High School memories are funny things. Some people over romanticize them, and some dwell only on the unhappy ones (which is what I usually do, but mostly because they are funny). For most of my freshman and all of my sophomore and junior years of high school, I had a pretty good friend named Tonia. While she was never my girlfriend, she was definitely my girl friend (that space is an important distinction). We spent a lot of time together and I am convinced that she saved me from having all bad memories. She was a year older and was my constant during the roughest part of those formative years. This doesn’t mean we never ran in to problems of course.
We had met previously, but our friendship really started the second semester of my freshman year. I switched biology teachers and she showed me the ropes in my new class while I pretended not to be attracted to her friend also in the class. She made fun of me along with everyone else, but she did it differently. Her insults seemed like good-natured jabs and were never hurtful. I can’t prove it, but I also think she may have taken up for me once or twice.
Our friendship really blossomed about a year later after I got my driver’s license. Thanks to the freedom supplied by that laminated plastic card, I spent many afternoons with her. Sometimes, we sat at the mouth of Dunbar Cave and discussed life while glaring at anyone who looked at us. Mostly, we spent time at her house just hanging out. It was during one of those afternoons that I realized we were both cowards. In completely different ways, mind you, but cowards nonetheless.
I knocked on the door that afternoon and as she opened it, she said, “Oh good, you’re here. I have something I need you to do.”
“Sure thing,” I said as I walked in, “What do you need.”
“Here,” she said and handed me her cordless phone, “I need you to call Adam Curry.”
Adam Curry was one of the early VJ’s on MTV back when it was only the one channel and still played music videos. He hosted the proto-Total Request Live call-in show named 1-800-Dial-MTV.
“I need you to call in and request Pour Some Sugar on Me.”
“You need me to call and request Def Leppard?”
“Because I want to see the video. It’s my favorite.”
“So why don’t you just call in?”
“Because you’re better at it.”
“I don’t even have cable. How can I be better at it?”
“You just are.”
“It’s just a phone call,” I countered.
“Will you please just do it.”
“I guess. What am I calling again?”
“Okay, what’s the number?” She rolled her eyes for some reason, then patiently repeated the number. “It’s busy,” I said after an unsuccessful attempt.
“Why aren’t you doing this again?”
“Because you’re better at it.”
“You’re chicken is more like it.”
“I am not chicken.”
“Then why am I the one with the phone?”
“I’m sure there are things you’re afraid to do!”
If it had been a movie, that would be the moment I declared I wasn’t chicken and kissed her. It wasn’t a movie though so I just dialed again. There was a bit of truth in her statement because I was too chicken to ever talk about some of my feeling for her.
If I had ever worked up the courage to ask her out, or to go with me, she probably would’ve given me the “I don’t want to ruin our friendship” speech. Oddly enough, in her case, it would have been the one time I believed it. We had a good friendship. Actually, we had a great friendship and part of the reason I never pushed to take it to the next level was that I didn’t want to ruin it either. Not that it kept me from feeling jealous occasionally.
One afternoon I came over with a friend of mine. At the first opportunity, I warned Tonia that he would ask her to go with him.
“What makes you think he’ll ask me?” she wanted to know.
I knew it was something he did often. He knew he was good-looking and that most girls he asked said yes. I thought he would ask her because that’s just the kind of thing he did.
“I have a hunch,” was all I said though.
“Well, why shouldn’t I?” I tried to ignore the look of hope or excitement in her eyes.
Because, while he is good-looking, and most girls her asked said yes, he also quickly loses interest. Because I want to ask you that question. Because I actually care about you and he’ll hurt you and I don’t want to see you hurt, I just want you to be happy.
“Please just trust me on this.” I guess I really was chicken.
Soon, they were having a seemingly great conversation and I felt marginalized. I was torn between my feelings and how happy she looked. She actually giggled like a school girl, which she never did. I was increasingly feeling like the third wheel, but when she felt his bicep, I had enough.
I stood up, turned toward them, motioned outside with my thumb, and announced, “I’m going to go sit on the porch. I’m clearly not needed here.”
“Why are you flexing your arm?” Tonia asked.
“What? I’m not. What do you mean?”
“You’re holding your arm like that to flex your muscle.”
“I”m really not.” I totally was. “I’ll be outside.”
Later, when Tonia and I were alone again she told me about the conversation I missed while on the porch.
“He asked me to go with him.”
My heart sank. “What did you say?” I asked even though I already knew the answer.
“I told him no.” Apparently, I didn’t know the answer.
If this were a movie, it would be when she admitted her feeling for me and we kissed. It still wasn’t a movie though and she simply said, “Because I do trust you.”
“I mean, I would have said yes if you hadn’t talked to me, but you did.”
High praise from a woman who giggled like a school girl under his enchantment.
We never did go out, or even kiss, so I didn’t receive what most people mean by “sugar” in a relationship (I definitely never received what Def Leppard meant by it), but she did give me some sugar. Her friendship sweetened the bitter experience of high school.
It was enough.