some closure on those awkward, uncertain years—a time when our confidence was in short supply, and our self- assurance was buried under a mountain of insecurity.
Two generations ago, high school was a time of gender-specific priorities—guys fixated on the rituals of car dating (the ultimate playground for burgeoning libidos), and gals who clung to the unshakeable belief that an endless procession of not-so-pleasant experiences with tongue-thrusting frogs was a necessary part of eventually finding the prince of their dreams.
And for the process to work, guys had to ask. They had to let us know they were interested.
Sadly, we could imagine all kinds of reason why we ended up dateless on a Saturday night. But the idea there were plenty of boys who found us attractive, yet couldn’t work up the nerve to tell us, wasn’t one of them.
How do I know? How can I be so sure that a late but honest confession would be good for both souls?
Because it happened to me.
During my twenty-fifth reunion, a man who I didn’t immediately recognize, and whose name I couldn’t recall, walked up to me and admitted he’d secretly been in love with me in high school, but could never find the courage to tell me.
I was stunned. And after telling him how flattered I was, after hugging both him and his wife as they left for the evening, I felt a strange but welcome sense of liberation, a reprieve from all those old heartaches I’d written off long ago as a natural aberration of youth.
No, Janis Ian, I didn’t learn the truth at seventeen. I had to wait another twenty-five years to hear it—from a guy who finally worked up the nerve to tell me.
His bittersweet confession made me realize maybe I was really okay during those four years of high school, my only flaw having spent too much time waiting for someone to confirm it.
My reunion is nothing more than a memory now, residing more years in the past than I care to count. But I still remember that short conversation as a selfless gift—even though it was delivered a bit late. Finally hearing a much-too-shy admirer from the past admit to a time-lost love he’d carried in secret for twenty-five years touched me in a way that wouldn’t let go. And after weeks of haunting my dreams, I needed to get it out of my system. I put my thoughts to paper, creating a short story called, “What Might Have Been.”
But even that wasn’t enough. There was more I wanted to say about that time in our lives, about the people we cared about, and how the seemingly simple events of our youth often shape our destiny. So I let the story evolve and take on a life of its own, with the resulting book, The Possibilities of Amy, reflecting the hopes, disappointments, and frustrations of secret adolescent loves, and giving voice to the question that still haunts a few brave souls: “What if?”
In tribute to my husband’s fiftieth, I’ve made the short story, “What Might Have Been,” and the first two chapters of The Possibilities of Amy available free on my website. To read them, click the links below.
Until Next time,
Originally published at jayefrances.com