In my younger years I was not, what most would call, suave. In fact while there were lots of examples of this, perhaps the most telling situation was when, in seventh grade, I asked an eight grade girl to be my girlfriend. She took three days to think it through, which in itself probably should have given me pause. Then one day right after the bell rang, she pulled me in to the hallway and said “no” in front of all my peers. That wasn’t that big of a deal in itself I suppose, even George Clooney was probably rejected once or twice in his life. But I was not rejected once. I was rejected about eleven times. By the same girl. You might wonder why I kept asking her the same question. Because something told me she regretted her decision. The first time she was just confused. The tenth time she just hadn’t come around yet.
Like I said, suave.
Well the months passed. And actually my interest did eventually fade from that girl to one of her best friends. They ran in a pack of three. There was Sarah, who had shut me down countless times. There was another girl of some unusual descent with an epic nose and an even worse name—Camel. You can’t make this up. She was actually named after the animal with a hump perfectly descriptive of the one on her nose. And then finally, to protect her identity, let’s call this new focus of my attention Mary. Mary was blonde, cute, and funny. When one of my friend’s told me she was too much of a “Barbie” I didn’t understand how that could possibly be a problem. The whole world complains Barbie is a standard no one can possibly live up to, and here Mary’s being accused of being like Barbie as though it’s a bad thing? Clearly my friend was an idiot.
I liked Mary but, being the mature seventh grader that I was, I had no idea how to show it. Shyness was not something I struggled with, and this is probably all the more reason why I utterly lacked suaveness. Valentines Day came along and one of my friends, Reed, came to school with a large heart-shaped box of chocolates. His mother had given him this as a gift, and by the end of first period he had already eaten the last of the chocolates. Now my school was small, and I had made a fool of myself on more than one occasion, but I decided it would be amusing for me to take this box and ask girls if they would be my valentine.
Most, upon seeing me on my knee proposing something with no meaning at all, simply giggled and walked away, knowing I was an idiot. But eventually I did make my way to Mary. While my heart was much more a flutter at the time, I was going through the same routine I had hundreds of times. In retrospect it’s hard to know what I was thinking, perhaps I was preparing myself for a life in sales and wanted to get used to rejection. It’s difficult to understand the motivations of pubescent boys. Even though I was one—this specific one. I remember that entire stage of life through a hormonal blur of self consciousness.
So there I am, on Valentines day, at the top of the stairs to the Jr. High School floor. I was facing south with my back to the stairs and I caught Mary as she was closing her locker door. The air was dry. I had my shirt tucked in. The mole on her right cheek was particularly cute that day.
I lowered myself to one knee and asked Mary to be my valentine. She turned bright and clasped her hands behind her back as she swayed slightly back and forth. I was scared—probably sweating in some new places. She then smiled and said, “Yes.”
Time freezes sometimes. But it’s different than in the movies. In the movies when time freezes the camera pans around the room and shows you the face everyone is making right after an explosion or something. In real life, when time freezes, you simply get to live the most painful moments of your life for much longer than a moment. I had long enough in my head to process the fact that this girl, the girl I wanted more desperately than anything at the time to like me, was making a gesture which suggested she in fact did like me. And I had an empty box of chocolates. Empty.
Reed’s mom had given them to him, not me. And I definitely was not competent enough to be giving a real box of chocolates to Mary. What was I thinking putting myself in this situation?
I knew I couldn’t stand there forever, though that was probably already how long I had waited. I had to say something. So I mustered all my intellect, had a meeting in my brain and “It’s empty,” was all I managed to mutter.
Mary walked past me and down the steps. I stood staring at the wall in disbelief until disbelief turned to devastation. Unfortunately however, this is not the end of the story.
A few weeks later, our school, like many before it, decided to add to our already socially awkward lives by offering a free Post-Valentine-Gram mailing service, or something with an equally terrible name. This little excercise was easy, the student council set up boxes thoughout the halls which we could fill with notes to whomever we wanted and in a few weeks, right before a school dance, the notes would be delivered during homeroom to whomever we wanted in our school.
This was my chance at redemption. I could taste it as I tucked my hands under my pillow in bed at night. I knew my poetic mind could come up with something to win Mary over. Her expression of vulnerability would not forever be lost to the nether of Jr. High, I would swoop in, save her by asking her to a dance (a move I could actually back up), and this would become something we would both laugh about in our fifties. Just me and my barbie.
Thus began a long tortuous process of writing poetry, prose, or more likely, just complete sentences to win over Mary. I experimented with everything. But at this point in life the only thing I knew how to write was book reviews and reasons why marijuana was bad. School was preparing me for academic and perhaps professional life, but was clearly coming up short on helping me with reality. While I don’t have the letter in my possession any longer (I’m sure it’s still tucked away somewhere in Mary’s special drawer of prized possessions), I can say with some confidence that it said something like this:
Dear Mary, Roses are red. Violets may be as well, I’m a little color blind. There’s a dance coming up which I hope you’re not entirely unaware of because I’d really like you to come with me, if you wouldn’t be embarrassed to do so. Not that you should be embarrassed, I’m not saying that, I’m just saying if you wanted to, and it happened to work out that your parent’s aren’t opposed to you going to dances or anything…. well. Would you come to the dance with me?
Yours, The only guy who ever gave you an empty box of chocolates.
This was it. I had done it. This was going to work. It had to work. It was going to be a week until it was delivered and it was all I could think about. I thought about it when I put my books in my locker after class and while I was trying to engage my friends in conversation at lunch.
And finally the day came. I didn’t know when in the day it would happen until a bunch of student council folks showed up in my homeroom class and starting handing out notes. She was there right across the room from me. She was handed what was definitely my note and I was going to get to see her face as she read it.
She opened it, her eyes moved back and forth the way they should. She stopped. And then she didn’t look up and look at me. Instead she handed the note to her friend next to her for consultation. But they looked bewildered. Did she really not know who had given her an empty box of chocolates?
Just as I was contemplating what I could have done wrong a note landed on my desk. A note asking me to the dance. And it was from Camel.
I’ll save you the details about the smoothness with which I responded to this quandary but suffice it to say Mary and I were never an item.