The Delusional Years

Sixth grade introduced me to a completely new kind of Hell.

In the five years prior, I had managed to go from being a schoolyard bully to being picked on by one of the people I used to pound around a bit. I’d also started to get wrapped up a bit in my own head. Feelings of isolation and depression–triggered by those unavoidable hormones and a small handful of real-life events–had begun to creep in.

Stepping into a new school with three or four times as many peers couldn’t have happened at a worse time.

The only consolation–and it was a small one at the time–was that we were all going through it together.

Very quickly, though, I differentiated myself from the rest.

I let a small group of my peers convince me I was totally and madly in love with this one girl.

That took things from bad straight to worst case territory.

See, I was raised on old-fashioned media. Reruns of old TV shows–ones that were set in the 50s, early 60s at the latest–and classic movies formed the basis for most of my ideas of social interaction. And so, moving up to the “big” school, I was determined to do it right. I dug an old briefcase out of the attic, insisted on button down shirts and slacks most days, wore ill fitting sweats on other days (back then I had even more issues with my body than I do now–locker rooms were a place of terror and I attempted to avoid as much changing as possible). My big aviator style, slightly tinted and “oh-my-gods-I-really-am-blind” thick glasses and perpetually greasy hair (yay! horemones!) put the finishing touches on my “look.” That look screamed “Nerd!”

Oh, and let’s keep in mind this is also the 80s.

I quickly became a target.

So, in retrospect, it was no surprise at all that this relatively popular girl (that I now believed I was totally in love with) wanted nothing to do with me. That wasn’t something she hinted at… the signs couldn’t have been more clear.

  • She wouldn’t breathe in my direction–let alone look at me–if she didn’t absolutely have to
  • If I ever had the chance to ask, she wouldn’t even give me the wrong time of day
  • On more than one occasion she told me to just go away
  • And had her friends do the same

Now, as back then, I really can’t hold a grudge. They may all have been a bit brusque about it eventually, but the rebuffs started off nice enough.

I was just persistent.

I tried everything my not-quite-teenage brain could think of to win her over.

There were notes–passed to her, put in her locker, wrapped around a mix tape. Those came back to haunt me in gym class more than once. More often, they were returned to me, quickly, sometimes not open. I probably still have one or two around in a box somewhere.

That mix tape? That was a disaster all its own. Not only was my television consumption dominated with things decades out of date, so was my music of choice. Running a dual deck boom box well into the wee hours of the morning, I compiled (from already second generation copies) a “greatest romantic hits of the doo-wop era” mix tape.

It had classics such as Earth Angel and Mountain of Love on it. All told, it had at least 45 minutes of music on it, plus a hearfelt vocal plea from little old me–whispered in hushed tones as I huddled under my bed sheets, stack of cassetts precariously balanced next to me)–to please, please, please go out with me.

I remember clearly how nervously I handed that tape to her–the case buldging with a two page note I’d also written. (I told you, I was persistent… I was also thurough.) It wasn’t until a few days after she handed the tape back to me that I was playing it and realized that I had apparently dozed off while mixing it and an extra song had made it on. That song? Party Doll… I was mortified. That wasn’t at all the message I wanted to send.

For a while, I beat myself up over things like that. Why couldn’t I be better? More suave? Why wouldn’t she give me a chance? What was so wrong with me?

I got myself worked up into such a constant tizzy that the mere sight of her would make my brain freeze up. Grocery shopping with my parents was like dancing in a minefield. There was only one supermarket and, without fail, our families would be there at the same time on a semi-regular basis. I can’t even count the number of barely-squeaked “Hi”s I uttered before turning on my heel and heading down another isle–all the while keeping mental note of what row of cans or boxes she’d be behind next.

This went on for two and a half years.

During that entire time, it never occurred to me to just stop. It also never occurred to me to change tactics or change my wardrobe or exercise more.

Two and a half years I made myself miserable over this girl.

In that time I don’t think we ever had more than two conversations–and only maybe one of those was vaguely civil.

I was blinded by this delusion of what Love and Romance were. Stuck in a controlling mindset–I have to convince her to like me! Burdened by a low self image–I’m just not good enough for her, or anyone. Sabatoged by the noise inside my own head–If she says this, then I can say this and she’ll respond like this and I can ask her out then… oh, she’s gone.

Without question it was a self-created pit of despair with a high-velocity negative spiral pulling me deeper and deeper while spinning me all over the place.

Two years into that morass, the seed that eventually let me climb out was planted.

What was it? It was five words. “You’re not a bad guy.” They were uttered by (yet another) girl I had a crush on, after she had told her then-boyfried to stop picking on me.

It took another half year, but that seed has stuck with me ever since.

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