So I sit here at six in the a.m. on a Saturday morning, a victim of unseasonably warm October weather with resulting sinus congestion to show for it. And as I sniff and struggle to shake the cobwebs out of my head (No, spiders haven't laid eggs in my ear. It's a figure of speech), I find myself reflecting on my lost youth. Y'see, today's my birthday-by-proxy with Laura (tomorrow being the actual date of launch), who's the love of my life. And drifting back twenty years or so, I begin retracing some of the steps (of the female persuasion) that got me to where I've always wanted to be:
In 1981, I was chubby, insecure and an incurable doodler. Sure, that sounds like a euphemism for masturbation, but I liked to draw. Clean it up, potty minds. The first grade is an intimidating place. As Dan Akroyd reflects disparagingly in "Ghostbusters", "They expect results." Bullies, math, and forced physical exertion (I refuse to call it education) didn’t hold well for me. But one girl, Mara Mueller, who would become one of my first friends and just as importantly, my first realistic crush (or as near as I could assume to have at that age, a good five years before puberty kicked my ass), kept that period of my childhood from being an absolute bust. The fact that I fell for a girl who had religious values far flung from my own (Jehovah's witness) and who could draw horses way better than I could made the crush even less likely. You may note that I referred to Mara as my first "realistic crush." That's because just before Mara caught my eye, I was won over by a freckle-headed vixen of the big screen who's unshakable belief that the sun would come out tomorrow only made her more appealing. Aileen Quinn's performance as "Annie" would forever be etched in my mental black book as my very first serious celebrity crush, and of an older woman, no less (she had me beat by four years).
1985 and the fifth grade held it's own brand of horror that would make first grade seem pleasant by comparison. Given a choice between two mean old bitchy teachers, I inexplicably chose the worse of the two for my homeroom. Mrs. Dankert hated me for reasons I can't begin to understand. I wasn't a wise-ass, I wasn't a bully, and I wasn't a know-it-all by any stretch. But she seemed to resent me, and found ways to inflect petty tortures that left scars significantly internal if not external. But a bright spot in my year of darkness came in the form of Mary LePeak.
Maybe crush is a bit too strong to describe my feelings for her, but she was certainly the truest friend I'd made that year, and I recall drawing a figurative white squall of cartoons about and for her.
1986 was a mixed bag. Sure, it was, up until that point, the greatest year of movies I'd ever experienced (Labyrinth, Little Shop of Horrors and Howard the Duck in the same year? Who'd been looking into my dreams?!). And it introduced me to the three guys who would end up being my best friends (mad props to Ray, Danny and Bill). But there seemed to be a bully population boom that year (the market was flooded, almost like a full page ad requesting twelve year old thugs was posted and the response was overwhelming), my hormones were off the charts, and I was a social misfit of the tenth power. And lording over the wasteland of my scarred psyche and throbbing libido was Jenny Masterovski.
In the truest sense, it could be said that she was my first honest to god, would face a firing squad for one kiss crush. Mara was good for the first grade, but Jenny was the real deal. In retrospect, she was a very kind girl given her social status (burgeoning popularity with the homecoming queen crown on the horizon). She actually gave me the time of day, so to speak, and did nothing to discourage my harmless flirtations in the form of the previously mentioned white squall of cartoons. But like most twelve year old boys who's decision making is marred by the mystery of where that hair came from and why does my zipper feel abnormally tight, I let me emotions get away from me and scared her off, albeit temporarily, but enough so to embarrass myself in front of the entire class. Hey, what's one more scar to the ol' psyche, anyway? Fortunately, a 6th grade girl's memory of such things had the lifespan of a fruit fly, and we were on decent speaking terms (a brief "hi" in the hallway or a polite acknowledgement of a drawing) after my obsession ran it's course. But I will say that there were much worse people to have around when puberty came a knocking.
1989, another great year for movies (Batman, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade), and another great year for crushes. Actually, crush really doesn't pertain here. With the others, I'd harbored a fruitless hope of an actual "Wanna go with me?" relationship. But with Amy Royal,
I just wanted to stare awhile. She was a different kind of popular than Jenny: stuck up, a wee bit loose perhaps, humongous red hair and with a real cruel streak from what I could tell. So what did I see in her? Just the superficial. Great body, loads of freckles (I've had I thing for them since the days of Aileen), and that hair. Oh man, all that red, bushy hair. So I found that staring awkwardly in the hallways and cafeteria every chance I got was the best way to suffer my libidinous affliction. Ironically, by the time I had a class with her in my junior year and her senior, I got to know her and found myself as disinterested as could be. Her hair deflated, her snotty attitude was wearing thin, and I had other interests to pursue. I don't know if that made me shallow, but seeing as how it was fifteen years ago, I'm not apt to feel terribly guilty about it.
Which brings me to 2002, my second year at my third college (I'd attended Saginaw Valley State University for semester, spent a long and wonderful tour of duty at Delta College, graduated and went on to Central Michigan University). At the time, it seemed I was working towards a degree in not getting a date, and having maintained that area of study for the better part of 28 years, I was certainly overdue for my Masters. I'd about given up trying, actually. I didn’t even want frivolous "friends with benefits" type of canoodling. I just wanted to forget the whole idea of the opposite sex. Of course, that's when it all comes tumbling down upon you. A brief sojourn of non-exclusive dating with a girl who ended up a good friend gave me valuable experience (non-sexual, ya bunch of primates) in future relationship endeavors. So when by absolute whim of fate I met Laura, I had at least an inkling of how to treat a girl (I would have killed for an inkling back in 1986). What was great about Laura is that we started out as friends. Or more accurately, we started out less than friends, though not quite enemies. We were acting in a scene together, and she being the more experienced actor had little patience for my unintentional skill at stepping on her lines during rehearsal. She made sure I knew I screwed up, in short. So I was put off by her, which as we know is a sure sign you're going to fall in love with this person. Soon, it became evident that, through chance encounters and some not-so chance that Laura liked me, which was great, since she was a very attractive woman with a great smile. Yes, superficial at first, but a cute girl liked me. I couldn't afford wasting time reading her resume and doing a background check. Fortunately, when all research had been completed on my part, I found that we were highly compatible and that I loved being with her, which soon evolved to the point where "being with" fell off altogether, leaving "I love her" to stand on it's own merit. This did not take long, on my part at least, which I imagine intimidated her and understandably so. But that's the fun thing about relationships: they don't run on a time schedule. They're going to grow and spread in their own way in their own time. And ours did, into the beautiful blossomed garden that we'd planted together five years ago this month. Sure, that garden has a few bugs and weeds, but it's healthy, and it's going to sustain us well into our old age when such nutrition is most vital to a couple.
So I stand on the precipice of the future, and casting a look over my shoulder to the past, I close my hand around Laura's and signal my appreciation for the experiences that brought me to where I am today, by her side, in her heart and anxious as that awkward twelve year old to profess my love on the alter and make her my forever bride.