“…and that girl in the front of the room, so close and yet so far, she never seemed to notice that silly, school-boy crush wasn’t just pretend…”
“Do you like Circus?” The girl’s voice distracted me from my attempts to make the clock run faster through sheer willpower.
I looked over at her. “Sure. I guess so. The clowns are funny I guess.”
The girl started laughing, tossing her brown curls over her shoulder. “Hey,” she called out to her friend, sitting in the chair in front of me,”he likes the circus! I asked if he liked Circus magazine and he said he liked the circus!”
I stared down at my desk, willing my face not to turn red, which responded just as well as the clock had.
“So?” Ali said, “What’s wrong with that?” She turned back to her book without ever noticing my grateful smile.
Barbie turned to me. “She’s right. I’m sorry. Do you want to read it?”
“Sure.” I waited for the joke to come but it never did. Instead she pointed out an article on Gene Simmons and asked me if I had heard the recent KISS tape.
That was not the first time I had ever spoken to her, of course. We moved in the same circles of my Jr. High School. She had even dated one of my friends, briefly, and hesitantly, but we were not friends. She regarded me the same way we viewed our younger siblings – entertaining, occasionally, but more often a difficult and unwelcome encumberance.
Naturally, I had a huge crush on her.
Hair metal was big and Barbie was the expert. She knew more about the bands, had more magazines and could quote more songs by heart than any of us. Once she had given her approval to a particular band – Poison, Ratt, Whitesnake, you know the names – the rest of us would rush out to buy the latest album featuring grown men wearing make-up and singing love songs to teenage girls. It was substitution or something. They could put the words we wanted out there, where the girls would hear them and then fall for us, the silly, little boys who knew about the music.
A few years later, we were in the same high school algeabra class and I was failing miserable and doing my best to sit in the back and not be noticed. Barbie sat next to me. Our musical tastes had split the year before. I had found myself completely ensnared by grunge and punk, Barbie was more into metal. She came in one day with the sides of her head shaved and her brown hair dyed black. She wore all black, with safety pins drawing an anarchy symbol on the back. We all noticed, of course, and we noticed with that casual indifference of the high school student. Until Barbie turned to me, “Does my hair look funny?” And she said it in such a soft, quiet voice, like she was so afraid that people would think it uncool, and she asked me for reassurance.
My stomach hurt.
“It looks…unusual.” I said, as evenly and diplomatically as I could muster. She laughed at that, saying thank you and chuckling to herself. And, in just that instant, her confidence was restored and my crush was broken.
She moved to California a year later and gave me a hug before she left, saying, “I think your hair looks unusual too.”
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