Sunday, February 9, 2014

Our Vicarious Boyfriends

I was a junior in high school, sixteen. Not long after the Beatles first appeared on the "Ed Sullivan Show," I stood at the front entrance to Morton High with my friend, Donna, the two of us discussing the cuteness quotient of John, Paul, George and Ringo. There was giddiness and screeching involved—what had already been tagged “Beatle Mania.” I thought Paul was the cutest. I hadn’t yet figured out that you could also have a crush on a boy because of his mind. 

It was the end of the school day; we were waiting for Donna's mom to pick us up. Classmates surged around us, carrying their books as kids did then: boys, at their sides; girls, hugged to their chests. It was cold. Everyone was bundled up in winter jackets, but girls couldn’t wear pants to school then, so their legs were bare. And God forbid, you should wear boots—no matter how severe the weather. Most girls wore white tennis shoes or flimsy Capezio flats, with nylons. 

I wore white tennis shoes and white wool crew socks. I couldn’t think wearing nylons. (I still can’t.) Which maybe, just possibly had something to do with why boys did not find me all that alluring. 

A while back, when I did a book signing in my hometown, a high school classmate appeared—a still- good-looking guy who had lived down the street from me. It was lovely to see him, so nice of him to come. I said, “I had a huge crush on you in high school.” He looked stricken, he stepped back. His hands went up, as if in defense.

“You were too smart,” he said.

He couldn’t get away from me fast enough.

The thing is, I was a good and earnest student in high school, smart enough, but nowhere near as smart as the smartest kids in our class. I was, however, intense. I mortified myself. I lived in a perpetual state of yearning. I yearned to be popular. I yearned for a boyfriend. I yearned to be known and accepted for who I was, though, looking back, it's clear I didn't even know who I was myself.

Mostly, I yearned to be writer--and I might have found a place for all that intensity and even some kindred spirits on the newspaper or yearbook staff, but I was too scared to take the required journalism class because I was afraid I wouldn’t be good enough. So that intensity was a loose cannon, exploding in weird, wrong times and places, never failing to make me feel worse about myself. Honestly, I wouldn’t have known what to do with a cool, handsome boyfriend should one have miraculously appeared to claim me.

Maybe, for some of us, the Beatles were vicarious boyfriends. Attainable boys were so…unsatisfying and, well, real. And it was perilous to have a crush on an unattainable boy. You didn’t dare talk about him, even to your girlfriends. You’d be teased mercilessly. Worse, what if the boy found out somehow? You would be ruined. You would want to curl up in a corner and die.

But you could go on and on and on about the Beatle of your choice like all infatuated people do about their beloveds, with no price—other than maybe boring everyone around you to tears. But people in love don’t realize they’re boring others. So who cared? And there was a Beatle for every girl. If you wanted a cute, charming boyfriend, Paul was the one for you. If you wanted a smart, witty boyfriend, John was the clear choice. Soulful: George. Just your basic guy, only…a Beatle: Ringo.

Knowing that the odds of even setting eyes on your beloved Beatle were about the same as said Beatle actually falling in love with you were pretty much zero, only made it all the more delicious. You could zone out, fantasizing. You could listen to “That Boy” over and over, knowing you could mend your Beatle’s heart if only he could find you—and wouldn’t you be a way better girlfriend, anyway? Or you could listen to “I Saw Her Standing There,” imagining you were the girl your particular Beatle was seeing that first time and knowing, in an instant, that he'd been looking for you all his life.

Ah, (safe) love.