In my junior year of high school, there was a girl. She was the type of girl I was not attracted to. She was blonde, perky, preppy, and popular. She seemed to be caught up in appearances and social standing. She was very concerned of what others though of her. She drove a cute little car and had an irritating smile coupled with a little derisive laugh. She thought she was better than everybody (to be fair, she was better that a lot of us), and wasn’t afraid to tell you. She was the antithesis of all I desired in a woman and the epitome of all I detested. Naturally, I was infatuated with her.
Thanks to the vagaries of arbitrarily assigned seats, we found our selves next to each other in English class. She was cordial at first, but quickly cooled when my strange interest in her appeared. I couldn’t describe what we had as a friendship, but we did talk a bit. As long as I never crossed the line (which was believing there was a world in which the two of us could get together), we got along all right. I didn’t necessarily have a problem with the line existing, I had a problem with its reason for existing. I had a bigger problem with her refusal to admit its true cause. Most of our conversations eventually devolved in to arguments and went something like this:
“But why couldn’t we go out. Just once? You say everyone deserves at least one chance in life,” I would plead (not beg, that would be degrading).
“We just can’t. You know we can’t. It wouldn’t work out,” she would explain.
“I don’t know, though. Because we haven’t gone out. Because you won’t give me a chance.”
“We’re just too different, Leighton.”
“What does that mean? We’re both human. Two eyes, two ears, the usual assortment of parts. I think we should try a date, just once. If it doesn’t work out, fine. But at least we’ll know.”
“It’s not happening. You’re just not . . .”
“. . . well, you know.”
“Not good enough for you?”
“That’s not what I was going to say.”
“It’s what you meant.” In that moment, a look, an emotion flitted across her face. I had seen it before and it looked almost sorry. Sorry for what could never be. As always, it was gone as quickly as it arrived.
“Why are you so interested in me anyway?” she sighed.
“I honestly have no idea.”
I really didn’t. I could not explain my attraction for her, I just knew it was there. I somewhat resigned myself to the role she expected me to play. It was a sad cliché of unrequited affection. I wanted to be close to her in any way she would let me.
I wasn’t completely pathetic (though my friend Jessica, also in the same class, would say otherwise), but I often acted pathetically. The main way was that I could not stand seeing her even a little upset. Had it been a movie of the week, I probably would have gotten a nice speech in which I got to tell her off and we all learned something. Instead, even though I knew her melancholy was often a result of her attitude towards others, I still wanted to see her smile and hear that irritating laugh.
One day, she seemed more down than I had noticed before.
“What’s wrong?” I asked as we settled in for class.
“That’s not true. Just tell me.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Fine then. But at least smile.”
“I don’t want to smile.”
“It’ll make you feel better. Try it.”
“I don’t have a reason to.”
“You’ve got me . . . ” she looked up quickly, a strange expression on her face, “. . . to, uh, ask you to smile.”
“I don’t want to.”
“I bet I could make you smile.”
In that moment, I slowly leaned across my desk toward her, placing one hand on her shoulder and the other beside her head. “How?” she barely had time to whisper as she also leaned toward me and our lips met. It was both a lingering and brief kiss, sweet with the promise unbound affection. As we parted, our eyes met and she asked, “Why did I fight this for so long?” Then she smiled a radiant smile. It was a wonderful, magical moment.
At least, that’s what happened inside my head. In the real world, she simply said, “I doubt it.”
“Give me a chance.”
“We’re just talking about making me smile, right?”
“Fine. Take a shot.”
I truly wanted to see her smile, so I knew it was time to get serious about making her laugh a little. I had a go to bit for situations such as this, once that always worked with girls. Whenever I employed it, short laughter and smiles followed.
“OK, here goes,” I said, “Close your eyes.”
“You’re not going to try to kiss me are you?”
“Uh, of course not. Just close your eyes and humor me.” She finally did.
“Now, try to imagine nothing, “I continued, “and slowly start to imagine walking through a peaceful field. The sun is shining, it’s warm, and there’s nothing to bother you.”
“I’m not smiling.”
“I’m not finished. Have you got that field pictured in your mind?” She nodded and it was time to use what always got a laugh. “Now, imagine me . . . naked!”
She opened her eyes and started laughing. Since this is what I expected I was cool with it (besides I had long since learned that self-deprecating humor worked well for me). But then she kept laughing. Her laughter became more intense. Tears started streaming down her face and she actually pounded on her desk. She knocked a book off as she bent over from laughing so hard. The entire class looked at her. Fortunately she dissolved into more fits of laughter when trying to explain what was so funny. I just stared at her, mortified. Now she was laughing and I was depressed.
From behind me I heard Jessica say, “Well, you made her laugh.”
“Well, isn’t that what you wanted?”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t supposed to be that funny. I expected laughter, not seizures. No one’s ever laughed like that before.”
“You’ve said that before?”
“That’s not the point. Am I really that much of a joke?”
“You are to her.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I bet I could make you smile.”
“Shut up!” I said, but I did smile. Jessica and I weren’t (and never wanted to be) romantically involved, but I knew I wasn’t a joke to her. That was enough and plenty of reason to smile.