Wednesday, October 10, 2012

First Rejection

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

First Rejection

I remember well my first crush. I’d had other interests beforehand, but I’d never had much success. In fifth grade, with my mother's help, I presented gift after gift to a girl I liked. My mother pushed the relationship hard. A teacher at the same school I attended, I assumed her persistent suggestions meant that she had inside information. Not receiving much in the way of attention at first, I gave up trying. But just as my efforts to capture her attention had ceased, she expressed interest.

I'd been knocked off stride the whole time and promptly retreated within myself. A year passed. I kept a close friendship going with another girl. Like before, everyone else recognized the mutual attraction between us. Ironically, we never formally acknowledged it for what it was. In high school, she’d date a friend of mine and eventually get married a little while afterwards. She is now a mother, has gained a substantial amount of weight, and has never left Birmingham.

The hell known as seventh grade had descended. Puberty is hard-edged and unforgiving. Though we never talked about it, all of us were paradoxically fighting to survive as close to unscathed as possible. My next infatuation was very different from the ones that preceded it. She was mostly a stranger. I didn’t really know her well, beyond the fact that we had a mutual friend and inhabited the same English class.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at the rejection. She barely knew me. Not brave enough to tell me her decision directly to my face, she instead conveyed the message through an intermediary. At the time, I was a little miffed that I couldn’t have learned this information in a more direct way. When my hurt feelings subsided, I understood why she’d taken the course of action she did. I'd placed her in an awkward position, but she seemed to take it in stride, far more calmly than I ever could have.

Two minutes after the final bell, an unexpected figure approached me, pushing through the crowd of students headed back home. I recognized it to be one of her friends. The words she shared were brief. She says she’s really sorry, but no.

While still processing, I witnessed a fellow student deliberately pull the fire alarm, forcing the evacuation of the entire school. Surrounded by the frantic effort of principals and administrators to establish order, I spent the time deep in thought. In the middle of a crowd of fellow students, I found the juxtaposition jarring. When the all-clear was given, I boarded the bus home in silence.

I’d worked up the courage to ask her out over the phone. This took an extraordinary effort. Unbeknownst to me, someone else unwanted had been listening in to our conversation. My sister Melissa had correctly observed, from my slightly-panicked prior behavior, that I was going to call a girl. I’d made an extra effort to make sure that the land line would be my own for the next few minutes. The temptation to spy must have been too much for her.

She was listening in the whole time. Melissa ran into my room the instant the phone had been placed back in its cradle. A teasing, slightly mocking smile was on her face. I felt even more mortified than had been thought possible. The girl I’d called responded to my request with a nervous laugh. We’ll see, she said. I don’t really think she seriously considered my inquiry, but I can’t fault her for her response. It came out of the blue.

Melissa would sometimes hide in my room to observe for herself what I thought was my own private behavior. Then she’d appear from a hiding place, loudly announce her presence, and run out of my room. Surprise! I was never certain of her motives. Did she enjoy seeing me squirm, or did she simply want to have a stronger sibling relationship?

I spent the rest of the afternoon writing terrible poetry and feeling sorry for myself

I never really held much interest in Melissa’s dating habits. For one, she seemed to be better at the game of pursuit than me, at least initially. At the time, her nickname for me was “shy bug.” And yet for a shy bug, my desire for companionship was such that I propelled myself forward into the unknown.

Eventually, I gathered that luck is as much a part of romantic success as any other factor. It evaded me at first. The first several women I sought were either too socially inhibited to respond to my overtures or already committed to another man.

Dating is a numbers game. It is additionally a means of personal exploration and introspection. In our zeal to partner with someone, we easily overlook the intended lessons which go along with the process. What we consider to be the end of our efforts to find someone can be the sprouting of wisdom, not the end of life as we know it. The relationships we form, romantic or platonic, continue forward in space and time. They are not the end, though we may believe that they are.

One of the minor miracles of our time is the ability to easily locate people from the past. Through Facebook, I opened an honest and frank dialogue between myself and my seventh grade crush. I found that we had lots in common. Conversation flowed freely between the two of us. It was through our mutual dialogue that I finally healed the emotional wounds, the feelings of rejection that I’d long carried with me. For a while after she politely turned me down, I doubted my own judgment and insight with others for whom I had feelings.

As it turns out, I was right on the money all along. We might well have even dated, had a different set of circumstances been present. The timing happened to be wrong, not any internal deficiency on my part. If I’d established a friendship first, something I was too scared to do, I might well have gotten a different reply. Instead of second-guessing myself, as I often did, I would have done better to trust my instincts.

Dating and relationships don’t necessarily provide us the structure we may crave. In their place, we may assert our own individual means of measurement, for better or for worse, but these assumptions can be quite incorrect. Sometimes letting go and taking part in the journey is better than micromanaging the process.

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