He was a beautiful Jewish boy from NYC with big dark eyes and a winning smile, smart and sassy and apt to lug Classic Literature around with him. Hardcovers, even.
He had a beautiful Jewish girlfriend from NYC, but that did not stop me from memorizing his college schedule of classes and so arranging to bump casually into him on campus at carefully crafted points throughout the week. I’d step out from behind the corner of some venerable brick building and waltz lightly through the quad, managing on good days to cross his path at strategic spots.
On bad days, I’d just hunker down into the winter and plod on alone.
His attraction to me was primarily my prepaid meal card, which I shared generously with starving off-campus students (particularly older unattainable boys who read Real Books with their big dark eyes).
It was Valentine’s Day. The year was 1979. I didn’t expect much, ever, on February 14, and (possibly consequently) nothing much ever happened. But this year was different. A promising anonymous envelope appeared in my dorm mailbox. Inside was a pink sheet of paper, upon which a 4-stanza poem had been typed. It had been typed very carefully – this was back in the day of Liquid Paper, and the pinks would not have matched. There were no mistakes.
It was a poem that had been written for me.
It was therefore a perfect poem.
I floated through the day. I couldn’t wait to encounter my beautiful Jewish boy from NYC. And I didn’t happen to encounter him – but no matter. I was willing to wait for him (and had been, for a couple semesters).
That night, a knock came upon my door. I sailed over, flung it open, and found at the threshold some nameless boy from my Lit class. He was a quiet boy, with nails chewed to the quick and a nervous twitch and a faint smell of Listerine. We’d never really spoken. Still, there he was. Why? What was I to do? I invited him in and we sat and chatted for long uncomfortable minutes. I expected him to ask about homework assignments.
Instead, he finally asked if I’d gotten the poem.
I can still feel the smile freezing on my face. I faked delight as well as I could (why must we women always fake these things? and why do men always believe us when we do?) and we went off to have a celebratory beer together at the student center.
I remember several things about that evening: First and foremost, my shame and embarrassment and folly, and the need to be nice to this Nice Boy, who through no fault of his own had ruined my life. Second, that Nice Boy had recently been to a Bruce Springsteen concert and had missed his favorite song when he went out to the lobby to get a hot dog, an event that had actually made him cry since he’d been living to hear that song live.
I did not care for Bruce or hot dogs at that time.
These days, I like my Springsteen cranked up loud and I like my hot dogs with lots of red onion and mustard. These days, I’d no doubt look at that Nice Boy with different eyes and see different things.
If I could remember his name, I’d try to tell him so. All I ever told him was that I had a boyfriend back home – another lie, like my smile.