In kindergarten, I chased Tommy around the craft table until he promised to marry me.
The love affair obviously didn’t last long, as I was on to “husband” number two, Steve, by first grade. We made it a little longer, and parted amicably. We recently reconnected on Facebook and I think we both feel that the divorce was for the best. We were just young, you know?
Then it was Jeff, whose woos consisted of breaking my purple comb and showing me his loogies. What a dreamboat. And Eric, whose dark eyes and Steelers knit cap were the stuff of my math class daydreams.
All told, I must have had 20 crushes before I left elementary school. They were harmless child’s play, motivated by innocent curiosity and genuine affection.
So, when Sonia started to notice boys early—and they started to notice her back—I was hardly surprised. I found it cute.
Then one day, while at the park, I heard a giggle that made my blood run cold.
Sonia was at the top of the slide; a little boy was at the bottom. She squealed and giggled, calling out, “Silly boy! Again, again!”
The little boy ran, full-tilt, up the slide. Half way up, he hurled himself into the air, belly-flop style, hit the slide with a mighty thud, and slid back down backward, feet first.
Sonia erupted into laughter, “Woo hoo! Silly boy! Again!”
The boy was all too happy to oblige. On his third exhibition, he landed wrong, bruising his chin. He hid his tears well, and grudgingly allowed his dad to check the damage. Meanwhile, Sonia remained at the top of the slide, urging him to continue impressing her at his own risk. The boy was fine, his pride hurt more than his flesh, but he nonetheless chose to avoid Sonia for the rest of the day. Even though he was the one showing off, he held her culpable for his pain.
Oh … no.
My mind flashes back to 1980 and my first real boyfriend, Sean. I kiss him on his grandma’s sofa while she makes tortillas in the kitchen. He gets in trouble for it. For some reason, this makes me feel special.
Then 1983 and junior high: I follow Robert around like a lovesick puppy. I get phone calls from boys I meet at the roller skating rink. I inadvertently steal the attention of my best friend’s guy and never apologize.
1989. High school. I have a new crush every month: Dan, Jason, Bobby. I date but don’t really want a boyfriend and reject any guy unfortunate enough to offer. I flirt clumsily and indiscriminately—and end up with a “reputation” I don’t actually deserve.
Oh, no, no, no.
Now it’s the ‘90s, and I’m off to college with a romantic chip on my shoulder. I obsess about an older guy and spend way too much time around his fraternity house, trying to make him notice me. It doesn’t work. I date doormats, trying to even the score. My flirting escalates and becomes sharply honed—a weapon.
After graduation, I date musicians. I am the Yoko Ono of garage bands, leaving shattered friendships and bad songs in my wake. Subconsciously, I want to hurt these young men; I want to assert my power over them. I don’t realize what I’m doing, but I do it a lot.
As the millennium approaches, I fall hard for an emotionally unavailable friend. So I break his brother’s heart. I feel mean and lonely and stupid and undeserving.
I leave town.
The twin towers fall. I immerse myself in my work. I don’t date anymore. I just hide. That craft table is 25 years gone. I’m finished chasing empty promises and I’m all out of revenge.
I’m 30 and single. And I honestly believe I will die alone. Sadly, this doesn’t surprise me. I can see that I’ve made my bed, one capricious decision at a time.
Then, through some bizarre stroke of luck the likes of which I have never before experienced, I meet Dan. We fall in love. We marry. We have a daughter.
And she’s just like me.
Oh, hell no.
I don’t want her to go through what I did. Because despite my admitted mistakes, I was also the victim now and then—we all were.
The storm and stress of adolescence brings out the worst in everyone sometimes. And the murky waters of young adulthood are fraught with emotional peril. It’s why there are so many love songs.
Of course I can’t shield Sonia from the angst of growing up—and I wouldn’t want to, at least not entirely. She deserves to find her own way and learn her own lessons. She’s entitled to her share of heartbreak.
But frankly, it pains me to think of her doing some of the stupid stuff I did in the name of “love.” OK, a lot of the stupid stuff I did.
Fortunately, she is just like me—so I guess I know what to look out for. Maybe if I act quickly and with great finesse, I can immunize her against the pitfalls of her own heredity.
We’ll be starting with musicians.