Thursday, September 1

the thing about love is...

My love life has always been a private topic. I'm the sort of girl that, if I had a crush on you, you would probably have no clue. I would purposely act ambivalent. I became much more flirtatious in my early twenties, but if I really like someone, my closest friends are lucky to know.

And even though this blog is all about, well, me and my personal life, I tend to keep a bit of emotional distance. I think of OneArmGirl as a public persona, more a projection of myself. So, this is hard to bring up because it hits close to my core, but I recently hit a romantic dead end that felt like a sucker punch to the stomach.

To be fair, there was hardly a beginning, but when I met Jake last year there was chemistry the likes of which you just don't see everyday, hours-long conversation over endless free-refills-coffee included. I felt like he saw through me, he got it. He told me I was special. And I think that's why, when I found out he was pursuing someone else, it hurt so much. I could expound, but I think the truth is much like it always is with this sort of thing, that it just wasn't meant to be. I'm a believer in that, and I wasn't nearly jumping into anything with both feet, but rejection is rejection, and it's always gonna sting.

Several years ago, I started writing about love and it seems appropriate that I share that essay with you now. I think it might be good for me to read it again myself. I changed some names, but the stories are true.


I don't know a lot about love, but I'm learning.

I went to get my hair cut, and the hairdresser, an older, very friendly woman, asked if I had trouble with boys because of my arm. Her question caught me off guard so much that I didn't even know how to respond. She went on to explain that she cut the hair of a man who had a daughter with a similar handicap and, apparently, this little girl was disheartened over rejection from boys in school. I don't remember what I said to her, but I do remember wishing I could sit down with that little girl and tell her some of what I know...

I like to tell people that I had my first real boyfriend when I was five. And then I add, “he was an older man.” He was eight. His name was Fin and he lived across the street. He was half Norwegian and half Greek and he lived with his mom and older brother. His dad wasn’t around. We spent a considerable amount of time together watching Thunder Cats and playing in my backyard. I don’t remember if we kissed. It’s not really important, I guess. I like to tell the story of Fin and me because, thinking back, it seems like such a simple time, a simple love.

I think what I didn’t realize then was that, in those early years on the streets of Philadelphia, I was learning that I was lovable. I had, in fact, several good friends all on the same street. No one taught me to believe that I was a social outcast and so I turned into a socialite instead. We opened our home to the neighborhood and the neighborhood came over. Kit lived next door and liked puffins and milk. Yvonne taught me how to rollerskate. Fin and I and my Lil' Sis built snow forts in the backyard in the wintertime and found kittens under the woodpile in the summer. One day, Yvonne told me Fin wanted me to be his girlfriend. When you are five, there is always a third party involved. I struggled to understand the proposition. I knew that I was special to him and I didn’t want to lose his friendship, so I agreed. Thus went my introduction to romance.

I was adorable when I was little; I'm not bragging, this is merely a fact. I had a forest of curls on my head, a precocious personality, and corduroy pants (it was the 80s). Someone once told my parents that when I got older my dad would have to carry a shotgun to keep all the boys away. I remembered that and, in some subconscious way, I’m still waiting for that pronouncement to come true, like the fulfillment of some old prophecy spoken over my cradle: “One day, in the not too distant future, this child will become a great seductress, enticing men from far and wide with her smile, good looks and great personality.”

In reality, I feel a little inept writing about love and romance. Here’s why: I don’t think I have that much experience. I lost touch with Fin when I moved to another state. I’ve never been in a “long-term” relationship. Actually I don’t really know what that means. When does a relationship become long-term, after six months, two years...? Some days I think I’ve learned a lot about love, and then other days I think I don’t know anything at all. I’ve decided love is like that—-just when you start to feel like an expert, something happens that makes you feel like a novice all over again.

In high school I began to know a boy called Alex. He was good-looking and funny and just had a way of getting under your skin that made you like him even more. He always asked to borrow pencils in Algebra because he never remembered to bring any. I pretended to be annoyed, but I liked that he needed me. I thought he was cool and I wanted his attention. But I also thought that we could never be real friends because he said rude things and cursed sometimes. I was pretty serious back then and a bit of a goody-two-shoes without meaning to be, but I was, so I figured he was off limits.

Then I didn’t see Alex much for a while and it wasn’t until my last year in high school that he came back on the scene. Literally. He joined the drama kids and we spent hours after school in the afternoon on the same stage, rehearsing for musicals and various plays. But something had changed. Alex wasn’t as crass. He told me he'd gotten serious about God. But this seriousness didn’t make him any less funny, and maybe even more popular. Before long, he was getting lead roles on stage. Girls mooned over him shamelessly and he became a hot topic in the dressing room.

When the end of my senior year rolled around and prom was on the horizon, I knew that I had a major crush. But I didn’t really do much about it. I’m not the type to fight my way through a horde of girls to get the guy I want. It's always seemed illogical; I figured if a guy wanted to be with me, he would be with me and not with some other girl. If he wanted to be with another girl, then what could I do about it. Yes, I thought about things like that in high school.

The only thing to do, really, when suffering from unrequited love is to go home and cry to your mom about how ‘if he only really knew you, he would definitely choose you over that other girl’ and so on. I don’t remember if I did much crying, but I do know that while some girls went scrambling about to find prom dates at the last minute, I simply decided not to go. And I was OK with that. I had gone to prom the year before with my friend Eric and I figured it wasn’t that big of a deal anyway. I put on a brave smile and accepted reality, not even admitting to myself that I wanted to go with Alex.

Then, something magnificent happened. The day before the dance, everyone was talking about prom and Alex asked if I was going. I said no and he said he would have asked me to go, but he thought I was already going with some girlfriends. That’s when a huge crater opened up in the floor and swallowed me. But somehow I was still standing, dazed but upright, in the theater auditorium.

Driving home from school, I was euphoric. It turned out that Alex’s sister was getting married the next weekend and he already had a tux, so I rushed to town the next morning and bought a dress. And we went to prom, Alex and I. I walked in on his arm, the leading man with the one-armed girl who never got a lead role. Half the girls at the dance would probably have given an arm or a leg to be in my place. OK, at least twenty-five percent. It was just a dance, but I knew even then that it was much more to me.

Prom was not the beginning of a happily-ever-after love. I went away to college and eventually we lost touch. Last Christmas I heard that Alex is married and living in Oklahoma. But it was the beginning of me believing that ‘too good to be true’ is just a routine part of faith and believing at all. Before I left high school, I joined other senior thespians in painting a mural in the theater stairwell. On my part of the wall, I painted the words “Nothing is Impossible.” When I left high school, this is what I believed about love.

To be continued...