Like many kids, I made a concerted effort to reinvent myself for the asinine character-builder/holding pen known as public high school. This wasn’t hard to do, as my mother had just left my stepfather for the third time and I was feeling naturally depressed and broody after a summer of being cooped up in a tiny urban apartment reading science fiction, with a bedroom I was made to share with my toddler sister, who did not share my love of Depeche Mode. So conveying myself as a moody outsider wasn’t a stretch.
In our other house, our “real” house that I assumed we were doomed to return to like the other two times my mother fled, I had my own room and our property adjoined a forest preserve. I felt suffocated living on the busy street and in the rundown apartment that my mother could afford on her secretary’s salary. I knew in my gut that this was another one of my mother’s crappy, half-baked holidays from her husband, and it irritated me that it was both restrictive and likely temporary.
After a summer in the apartment, growing pale and thin under the blue tint of constant Moonlighting reruns and Elvis movies, the beginning of high school seemed like an escape. I decided there would be people there who were more like me and would recognize what I had to offer as a budding intellectual who had spent the summer interspersing sci -fi with Serious Literature (Kafka: check; Hesse: check; Vonnegut: check) and a snappy fashion sense that was 1980s Robert Smithian. How could I fail to surround myself with other sensitive souls who were like me?
I also assumed I would pick up where I left off in the eighth grade with clubs and activities. French club, chess club, and I was considering going out for golf since I had spent many happy hours as delinquent cleverly writing the number of The Beast in sandtraps and moving the rakes around. Golf courses felt like a second home to me, albeit a home I was likely to pee in the corner of and steal things from. I got derailed on my quest to embrace this trifecta of dorkiness by taking the first year of drama as an elective on a whim, which left no time for chess, French club, or golf.
A couple of weeks into the start of school, our drama teacher announced the impending auditions for the fall play, a huge event which she would be directing and had very few parts. Historically, I was repulsed by competition, which is partly what pushed me away from chess club. Somehow, though, this audition called to me. It was a comedy, and I suppose the opportunity to make a jackass out of myself in front of hundreds of my peers and their parents outweighed trepidation I felt about the initial audition. Plus, I had acted in small parts in the eighth grade play and musical, and remembered this experience as a chance to stand with my friend in the back, goofing around in the chorus.
Nine students were casted, which was small for a high school play. I was the only freshman. I didn’t understand it that first year, but only the best of the pool of aspiring actors had been cast. Most were upperclassmen. The play was The Curious Savages, which was set in a small residential home for the mentally disturbed. I played a middle-aged kleptomaniac who had a tendency to shout lists of things she hated and was a big part of the comic relief. I was thrilled! I felt important! I had long lists to memorize. Crap.
At first, when it wasn’t my turn to be on stage, I spent most of my time sitting in the house, trying to study my lines. A boy who was a junior had been cast as a doctor. He was dull and staid onstage in his straight man role, but was quick-witted and charming offstage. He took an interest in me and began sitting with me in the house since we both had smaller parts and weren’t needed as often as the principals. He had sort of a J. Crew vibe, which I usually shunned, but the preppy look suited him. He also had that shelfy pompadour hair that was so popular in the year after came on the air, which I confess to you I found one-hundred-percent dreamy. It was like basking in the presence of my very own Brandon Walsh.
I was slightly crushed out on this boy, but assumed he was much too old and worldly for me. When he sat close to me, I could see actual stubble from actual shaving. His other friend in the cast would come over to where we sat and I would listen while they casually chit-chatted about parties and who was humping whom. We would leave rehearsal and I would watch him drive off with one of the older cast members while I lugged my backpack filled with homework I wouldn’t end up doing (it was another year before I would become more honest with myself and just throw assignments out at school after receiving them) and I would begin my wait for the after-school activity bus.
After a couple of weeks of casually hanging out in the back rows of the audience where we wouldn’t annoy the director with our whispering, the situation abruptly changed.
“So,” Brandon Walsh said to me casually, looking straight ahead, “I dare you to go in the back and make out with me.”
What? WHAT? I could not have been more surprised if dildos had suddenly started coming out of his ears. Was this how it was supposed to go, here in the grown up world of high school? On TV, girls, and sometimes boys, got asked out on dates first. Or at least there was some indication that the person liked you first. Was this a date? Would he be my first high school boyfriend?
I decided not to overthink this. I agreed to meet him in one of the rear sections of the house that could be closed off with giant doors in case there was a smaller audience and they were unneeded. The door on one side was open only enough to admit crew members to the light booth in the very back, which was empty that afternoon.
I got up and walked to the very back of the house, through the opening in the door. My eyes adjusted to the dim and I paced back and forth, rolling and unrolling my copy of the script. A few minutes later Brandon Walsh popped in, making me jump.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” I replied cleverly. He leaned in and we started to kiss.
I was no stranger to kissing. I had kissed plenty of boys, usually on my porch, in that golden period between the time that the bus ditches you but before your parents come home. As I considered these past assignations, I realized that none of these boys had asked me out on proper dates either. Instead they just hung around for a while until suddenly they were kissing me, which I was okay with.
I thought about Brandon sometimes, like when algebra was boring (always) or if I was having trouble getting to sleep. I liked him okay, and I felt I wanted to get to know him better, but I felt like I didn’t have the chance. I had my heart broken by a boy who moved away the year before, so I knew what love really was. This wasn’t it, but it was pretty fun. I thought maybe after the play was over we could hang out and “see where things went” as the sophisticated people in the movies said.
Part Two here.