Thursday, April 5, 2012

The One Girl

There was just one girl for me. Literally. Just one.

Of course, she wasn't just for me. She was the one girl for all four boys in Arimo. One girl, four boys. That was it. That was the extent of the kids my age in the entire town of Arimo. (I have mentioned that Arimo was small, right?)

Arimo was so small, in fact, that by the time we finished 2nd grade they realized it wasn't worth running an entire elementary school for us, so they started busing us to nearby McCammon. (McCammon was about twice the size of Arimo. Still no traffic lights, but they did have a rodeo grounds!)

And then, for the junior high and high school years, in order to get enough kids to have a school, they shipped kids in from five surrounding small towns, none of which was big enough to have their own traffic light. (Arimo, McCammon, Downey, Inkom and Lava Hot Springs.) This added yet another level to the normal social dynamics of Marsh Valley High School. Along with the regular segregations along the lines of gender, religion, wealth, athletic abilities, and nerdiness, there was also, "what town are you from."

I felt bad for the One Girl. As we started first grade, she was alone. As we progressed through school, and more towns were added to our schooling experience, she wasn't as alone anymore. She had other girls from other towns that she made friends with. But at the beginning, in Arimo, she was alone.

I hope that gender relationships have changed since then, but when I was in elementary school, boys hung out with boys and girls hung out with girls. There was no intermingling. (This was 1972, therefore I blame Richard Nixon.) So, while us four boys formed a tight-knit group of friends, calling ourselves the "Arimo Mafia," we had very little to do with the One Girl. (We didn't come up with the name "Arimo Mafia." We borrowed (stole) it from a group of older kids. We thought it made us sound edgy and cool, even though the most "edgy" things we ever did were to occasionally drive cars fast (not "fast cars;" just old cars as fast as they could go) and try to figure out which member of the drill team had the biggest thighs.)(Nobody said we weren't jerks.)

For her part, the One Girl didn't seem to mind that she was never included in Arimo Mafia doings. She was very, very shy and quiet. She was also cute-ish, nice, and smart. So, even though "girls" were not something I was concerned with at the time, she was always on the periphery of my consciousness. I thought that when it came time to be interested in girls, she might be a girl to be interested in.

At this point I should point out that the One Girl's parents were friends of my parents. (In a town as small as Arimo, everyone was friends.) (Unless they weren't.) And, the One Girl's family had opposite gender kids lined up exactly with the kids from my family. There was a boy the same age as my older sister, and there were girls the same age as my brother and I. To my mother, this was a constant source of matchmaking potential. In her mind, my brother and One Girl's sister were meant for each other. And although I was not yet interested in the One Girl, my mother most certainly was.

Mormons are taught that they shouldn't start dating until they are 16 years old. This doesn't stop most of them. Many get around the "16" rule by holding hands, going "steady," and making out at school without actually going on a "date."

Of course, when you are a shy, awkward, scaredy-cat with the social skills of an unripe* turnip, the "don't date until 16" rule was a godsend. (Literally.) (*Do turnips even get ripe? I have no idea.) Unfortunately, when I actually did turn 16, I felt somewhat obligated to go on a date. The Homecoming dance was coming up, so, early in my junior year of high school, I was going to have to ask a girl out on a date. (Yes, I didn't go on a date until my junior year in high school. Don't mock me.) (Wait...go ahead and feel free to mock me. That's one of the whole reasons I'm writing this. Now that I'm married and happy, I don't mind anyone making fun of how stupid and idiotic I was as a kid.)

So, when it came time to think of a girl to ask, my thoughts turned to the One Girl. Not immediately, but eventually. You see, there were other girls that I liked more, but either a) they were going with someone else; or b) I was scared to death to talk to them. I wasn't afraid of the One Girl. (At least, not much.) She was as shy and quiet as I was, maybe even moreso. So, I decided to ask her out, mostly because I wasn't too afraid of her saying, "No." My mother was very happy.

Once they turn 16 and are "allowed" to date, Mormons are encouraged to double date or date in large groups, the thinking being that, with lots of people around, couples are less likely to pair off for hanky panky and/or shenanigans. Adhering to this principle, I double dated with a friend, and then we met up with another double dating group for high-volume hanky panky protection. (Not that I was worried about hanky. Or panky. Or any combination of the two.)

We took the girls to dinner at the truck stop restaurant in Downey, because nothing says "romance" quite like a giant chicken fried steak served at a gas station. I ate well; I'm not sure if she did or not. (I've almost always been more interested in fried foods than romance, anyway.)

We went to the dance. We danced some dances, sort of. During the fast songs, my dancing style mostly consisted of swaying from left foot to right foot and back, while occasionally swinging my arms in an incoherent manner. (I'm sure you've all seen this "Clueless Dance of the Junior High Boy" before. Even though I was in high school, it was still the only move I had.)

Here's a picture from the date. This is undoubtedly the most physical contact we had with each other all night. I've blurred out her face, because she was a very nice girl and doesn't deserve her picture plastered all over the internets, even though she looks very cute.
(Meanwhile, check out the collar on my sweater! They don't make sweaters with collars like that anymore!)
(There's a reason for that.)

For the slow songs, we held each other at arm's length, so that actual physical contact would be kept at a minimum. This is what happens when two extremely shy people get together at a dance. Do you know what else happens? Absolutely no talking. None. It was as if we were mute.

Okay, that's an exaggeration. But this isn't: over the course of the entire date, I'd be surprised if, between the two of us, more than 27 words were uttered. (And that's only if you count "uh-huh" as two words.)

When it came time for me to drop her off at her door, it was so awkward that it wasn't awkward at all. We both knew nothing was going to happen. We each said, "Thanks," and "Good-night," and that was it. (And yes, "good-night" counts as two of the 27.)

I didn't talk to her again until a few weeks later at school, when she asked me to a girl's choice dance. I'm not sure if she asked me because she liked me, or if she was just reciprocating for the previous date. Either way, we were in for another fun-filled evening of awkward silences and minimal physical contact.

Again, it was a large group date, with four couples involved (and all four members of the Arimo Mafia making up the male half of the entourage.) Unfortunately, the girls didn't splurge for a hearty truck-stop dinner. Instead, we had dinner at the One Girl's house. The girls tried to make it "fun" by serving us spaghetti, then giving us nothing but chopsticks as utensils. The other three guys were even less interested in their dates than I was in mine, so, as a group, we were not amused by the whole "chopstick-spaghetti dinner" idea. We cut the date short, and the four members of the Arimo Mafia ended up walking over to the house of one of my buddies, where we sat up for several hours making fun of the girls who had just asked us out, and talking about the girls that we would rather be with. (Did I mention that we could be jerks?) (Come on, we were teenage boys, of course we were jerks.)

My relationship with the One Girl didn't change after these two dates. We spent our entire twelve years of school together not saying anything to each other. The only difference was for those two nights we didn't say anything to each other while within closer proximity of each other. That was it.

My mother was disappointed that nothing more became of our dates. She continued to push the One Girl as The Girl I Should Spend My Life With. I ignored her. And then, a couple of years after high school, while I was away serving as a Mormon missionary, my mother spent a summer commuting to work with the One Girl. I'm not sure what happened during those commutes, but after that summer my mother not only stopped trying to push me towards the One Girl, she also NEVER tried to set me up with ANY other girl EVER again! (And remember, I was single until I was 40, so there was plenty of time and opportunity for possible meddlings and setups.)

I don't know what happened during those commutes. Maybe, when forced into a conversation involving more than 27 words, the One Girl revealed herself to be a bigot, or a psycho, or, worse yet, a Democrat. Maybe my mother just realized that it wasn't her job to find a wife for me, and she should be happy with me just as I was. I honestly don't know. But, whatever the reason, I was glad not to get any more matchmaking pressure from my mom.

And, I was glad there was a world outside of Arimo. Because if I had married the One Girl like my mother had wanted, the awkward silences would be extremely awkward over the years. (We might even have gotten up to 238 words by now.)

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