Toronto
3 min

Lingering lesson

Do you remember the first girl you ever had a crush on? Your heart pounding, knees weak, not being able to breathe much less put sentences together around her.

My first crush was eight years ago. I was sitting at a pub in the Annex when she walked in. I distinctly remember feeling stunned.

She looked like a very pretty boy, with short curly dark brown hair, high cheekbones and a wide, full mouth. She was tall with long limbs and an athletic build. I couldn’t stop looking at her.

I had always considered myself to be attracted to women who were obviously femme. Before her I’d never looked twice at any girl who was tomboyish or androgynous. I’d stubbornly considered myself attracted to pretty girls with long hair, lip-gloss, dresses and high heels. I couldn’t see the point of being with any girl who wasn’t girly.

Before I could sort out my attraction, my best friend at the time declared her infatuation with her. For months after we were the loud, flirty girls always hanging out at the eatery where she worked.

She already had a girlfriend but we didn’t care. She was hottest girl we had ever met and we used every feminine wile we could think of to get and keep her attention — super-tight jeans, low-cut tops, mini dresses, batting eyelashes, leaning across the table, sexual innuendos loaded with invitation. Since I found it so difficult to admit to myself my own attraction to her, I performed best friend duties wholeheartedly, rallying behind my friend and supporting her in her crush. No invisible girlfriend would stop us.

She was the one to introduce us to the scene. It was with her that we ventured out to gay clubs for the first time. She taught us where to party, who was cool, which girls to talk to and which ones to ignore.

It must have been a tremendous boost to her ego — the two of us following her around all the time, hanging off her every word. But it became clear that it wasn’t going to go anywhere. She stayed faithful to her girlfriend and eventually my friend moved on.

I, on the other hand, didn’t get over her quite so easily. I kept holding on to the hope that somehow she’d suddenly realize how wonderful I am, fall for me and ask me to be her girlfriend. But I knew it was only a fantasy so I tried to appear nonchalant and cool whenever she was around.

I have the worst poker face. Everything I feel reflects in my expressions. I never confessed my feelings to her but I suspect she always knew. Whenever I hung out with her I alternated between love-struck idiot and a bitchy cover-up act. Somewhere between wanting to kiss her and to feel her skin was the fear that if I ever told her how I felt she’d laugh in my face.

One day, after months of not seeing each other, I called her up. I’d known her for a few years by then and although we didn’t spend as much time hanging out with each other anymore she was always in the back of mind.

But the time was right. I’d written a book and I really wanted her to be there to celebrate.

We met for coffee and I asked if she would DJ the launch. She graciously accepted but when the day came she never showed up. There I was on the biggest night of my life and the girl of my fantasies stood me up. I was ridiculously disappointed.

Maybe she simply forgot — just because the night was important to me didn’t mean it was important to her — but I felt her absence as a painful rejection of me and my secret affections.

I’ve heard far worse first crush stories than mine. I mean, really, what was I expecting anyway?

I see her all the time these days. We move distantly in the same circles. When I see her I remember intensely the emotion I felt all those years ago, the familiar rush of attraction, the peculiar confusion of the present moment mixed with nostalgia.

I suppose one reason she’s significant to me is because she taught me that beauty and sexiness comes in many forms. I’d been so strict about who I was supposed to find attractive and if the girl wasn’t “lipstick” I refused to look at her. Meeting her allowed me admit to myself that I didn’t have to follow some straight guy porn fantasy of being with a woman.

Maybe it’s spring in the air, but there seems to be a sense of newness and possibility in the world. The sun is out and people are starting to flirt and tease each other again after the long hibernation of winter. Thinking of her now I see how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned. Maybe I can think of her not as the first girl who crushed me but as the girl who opened up a door inside of me I never even knew was there.