Like that Wistful Tears for Fears Song Whose Lyrics You Can't Quite Decipher, It's the Great Loves of My Life Review!

by Karen Gsteiger

A severely truncated version of this essay can be found in Miriam Zellnik's compilation, "Love," which can be purchased here.

Before I met my husband (see below), love for me was like having a relentless itch in your throat that you just couldn't satiate by sticking your finger in your ear and scratching with all your might. Love was a grand experiment in anticlimax, a flirtation with an emotional sado-masochism, an exercise in altruism--the expression of a slightly different, more giving, stupider girl. Come with me now as I take a look back to the high school crushes of yesteryear, the boys for whom at one point, if not now, I would surely have laid down my life in true melodramatic adolescent fashion.

Note: To protect the innocent (which is no one, really) and the guilty (the rest of us), I will employ the use of pseudonyms throughout. If you should recognize yourself in this pantheon of infatuation, please don't take offense to my candidness and know that my love has a half-life of 1,642 years.

Slappy McGoo: The First Great Love

Why I Was Attracted to Him in the First Place:

  • Intense, slightly maniac, dark brown eyes that never blinked in a staring contest.
  • Fingers that had been broken many times over in football practice; his knuckles and joints were swollen and distended with angry cartilage. These were hands with a history. A history of pain, but also a history of many footballs nobly caught and retained when gravity said "no." To me, they were a symbol of his stupidly stubborn--yet endearing--determination and perseverance. He would grab my hands and roughly twist them backwards and sideways. Ostensibly, he was playing some form of "uncle," but really, he was trying to hold my hand. I didn't know that then. Of course.
  • Shared similar half-hearted adolescent suicidal tendencies with me. We first bonded when we compared unsuccessful felo-de-se techniques. "I tried to smother myself with a pillow!" "I tried to drown myself in the bathtub!" "That never works..." "No."
  • Nothing turns me on like a boy who runs hot and cold, hot and cold. You want me to crush on you? Then be my best friend one minute and a haughty stranger the next. There were moonlit summer nights when I walked him back home from...oh God...Catholic youth group meetings (those faith-based teenage breeding grounds), and he would rattle off a list of approximately 13 other girls who were tormenting him to the deepest core of his soul, and as I walked back home alone, I thought, "Oh, wow, he's confiding in me," even though it hurt to imagine that I was probably--at the most optimistic estimate--#14 on that list. This post-Saint Mary Teens emotional intimacy didn't mean, however, that he would necessarily acknowledge my existence within a three-block radius of Griffith High School.

Why It Didn't Work:

  • Oh. Gawd. Do you have two or three spare years?
  • Mutual lack of self esteem. He couldn't tell me what he needed to tell me before I jumped both feet first into a Permanent Relationship. It was too late then, anyway. I loved him so much that when he was concerned that one of the 32,634 Official Loves of His Life would see me with him at the parish carnival, I volunteered to play the role of a second or third cousin. Fucking pathetic.
  • He never wants anything that is actually attainable in real life. Come to think of it, neither do I.
  • Joined a frat in college.

Why Slappy McGoo Will Always Have a Special Place in My Heart:

  • Although I had had less important, less emotionally draining crushes beforehand, Slappy was my first taste of love, the kind of love that is set to Aerosmith ballads. He was the very first boy who would move me to wander from room to room in my mother's home, sobbing like a banshee with a hangnail. Now that's something special.
  • Won't talk to me anymore, and for some reason, that really gets my goat.

Lampshade Au Gratin: The Other First Great Love

(Note: Occurred roughly in the same time frame as Slappy McGoo. This girl knows how to multitask.)

Why I Was Attracted to Him in the First Place:

  • Although he was two years ahead of me in school, he befriended me in the dorked-out era (bad hair, bad face, thick glasses, braces, permanent runny nose). I was flabbergasted when this young man would stop me in the hallway and talk to me. Right out there in public where people could potentially see him talking to me! He'd say, "Hey, Steiger," and then proceed to ask me about driver's ed. In. Front. Of. His. Friends. Mind-blowing.
  • Openly made fun of the pretty, popular girl in our class. A little cruel, perhaps, but refreshing nonetheless.
  • My friends never quite understood, but then they were short-sighted fools--all of them! He was gorgeous! Fuck my friends' dismissive remarks about "chicken legs," he was lithe and had lovely brown eyes and was the perfect combination of Ethan Hawke's and Robert Sean Leonard's characters in "Dead Poets Society." When he went to college, the girls swarmed him like a Beatle--I have seen it myself in person. I was fashion-forward, me.
  • Dangerous rumors that he was not...[whispered]...a virgin.
  • Thanks to a mutual friend who had his address at college, I gathered up any courage present in my diminutive frame and wrote him a letter. I wrote multiple drafts of that first fucking letter and wish I had made a copy because I don't think I put that much effort into my senior thesis. Or even this review, for that matter. And, this is the best part, he TOTALLY WROTE ME BACK! Like three or four times or something. One of my few adolescent triumphs.

Why It Didn't Work:

  • Well, let's just gloss over the fact that I was totally dorked-out during the entire duration of this crush.
  • My personal belief is that because there was approximately one year, eight months and fifteen days between the dates of our births, that sort of put our odds in the "snowball's chance in hell" range. One year, eight months, and fifteen days is nothing now, but in high school, we're talking about a completely different phase of evolution. I was, as was previously mentioned, hopelessly uncoordinated when he was self-assured. He was about to become a college nymphomaniac when I was still ludicrously virginal. And then I met My One True Love, and whoops! there went that one. But it's okay. That's my flattering take on it, at least.
  • In college, was rumored to have porn collection that rivaled the Great Library of Alexandria.

Why Lampshade Au Gratin Will Always Have a Special Place in My Heart:

  • Was the subject of one of my very first quasi-sexual fantasies, which was quickly aborted because it was shameful, shameful, sinful, dirty, and deviant.
  • Was the very first (and sometimes the only) person who ever thought I'd find any success with the writing. I am not immune to obscene flattery.

Cherubic M. Sweetmeat--The Golden Boy

Why I Was Attracted to Him in the First Place:

  • Oh, Cherubic had it all--all-American good looks, popularity, copious athletic talent, and did I mention good looks? And although one might stereotypically think that this would make him the biggest snob/date rapist in the entire school, he had the sweetest--and I mean the sweetest--disposition of anyone at Andrean High School. I remember that he had a locker near mine (Sweetmeat being close to Steiger alphabetically, natch), and it was the end of a long day freshman year--I had endured all sorts of taunting and classroom boredom, and I was weighed down with my anxieties and algebra homework, and Cherubic says to me, "You're the prettiest girl I've seen all day." I figured that he was the latest in a long line of male classmates who was giving me shit just for the hell of it, and I replied with not an inconsiderable amount of acidity, "You must not have seen very many today then." "No, I've seen them all," he said and walked away. I still thought that he was giving me shit, but later on I realized, no, he would just say stuff like that and really mean it just for the sake of being a sweetie.
  • I mean, he was just unreal; you wouldn't even think that someone could be so genuinely good-natured during adolescence. I sure as hell wasn't. I was so defensive in those days that I would just as soon say "Fuck you, too" as look at you. (Have you noticed by now that most of my crushes are fueled by my dumbstruck amazement that people could be nice to me?) I still can't believe he really existed. For example, senior year, he invented what came to be known as the "warm and fuzzy." This lovely young man with his short dark hair and well-decorated red letterman jacket would carry around a bunch of yarn, and he would tie a small piece in the buttonhole near the collar of your uniform shirt and then pick you up and give you an enormous hug. And he did this to everyone in sight, as I recall. Nerds, jocks, boys, girls--it didn't matter. The Cherubic M. Sweetmeat love was extended to all.

Why It Didn't Work:

  • He was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out of my league.

Why Cherubic M. Sweetmeat Will Always Have a Special Place in My Heart:

  • It was my first year of grad school, and my husband (then fiancè) and I were still living in Northwest Indiana, which meant that my ass was stuck on the 10:15 p.m. South Shore train twice a week, effectively destroying my soul. I had lost one of my contacts, and I had not as yet purchased my trendy lightweight plastic-rimmed glasses. I was wearing my clunky wire-frame glasses, which always had the power to whisk me away back to my self-loathing days, and I was reading some dreadful supplemental texts in utter despair. There were two guys riding the train post-Cubs game, clearly drunk. I could tell from the corner of my eye that one of them kept staring at me, and I was getting annoyed. "Did you...go to Andrean High School?" he eventually asked. "Cher..ubic? Cherubic M. Sweetmeat?" I replied in amazement. He was just as sweet then as he always had been in high school. I got hugged twice.

Talking Stick Pony--The First Official Boyfriend

Why I Was Attracted to Him in the First Place:

  • Was the funniest and most subversive person at the...oh God...Catholic youth weekend retreat.
  • Looked exactly like Johnathan Silverman in Brighton Beach Memoirs.
  • Was actually moderately interested in dating me.

Why It Didn't Work:

  • Our first official date took place at an elaborate Passion Play at scary evangelical church.
  • Our first kiss took place during a showing of the thirty-something nostalgia fest, Indian Summer (the only PG-13 movie available for those of us who weren't allowed into R-rated movies). The first kiss (and subsequent kiss in parking lot when we were being picked up by parental figures) was terrible, terrible, terrible. I'm sure that was at least 50 percent my fault.
  • His fat psychotic friend felt the need to call me every day (managing to call me more often than Talking Stick Pony himself, incidentally) and effectively killed our relationship by informing me what Talking Stick Pony really thought of me. "Well, he says that you're not the best-looking, but then again he says he isn't either."
  • He was permanently grounded. I saw him two times in three months before I put dumping him on my "to-do" list for the summer.

Why Talking Stick Pony Will Always Have a Special Place in My Heart:

  • Was responsible for a couple of big firsts--first official boyfriend, first kiss.
  • Breakup was amiable.

Raw Carrots Turpitude--The Bestest Friend

Why I Was Attracted to Him in the First Place:

  • I met him at an Andrean football game on a cold autumn evening. I hadn't brought a jacket, so he let me borrow his. That night we discovered that we hated the same kid in school, and then it was love.
  • Very soft floppy brown hair; talented in arts and drama; frighteningly intelligent; the funniest person I have ever met. (At the time of the original writing of this essay, I had also written something like "adorable features," which caused some offense, so let's just say that he had "a dangerous hint of feral sexuality.")
  • The only other person I had ever met who had seen and enjoyed The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, one of my very, very favorite movies.
  • He wins the award for Best Male Phone Friend ever, hands down.
  • Radiohead's "Creep" was "our" song.

Why It Didn't Work:

  • Basically, I chose to let this one go. All of my friends--and I do mean all--had a major crush on him, and I figured, what's the use of taking a number? He wound up briefly dating three of my closest friends (one of whom was madly in love with him for years), and I would only have stepped on toes getting into that mix. Other than some wistfulness I would feel at school plays, I did not regret my choice since he was always a lovely best friend.
  • He took everyone in the whole wide world to a formal dance except for me.

Why Raw Carrots Turpitude Will Always Have a Special Place in My Heart:

  • Is still my bestest friend whom I couldn't even imagine living without. Still has adorable...ahem...a dangerous hint of feral sexuality and very soft (if shorter) floppy brown hair. Remains talented in arts and drama. Is to this day frighteningly intelligent and the funniest person I have ever met.
  • Is also gay. So that wound up working out really well, actually.

Tambourine O'Toole--The Worst Boyfriend That Wasn't

Why I Was Attracted to Him in the First Place:

  • Although we were mismatched physically (he was 6'5" and thin as a rail; I was 4'10" and...more curvy than skinny, let's just put it that way), he had the best hair. The best. It was reddish brown and very curly. He also had wonderful green eyes. A handsome kid.
  • The best part was that he was two years older than me. I met him right before he left for college, so I was a junior at Andrean getting regular phone calls from...(gasp!)...a college guy!!!!! Of course, I always dreamed of dragging him to all sorts of high school functions, which was undoubtedly a turn-off for him.
  • Introduced me to Midnight Oil and the Cranberries. You know, back when the Cranberries were really cool.
  • Brief kiss was much better than first kiss (see: Talking Stick Pony).

Why It Didn't Work:

  • Once again, I was too dorked-out for this relationship. During what could have been a first date, I panicked and brought along two friends. Doh!
  • Indicated that he was interested in me but would never commit to any kind of boyfriend status.
  • Was at university that was a 3.5-hour drive away from home.
  • Was responsible for The Worst Date Ever. He was home for Christmas break, and he had managed to blow me off for the entire holiday season. So I insisted that we do something, and he suggested that we see a movie. He took me to the 10 p.m. showing of Gettysburg, that four-hour Civil War epic. There was an intermission for crying out loud! Was condescending during intermission...believed that he needed to explain what a "flank attack" was. "Yeah, I'm in A.P. History, buddy...fuck off!" After the movie, I was bombarded with phrases like "I think of you as a really good friend" and "You're really mature for your age group" and "You know, I don't really want to date anyone at this point in time. I mean, there's this girl on my floor who I'd fuck every time I see her, but I won't because I don't really want to be in a relationship right now." Afterwards I sat in my basement and listened to "Letter to Elise" and cried. Well, pretty much every song made me cry. Wilson Philips made me cry. "You're in love/And I know/That you're not in love with me." WAAAAUUUGGGHHH!!

Why Tambourine O'Toole Will Always Have a Special Place in My Heart:

  • I've long since forgiven him for past injuries, insults, and crying spells. I wish him well.
  • People fucking love that Worst Date Ever story. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of that one.

Tomato Trap Pie--The Ill-Timed Romance

Why I Was Attracted to Him in the First Place:

  • We both participated in the spring musical, "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." He was Snoopy. I was Patty (that ambiguous Patty from the early days of the "Peanuts" comics, who kind of looked like Sally; therefore, on stage, I basically looked like a cross between Sally and Peppermint Patty--long blonde hair, green shirt, tan shorts, and sandals). You know, honestly, I didn't even notice him at first because he was a year older than I and ran with a different crowd (the 13 senior-year guys who sat at one long lunch table in the cafeteria looking like da Vinci's "Last Supper"). But one evening, during rehearsal, I walked off stage after practicing some inane monologue, and he was waiting for me in the wings. He says, and I quote, "Do you have a boyfriend?" "No..." I answer hesitantly. "Do you think that sucks? Because I don't have a girlfriend, and I think that sucks. Hey, would you...?" "What?" I asked, my hopes rising...a kid who wants to ask me out! He's really going to ask me out!!! "No, nothing, never mind," he said. "What? What?!!!" I pressed, following him around back stage. "Never mind. It's nothing." he replied, and I couldn't get any more out of him.
  • I've always had a thing for Asian guys.
  • Was prone to molesting me back stage when none of my friends were looking. "Molesting" is kind of insinuating, though. More like, I would be standing back stage, and he would approach me from behind and hug me for like five minutes. I thoroughly enjoyed it. My friends all thought I was insane.
  • He was extremely good at that hot-and-cold thing that turns me on so.

Why It Didn't Work:

  • Three words: The Prom Debacle. So I asked him to my junior prom. Yes, yes, I asked him via a note and a friend messenger, but give me a fucking break here. He requested to see me at his locker. I was getting bad vibes from this one, so it was a long, long, long walk to his locker. He said to me, and I quote, "I only would want to go to prom with someone I was in love with." "Oh, okay," I replied, devastated. Not over prom, though. Fuck prom...he's not in love with me!!!! Then the next day, he was very, "Well, we don't have to go to prom, but we can do something else that night..." A date! "Yes!" I exclaim. Then the next day, he inexplicably says to me, "You know, today was the last day they were selling prom tickets in the cafeteria, and I almost bought them for us. My friend was going to lend me the money, but I decided not to." Uh, okay. Then the next day, he asks, "Would you mind if I take my best friend instead?" (The best friend being some girl who went to another school). At this point, I was starting to get a little bit miffed. "Yeah, you know, whatever. It's your senior prom." "If you go by yourself, I'll dance with you," he helpfully offered. "I'm not going stag," I declared. "Oh." Then the last day, he suggests, "You could go with my friend John." Now, John was a great guy, but I wasn't so...emotionally attached to him. Plus, he was a big guy, like eight feet tall or something. I imagined the pictures with a grimace and firmly replied, "No." And that was that.
  • Please. I wouldn't have known what to do with him if I had him.
  • We always had terrible timing. During that whole crush, I would always just miss seeing him in the hallway between classes or after school. After he graduated, I was informed by Raw Carrots Turpitude that Tomato was looking for me after the last day of school, before he would graduate and leave Andrean forever and ever, and he didn't find me. I had already gone. I cried for several hours after I heard this.

Why Tomato Trap Pie Will Always Have a Special Place in My Heart:

  • Aw, he's too cute to be mad at for years and years.
  • It's easier to get over someone when he's kind of a jerk so I really didn't suffer for very long.
  • He successfully made Slappy McGoo jealous, and that was pretty gratifying.
  • Because of him, Snoopy and Peanuts have fetish-like qualities for me.

Porkchop W. Flapjack--The Keeper

Why I was Attracted to Him in the First Place:

  • Sexy, sexy muscular legs and lovely light green eyes. Broad shoulders and big biceps. Looked like he could crush anyone who tried to give me shit but was always gentle and caring with me.
  • Was Griffith football player/wrestler/runner/manly man. The first manly man I was attracted to in all my life, actually. Left to my own devices, I tend to choose the scrawny and nerdy (not that they are not very attractive and appealing scrawny and nerdy individuals). But the scrawny and nerdy never like me, so as Sheryl Crow sings, a change will do you good.
  • Had an aura of danger with his shaved head and goatee. Also carried a condom in his wallet...(gasp!)...he was one of those boys. Or at least, he appeared to be one of those boys. Yet, at the same time, his mother was overprotective and would not let him attend a Violent Femmes concert with my friends and me because she didn't know us. She wouldn't relent either. He couldn't go. Awwwww...
  • Was keenly interested in me. Surprising, but true. The first day I met him, he was carting around some mutual friends and me in his mother's minivan, which he drove like a goddamn maniac, and he wouldn't let anyone sit in the front seat but me. Insisted on sitting next to me in McDonalds and quickly ditched mutual friends so that we could drive around aimlessly by ourselves. When I called him for the first time to ask him to that verboten Violent Femmes concert, he wouldn't let me off the phone for hours and hours. "Well, why don't you just call me back when your mom gets home?" "No, she'll be home any minute now. Anyway..."

Why It Worked:

  • Our first date rocked! Because we had to have a venue where we could awkwardly hold hands, we needed to see a movie, but nothing good was out. So we saw Beverly Hills Cop 3 although neither of us had seen the first or second film in the series. Then we dined at the local Pepe's (I got steak stuffed tacos, as I recall). Then we hung out in his parent's basement, and flirty horsing around ended with his tongue in my mouth. I was a little weirded out by this whole Frenching thing, but I had an official boyfriend. Boo-yah!
  • Thoroughly corrupted me in just about every way within four months.
  • Was refreshing alternative to snotty snot senior Andrean boys.
  • Was faithful and loyal and true that year and then all through college and then through grad school and post-grad school and now.
  • I managed not to dork it up too much this time. When dorkiness manifested itself, he didn't much care.
  • Was instantly adopted by his wonderful, functional family.
  • He's nice to my mom and brother and (late) grandma.
  • He loves all my friends, including Raw Carrots Turpitude.
  • He'll take me to see animated movies and will enjoy them as much as I do.
  • Has a healthy appreciation for Python.
  • Doesn't mind if I need to cry for whatever PMS- or childhood-trauma-related reason.
  • I could go on and on and on, but I've probably bored you to death by now. Suffice to say, we got married on June 8, 2000, and we're still a dynamic duo that's fun at parties.

Why Porkchop W. Flapjack Will Always Have a Special Place in My Heart:

  • He was my first taste of love--the good, reciprocal kind that makes you happy when you think about it and that doesn't waver no matter how long you're together.
  • As John Lennon sang, "Though I know I'll never lose affection/For people and things that went before/I know I'll often stop and think about them/In my life, I'll love you more." See, hon, there's a reason why I literally dragged your ass onto the dance floor for this song at our Region-chic wedding party! But as my friend Melissa once pointed out, boys don't pay attention to song lyrics.
  • Sorry this is getting so unabashedly mushy.
  • We've got a good shot at that "happily ever after" thing.

The end.