In junior high school I was neither super cool nor a dork, but somewhere in between. I had friends in each camp, although of course aspired to be popular--but also didn't want what came with that status, namely cigarettes and boys. The former, I concluded after one puff backstage at a school play, was disgusting, and I was in no way ready for the latter. Besides, in order to maintain my cred with the smart, nerdy, good girl camp, it would be unseemly to hang out with kids who were, you know, bad.
But there was this cute boy by the name of Eddie. He was the size of a linebacker, but soft-spoken, and with the face of a cherub. Rumor had it that he'd spent time in "juvie hall," whatever that was. We would smile shyly at each other as we passed in the hallway. I was confused, liking someone so obviously bad, and so never admitted my crush. I simultaneously hoped he'd talk to me and forget about me. The thought of me talking to him was utterly terrifying.
One day in the cafeteria at lunchtime as I was returning my tray, he came over. "Hi," he said, eyes twinkling. "This is for you." He held out a little white box. I opened it, and inside on a bed of cotton was a bracelet made of pretty plastic jewels. "Would you," he said, "go to a movie with me?"
I was astonished. "Um," I answered. "Um!" He smiled back. As if I were in a plummeting aircraft, my life flashed before my eyes. I imagined his cool friends making fun of my romantic inexperience. I imagined my nerdy friends making fun of his (I assumed) poor grades, and having to answer to my parents about dating someone not good enough for me. I saw myself in some distant future, listening to gasps from the crowd as I confessed that I once held hands with someone like him, someone bad.
"I can't accept this. I'm really sorry. I just... can't." His face fell, and then hardened, and he looked at the floor.
"OK. I understand." He turned around and walked away, and never spoke to to me again.
I wish I remembered his last name, so I could track him down and apologize for being such an ass. Yes, I can sort of blame youth and cluelessness for my rudeness, but not entirely. Those of us today who marginalize and shame the other don't have that excuse.
Who would I be now, I wonder, if I had accepted his gift?