Interlude Chapter: Boys
He had a mop of brown-haired curls, brown eyes, and a much too deep voice for an 8-year-old that was rough, gruff, and had my head floating in the clouds. There was just something about him. I was also only 8-years-old at the time. Words failed to capture why my heart went aflutter when he let out a chuckle at me when I read my current news event aloud in front of the class, but who can ever try to explain puppy dog love? By the end of 3rd grade, I lost interest in Mr. Curly Mop and fell for someone else when I turned 10-years-old.
He was my science lab partner. There was something about him with those thick black-framed glasses and his shy smile that had me swooning and flying over the moon. Black ink squirted out when we dissected into that slimy squid. I was in love. Alas, he liked this tall and thin girl with brown hair and perfectly white chiclet teeth that sparkled when she smiled. I should have known and learned right then and there that I was never the kind of girl that guys were interested in as more than a friend. I was the girl that boys found cute, amusing, and perhaps turned to for friendship. The thing is that heart and hormones do not know logic and practicality. My heart was torn when I saw my beloved science lab partner practically drooling at the girl that he liked. I said then and there that boys were just a waste of my time. I would never experience L-O-V-E. I was fine with that, because it was easier for me to be alone and in my own company than to deal with someone who would just reject me.
12-years-old came along and there I was with crutches and a wheelchair that was used on an as-needed basis. These obvious differences were the perfect excuse to completely shield myself away from boys. I placed myself in isolation away from boys in my school who were prone to teasing me rather than reciting any love sonnets or even knowing what a love sonnet was. I was convinced that no boy in his right mind would ever want to be seen with a freakish girl like me.
However, just because I was different with my health did not halt hormones at all. I was still a supposedly “normal” pre-teenage girl with my subscriptions to magazines and ripping out the pin-ups of cute and hot actors with six-pack tummies, muscled biceps, soulful eyes, and sexy smiles. I had a particular crush for Elijah Wood. His wide blue eyes and crooked smile made me turn into a mushy and gushy teenybopper. There was a poster of him pinned up next to my bed. Every night, I gazed into his baby blue eyes adoringly. However, Elijah Wood fell off the face of the earth and out of my heart and head when I met **Dan.
Dan was literally “the man” and not some puny, prepubescent boy in my junior high school. He was the guy that every single estrogen-infused girl in my grade loved. A dreamy hush fell amongst us girls when Dan swaggered down the hallway with his hands stuck into his back pockets. We were just about salivating when his one blue eye closed in a flirtatious wink and his full lips curled into a boyish grin. With a cleft already etched into his chin at age 12, twinkling blue eyes, and silken blonde hair that never moved, he was the “it” guy that every girl pined for and fantasized about. However, knowing that did not seem to faze Dan too much at all. He did not prey too much on us lovesick girls and our unexplainable attraction and intrigue about him. I suppose that is what made us girls like him even more.
I sensed that there was something more to Dan than good looks and his confident aura. There seemed to be a maturity, sensitivity, and understanding about him and in him that I could not explain. Unlike all the other boys in my grade, he never made fun of me, glanced pitifully at me when I struggled with my crutches, or was superficially saccharine sweet to me. He left me alone, but I could have sworn that I would catch a smile from him when I looked up from a daydream that I had about him, as though he were reading my mind. Though he did not treat me as a charity case, I was sure that he saw me just like every other classmate in my grade: “the girl with a kidney transplant who has crutches and a wheelchair on the side.”
I never had a chance with him. He would never be interested in me. He would be interested in a cheerleader with a bouncy ponytail and a flawless face and body. On the outside, I scoffed about him and rolled my eyes when anyone ever mentioned his name, snapping: “Oh, he is just too arrogant and is such a jerk!” When I lied to others, I could lie to myself. But, deep down inside, I was smitten with Dan. I really and genuinely liked and felt something that defied logic and explanation. I had daily daydreams and night dreams about him and me together. In my dreams, I was healthy, thin, pretty, and Dan would crawl on hands and knees to win my heart (not that it took much effort) with a poem, a sentence, a word, or even a glance my way. It ached and hurt to like someone so much and know that he would never return my feelings or that he would never even just be my friend or even just know who the hell I really was. Because liking him hurt so much, I ignored him like the plague and drowned in these dreams.
The closest I ever came to Dan was on our school bus ride back home. He would be joking with all his many friends in the back seat while I sat in the front. If I was too close to him, I could not speak or breathe. Mainly, I sat in the front of the bus to maneuver out easily with my crutches and down the steep steps. A friend of mine usually sat next to me and often chattered endlessly. I faked listening with a nod or an “uh-huh” mumble. However, the truth was that I was thinking about Dan and how close he was to me in location, but how far away he was from knowing that I liked him.
On one day that was just like any other, my leg and hip were aching more than usual and my crutches were more of an troublesome and pesky pain rather than providing help and assistance. My friend slid easily into the front and first seat on the right. I was just about to slide in next to her, when the bus driver suddenly slammed into the curb so hard that my crutches went clattering into the aisle. I collapsed right along with them. Instead of a cool and calm bus driver taking charge, she began to panic and repeatedly squawk like a parrot in overdrive: “Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God!”
An uncomfortable silence hung in the air. I shook my head to try to make sense of what happened. I saw a million pairs of eyes on me. No one said anything. I always made it a point to NEVER cry in public and amongst my peers, but the burning tears spilled down my cheeks and my throat closed up. I was not in pain from the fall, but I was in humiliation from my crutches and me falling like a sack of potatoes right in the narrow bus aisle.
I took a deep breath and urged my body to get up. Before I knew what was happening, Dan pushed his way up to the front to where I was. He stood there before me, and our eyes met. I inwardly panicked with him seeing me sprawled on the floor, thinking: “Oh, God. This is not happening. Tell me that Dan is not in front of me now just gawking at me and witnessing yet another public incident somewhat related to my health. Why is this happening?” In spite of the embarrassment that overpowered me, I could not help but think how beautiful Dan was there in front of me. I could swear that the Hallelujah chorus went off and a golden light shone on his blonde wavy locks of hair. His eyes were filled with concern and worry, rather than mischief as he usually had or the pity that I expected him to have. I wrestled to get up out of the aisle. I shut my eyes, wishing so hard for what had happened to not have happened. When I opened my eyes, I saw a hand in front of me. It belonged to Dan. It took me half a second to figure out that his hand was there for me to hold on to and to help me get up. I looked into his eyes questionably and completely confused. He smiled at me in response—that warm and charming smile that made any and every girl melt into a puddle. I tentatively put my hand in his, feeling warmth radiating and nearly setting my cold, shaky, and clammy hand to fire. I wanted to freeze that moment forever. He asked me sincerely without a trace of pity or sarcasm: “Are you okay, Mary?” I was so stunned that I had to pinch myself to make sure that I was not dreaming. I wanted to shriek: “Oh, my God!! He knows my name! Dan actually knows that my name is Mary!!” The tears I shed disappeared. I could not find my voice; It was clogged in my throat. I just nodded like a dumb idiot with my mouth hung open. I was sure that I was about to wake up from this dream at any given moment.
But, it was not a dream. It was real.
Dan’s hand and my hand were still entwined when I finally managed to sit down in my usual spot on the bus. Our hands fit perfectly together. The brainless bus driver shook me out of my reverie by asking: “Are you okay? Are you okay?” I just nodded. There were rapid knocks on the bus doors. The doors squealed open and the vice principal with his fuzzy brown caterpillar moustache hung down with concern. He boomed: “Is everyone okay here?” Then, he turned to me, said softly: “Are you okay?” I whispered: “Yes,” and then a naked and cold emptiness hit my hand just as the vice principal exited the bus and the doors creaked closed.
Dan had let go of my hand. I clenched my fist as if to say: “Don’t let go.” He picked up my crutches and placed them next to me. He looked at me one more time. His eyes glittered like the bluest water that I could swim in forever. He gave me his infamous half smile. I opened my mouth to say a simple: “Thank You,” but then he was gone. I never thanked him.
Dan reunited with his friends again at the back of the bus. All the sounds of people laughing and chatting returned at the highest decibel. Time unfroze and began to move again. The bus driver turned to me, asked once again that I was okay and not hurt in anyway, and apologized again for her clumsiness. She laughed nervously at herself and her bad driving skills when she had been driving a bus for years on end. I dismissed her chatter as I continued to replay what just happened with Dan was real and not just one of my silly schoolgirl dreams. I was in a complete daze for the rest of the day and into the night. My Elijah Wood poster hung on the wall waiting for my puckered up kiss and worshipped look of love, but all I could think of was Dan. That night, Dan followed me again in my dreams with his hand fitting snugly in my hand.
When I woke up the next day, Dan was still on my mind and the biggest thought that invaded me was that I never thanked him for helping me in my time of need and when no one else even bothered, dared, or moved to make a kind and generous gesture. He was the first person to somewhat stand up for me when no one had and when the majority made fun of me. I was determined to thank him. I would throw caution to the wind. I would ignore the lovesick somersaults turning in my tummy. I would find a way to breathe, my eyes would meet his, and my vocal chords would function to say to him: “Thank You.” But, when I saw him in the hallway surrounded by his many macho male friends and fan club of girls, I lost my courage and strength. What was wrong with me? Why was I such a mimed idiot when I was around him? Why couldn’t my tongue untangle and coherent words erupt from my mouth?
Days went by with me still watching and practically stalking him on the side, yet without me muttering any words to him and without him even looking my way. It was as though what happened on the bus had not happened at all. I was a complete fool. I thought there was some spark between the two of us when our hands held together. I thought that maybe, just maybe he would at least acknowledge my existence after the bus incident. But, nothing happened between the two of us at all. Time went by and the ridicule and whispers that first occurred when I limped and was then placed on crutches started to fade. My school days were no longer so much dreaded. My school days were becoming an everyday routine. Months went by and I began to understand that although I was different and always going to be this way from my kidney transplant, I was not as different as I first believed. I was the same in trying to get through my school work and satisfying my teachers and their thirst for educating or torturing us students. I was the same in experiencing a first love crush that hurt and ached, but was also exciting and thrilling. I was the same in falling for someone who seemed unattainable because of his social status, but attainable in that he was just like everyone else at the end of the day. Knowing these similarities was a comfort and a boost of confidence, and yet I was also starting to accept my obvious differences that I had dwelled on for much too long.
Then, one day, Dan did not come to school. Word quickly spread like wildfire that his family and him moved. They were not coming back. The girls in my grade were shocked and saddened by the news. I appeared as though I did not care about this devastating information, but my insides throbbed in a way that I never experienced before. I was use to the pains of needles and numbness in my hip, but not this kind of empty and regretful pain. It was unbelievable and unexplainable that I had the courage to overcome the pain that came from my health problems, but I had lacked even an ounce of strength to speak to Dan or even to just simply thank him for his heroic and kind deed on that day on the bus. When Dan left, I learned and took with me that you never know the impact a simple caring gesture had on another person and you never know when someone will no longer be there; It was all about saying, showing, and sharing that care when the person was around rather than when the person was no longer there.
I never forgot Dan and what happened on that bus. Dan was proof that there were still good people. He was the one who stood up when no one else would. He made up for and made me slowly move forward from all the ridicule and bad encounters that I had with other classmates. He will never, ever know how much I appreciated what he did for me. He will never know that he was my first real crush who captured a little piece of my heart, who made me see that the smallest gestures mean the most, and who made me feel special and normal while also embracing my beautiful differences.
**denotes created name to protect privacy of individual