There's nothing quite as awkward as unrequited high school "love." Awkward, and unforgettable. (Is it just me, or did none of us really know any kind of love other that "unrequited" until at least 20 years after high school?) (What's that? You say it is just me? Oh...that's right, I was a social misfit. Sorry about that.)
I was very shy and quiet in high school, but even though I didn't often actually "talk" to girls, there were quite a few girls that I liked. And a few girls that I really liked. But there was only one girl that I really, really liked.
She moved into town sometime around my sophomore year. And yes, it was very significant that she moved in and was a "new" girl. One of the biggest problems with growing up in a town as small as Arimo (population around 300; or basically the number of people in the checkout line at Costco on any given Saturday) is that the dating pool is so small. (Think those little round inflatable backyard pools where the water might get as deep as 10 inches.)
The guys knew the girls a little too well, and the girls knew the guys a little too well, too. So when someone new dipped their feet into our little pool it certainly added some intrigue and mystery to the situation. It also didn't hurt that the "Mystery Girl" was very cute, with big, beautiful blue eyes (I think they were blue), and a winsome smile that she wielded effortlessly, effectively, and often.
One of my best friends immediately swooped in and started going out with her. (He didn't have any problems with shyness.) They went steady for several months, but eventually she broke up with him. So, at the start of my senior year she was unattached and available, and I was ready(-ish) to make my move.
Now, some of you might be thinking, "Whoa! What about the bro code?"And, you would be right to think that. In this situation the bro code clearly states that you can't go out with a girl that was going out with one of your best friends, especially if she broke up with him.
But, at the time, I didn't even think about the bro code, for a couple of reasons. 1) I didn't know the bro code. I was too stupid, naive, clueless, and infatuated to take into consideration the feelings of my friend. It was thoughtless of me, and I'll take this opportunity to apologize to my friend if my actions at that time hurt or offended him in any way. And then there is B) Because of the shallowness of our little wading dating pool, it would take an offense much worse than a simple break-up to get kicked out of the water. There just weren't enough girls around to throw one out just because she dated one of your friends. (Besides, you don't need to worry about my friend. He splashed back into the pool pretty quickly.)
So, that left me trying to build up the nerve to ask the Mystery Girl out to the Homecoming dance early in my senior year. Looking back, it's amazing I was able to actually do it with all those butterflies flitting about in my stomach. (It's a scientific fact that having 347 butterflies in your gut can have a negative effect on speech patterns.)
The time came to ask her out, and I was more than a little nervous. (In much the same way that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is more than a little tall.) I needed to find a moment when the Mystery Girl was alone, because I did not want to ask her out with all of her friends standing around watching. It was going to be hard enough for me to ask a girl out. The last thing I wanted was to try to do it with her friends gawking at me. (And possibly giggling.) Unfortunately, this left me in the precarious situation of having to follow her around in the hopes of catching her alone, but not look like a stalker while doing so. This required a level of stealth I did not possess.
After a day or two of stalking, I finally found her alone on the stairs at the end of the hall. I made my move, even though the stairs were a dangerous place to be. (Those butterflies can wreak havoc on equilibrium, you know.) I approached her and started into my awkward, but well-rehearsed spiel. (I don't remember what I said, but I am sure I would have gone over it at least 426 times in my head before ever trying it out for real.)
However, no sooner had I gotten her attention and engaged in conversation than one of her friends appeared out of nowhere, as if by magic, at her side. And, although I needed every iota of concentration I could muster to actually ask the Mystery Girl out, a sizable chunk of my brain immediately tried to use the power of telepathy to get the friend to leave. "Go away! Go away now!" I shouted with the feeble powers of my mind, but the friend just stood there, gawking. I even tried telekinesis, attempting to throw the friend out of the way with the very will of my mind. (Or possibly the power of The Force.) She didn't budge. She just gawked. (But hey, at least she didn't giggle.)
I'm not sure how I did it, but somehow, despite the distraction, I managed to ask the Mystery Girl out for the dance. Even more amazingly, she actually said yes! Arrangements were made, and it was all set: I was going to go on a date with the Mystery Girl! And now that the hard part (asking her out) was over, nothing could possibly go wrong! Right?
For the big Homecoming dance, Mystery Girl and I were double-dating with another of my best friends (we'll call him "Chuck,") and his date (we'll call her "The Little Red-Haired Girl.") [Any similarities between "Chuck" and Charlie Brown of Peanuts fame are coincidental. Mostly.]
Chuck was driving his dad's car for the evening. It was a very large, powder blue Ford, about the size of a swimming pool. (And I'm not talking about the little wading pool anymore. I'm talking about a pool it would take an effort to do laps in.) Chuck had already picked up the Little Red-Haired Girl, and they were in the front seat. I got in the back seat, and we drove all the way across town (three blocks) to the Mystery Girl's house to pick her up.
I was very nervous. I had been on many dates before (two, actually) but this was the first time I was going on a date with someone that I really, really liked. [For the story about those first two "wild" dates, see: "The One Girl"] I was unsure what to do, but I thought it would be a good idea to bring her a flower, so I bought a rose to present to her at her door when I picked her up.
I got out of the car and walked toward the house. It was an older house, with a big, old-fashioned porch on the front, the kind on which you could put a porch swing. Mystery Girl's family was renting the house from a family that lived across town. I stood there looking as dapper as I could, in my tie and gray sweater vest with a rose in my hand, when I knocked on the door.
As soon as I knocked on the door, a figure appeared from around the corner of the house. It was a member of Mystery Girl's landlord's family. He was a socially awkward boy, about three or four years older than me. And he stood there, staring at me, his mouth slightly agape. (His mouth was usually slightly agape.) He didn't say a word, he just gawked. I was already uncomfortable. Now, more so.
Thankfully, someone came to the door. It was Mystery Girl's grandma, a sweet and wonderful woman. Unfortunately, she did not invite me in. Instead, she went off to tell Mystery Girl that I was at the door.
No sooner did Grandma leave the door that another figure appeared from around the corner of the house. There, standing next to Landlord Boy, was his sister. (Yes, that would make her "Landlord Girl.") Like her brother, Landlord Girl didn't say a thing, she just stared at me. It was as if these people had never seen a guy in a sweater vest holding a rose before! (Maybe they hadn't.)
I tried my best to look straight ahead or down at the floor and pretend I didn't notice them. But, their persistent gawking was drilling a hole into my peripheral vision. I tried to remove them using my powers of telepathy and telekinesis, but to no avail. (Apparently, I am tele-pathetic.) As much as I tried to ignore them, I couldn't. And that's when the third figure appeared. It was Landlord Mom!
Many mothers, upon seeing two of their children gawking at a nervous, increasingly sweaty teenage boy in a sweater vest with a rose in his hand, would chastise their children and tell them to give the poor boy a little privacy. Not Landlord Mom! She joined her kids in their gawking, making it a true "Three Gawk Night." It was the very definition of the word "gawkward." (If "gawkward" were actually a word.)
I'm not sure how much time passed. Possibly ten seconds. Possibly twenty-five minutes. I really don't know. I only know that three people were staring me down, and none of them made a sound. Finally, thankfully, Mystery Girl came to the door. I clumsily presented her the rose. She turned back inside to get a vase for the flower, thoughtfully inviting me a few steps into the house, away from the six-eyed gaze of the Landlord Family.
With the rose safely vase-ified, we headed out to the car. I opened the door on the passenger side for Mystery Girl to get in. I then went and took my spot on the driver's side. And there we were in the back seat together. Now, I had heard lots of stories and seen lots of television shows where they excitedly talk about things that happen in the back seat of a car. But, this car was about twenty feet across, and Mystery Girl was sitting right next to the door on the passenger side, and I was sitting right next to the door on the driver's side. The entire New York Knickerbockers basketball squad (starters and reserves alike) could have fit comfortably on the seat between us. I knew none of that "back seat" stuff was going to be happening on this date.
The plan for the evening was to go out for a nice dinner, then go back to the high school for the Homecoming Dance. Since the only thing resembling a "nice" place to eat in all of Marsh Valley was the truck stop, we decided to drive the 30 miles to nearby Preston for our dining experience.
(Just to put this in perspective for you, Preston, Idaho is the town featured in the movie Napoleon Dynamite. So, we were driving 30 miles out of our way to go to Napoleon Dynamite's hometown because we considered it a big town where we could get some fine dining!)
Preston, in fact, was the arch rival of our high school, Marsh Valley. And, earlier that weekend in our big Homecoming football game we had beaten arch-rival Preston! (And when I say "we," I mean that literally, because I'm sure my trombone playing in the pep band really contributed to the margin of victory.) (Actually, my friend and double-date partner Chuck not only played on the team, he was one of the biggest cogs on the offense, touching the ball on every play!) (No, he wasn't the quarterback.) (He was the one with the quarterback's hands constantly in the region of his buttocks.) (He played center.)
What we didn't take into consideration when we chose Preston as our destination for fine dining was that they might resent Marsh Valley for beating them in football. So, when four nicely dressed (sweater vest and all!) kids double-dating from our car met up with four more nicely dressed kids double-dating from another car, the restaurant in Preston was invaded by eight nicely dressed kids who were obviously going to the Homecoming dance of arch-rival Marsh Valley.
Again, we didn't give it any thought. We went in to the restaurant, sat at our table, and placed our orders. They brought us our soups or salads. (But no super salads.) And then we waited for our entrees to arrive. And we waited. And we waited. And we waited. And we waited.
As we waited, the eight of us sat at the table and talked. Well, the other seven of them talked. As I've stated, I was rather shy, and when in a big group of people like that I find it even more difficult than normal to get a word in edgewise. So, I sat there mostly silent. That's when Chuck, in an attempt to get a laugh, would say, "Shut up, Joe." (You see, it was ironic, because I wasn't saying anything, and yet he was telling me to shut up.) It usually worked. It got Chuck an easy laugh, and it pushed me further into my silent shell. (I'm sure Chuck didn't realize how much I didn't like it when he did that. I should have told him, because if I had, he was a good enough friend he certainly would have stopped.)
Anyway, as we waited and waited for our food to arrive, time kept slipping by. It was getting to the point that if our dinner actually ever did arrive, by the time we ate it and drove back to Marsh Valley, the dance might be over. So, we made the decision to leave without our food. To this day I'm not sure if the reason we didn't get our food was because they were having a bad night in the kitchen, or if they were purposely not serving us because we were from the rival high school that had just beaten them.
We made it to the dance in time to do some actual dancing. And the rest of the evening went pretty well, despite the fact that we were all a bit hungry. (The lack of food didn't really bother me much. With all those butterflies in my stomach there wouldn't have been much room for food, anyway.)
And then it was time for the date to end. Just as there was not going to be any back seat shenanigans, there was also not going to be a good-night kiss on her front porch when I dropped her off. This was because: A) I was way too scared to try for a good-night kiss, and 2) I had no idea who might pop around the corner of the house and gawk at me. And I didn't need that. I was gawkward enough on my own.