The Things We Do For Love
“What?” My mother asked groggily, staring at me through half-opened eyes. “Why?”
“I need a ride. I have to go to 7:30 Mass,” I answered, bouncing from foot to foot, my eyes darting to the time on my parents’ bedroom clock radio.
“Huh? Are you kidding? Why?”
“Because,” I stammered, “I…really, really…love…Jesus?”
The truth was I really, really loved Danny O’Reilly, a boy one year ahead of me at our Catholic grade school and he was the altar boy for that week’s 7:30am Mass. I would—and did—lose sleep over him. Too bad he didn’t know about it.
He was one year older (14 to my 13), and light-years cooler (I was what one might tactfully call a late bloomer. The kind of youngster seriously encouraged to cultivate wit and a charming personality). Until Danny came along I didn’t know it was possible to feel so alive and so hideously, woefully nauseous at the same time. And I loved every queasy, unrequited moment.
The year was 1978, and I was in the seventh grade. I had no idea what to do with my hair and had a near compulsive relationship with a t-shirt someone received and then had given me after opening a bank account (it had the bank’s mascot, a tiger named Umbert, on the front). My second favorite t-shirt came courtesy of my booze-ghoul of an uncle’s trip to Hawaii. Oversized and yellow, it featured a large hand making the “Hang Loose” gesture (with the words splattered across the front for good measure). Even when my infant brother peed on the shirt three times in protest I simply washed it and wore it again. Clearly, there was no helping me. I was the opposite of sexy. I was actually negative sexy. I was overdrawn at the Bank of Foxy.
The great thing about teen idol and celebrity crushes is one doesn’t have to be in the same league as the object of their affection since said object lives miles and miles away, and your paths will never cross. So we felt free to giggle about this star or that, because no one was ever going to say, “As if he’d want to go out with you. You, and your stupid tiger t-shirt.” Real boys, however, were a whole other story. You often knew what kind of girl they liked, since she sat next to you in Homeroom, and you already knew—without being told—your chances of ever having this boy so much as look your way were non-existent. It was one thing to know it. It’s another to hear it, especially in that singsong tone of voice that only girls between the ages of 12-15 can produce.
So I was happy to love Danny from afar, in relative silence. He was so loved I was always able to find someone willing to discuss him. All you had to do was sit down amidst any group of young girls and hear which jacket they thought he looked best in, or how sexy his walk was, or how good he looked when he ran his hands through his hair. The class tramp liked him. So did the class prude. Danny O’Reilly, the great leveler.
My crush lasted for a whole year, fed and fanned by silent chance encounters in the hallway (me being sent to get some sort of supply, him returning from yet another trip to the principal’s office), sly glances at recess, and—of course—Mass.
“9:00am, this time?” Mom would smirk. “Learned your lesson after last week, huh?”
Hardly. Danny had to graduate and go to high school before I learned—well, lost interest—that following fall. That was when I decided a tow-headed boy named Ken who sat in front of me was pretty cute. But Ken sat a little too close, and he kept cranking out second-hand quotes from “Animal House”, trying to pass them off as his own. When I watched him use Liquid Paper to gingerly write the word “f*****” on the back of a girl’s sweater during an assembly I thought, “This just isn’t the same as with Danny.” Danny probably was an idiot, too (actually, I’m sort of sure he was, looking back), but I didn’t have to see it, hear it, etc. To me he was all swagger and great hair, and from afar that was all I needed. My thirteen-year-old mind could design his personality for him.
I have no idea how a 2006 crush works vs. a 1978 one. Back then we could call Danny’s house, hang up, and giggle uncontrollably (those days are gone, thanks to Caller ID and *69). Today we would have snapped pictures of him with our phones and then sat on the ‘net chatting about him. Somehow, I liked our limited capabilities better. If I could have Googled him, I probably wouldn’t have liked him so much.