Wednesday, December 06, 2006

time will reveal

"What can I do..."

he was two years younger than me, which in elementary school is calculated in dog years. i was a seventh-grader to his fifth-grader status, the older 'woman' who had no time for the little boys in school when there were recently branded eighth-grade men living on my block. i had even less time for a fifth-grader who just so happened to be one of my younger brother's best friends.

not that i hadn't noticed him, i mean what girl wouldn't? he was bone red when redbone was in, naturally curly brown hair cut into a box fade framing a strong brow and high cheekbones. he had eyes the shade of diaphanous envy, so light a green as to almost make me think i'd imagined they had any color to them at all. his body was just right for the shirts and pressed jeans he wore to school every day and his penny loafers shined brown with newborn copper pennies catching a sliver of sunshine whenever he walked. so what if he was an inch or two shorter than me? i was the second tallest girl in school behind stephanie jackson so i could count on one hand the number of boys who could look me in the eye from the same height. and really...damon was beautiful...

and in the fifth grade.

which put him firmly in the 'heck no' zone.

" make you feel secure?"

AND he wasn't an athlete. the previous spring he played on the same baseball team as my brother and while he'd looked positively dreamy (for a fifth-grader) in his maroon pirates uniform right down to the shiny cleats he wore, he was an abomination at the plate and on the field. just the sight of him walking towards the batter's box had the ability to bring forth a collective groan from the crowd in the stands. even his father shook his head in dismay as he watched damon swing for the ball like it was a pinata and he the a blindfolded birthday boy. fall would see him clodding over grass with cleated shoes as he tried to elude charging defensive linemen, the offering of trembling and uncoordinated adolescent flesh his father was more than willing to sacrifice to the football gods. only they wouldn't take him. instead the crowd became a collection of flinches and winces as we watched damon time and again end up beneath a pile of pop warner pigskin players.

his struggles, while heart-rending to me at the time, reminded me of why his lack of athletic prowess would never do as i was the neighborhood tomboy and had a reputation to maintain. getting with a girly-man would have stripped me of all street cred, and that was important to a girl who had to fight for her place on the street football squad even though everybody knew she had softer hands than art monk. no...he wouldn't do at ALL.

he was thrust into "no way in heck" land and there was nothing he could do about it save catch a one-handed game-winning touchdown over a leaping safety in the corner of the end zone during the final seconds of the super bowl.

and yet for some reason, i had a crush on him.

"remove all your doubts..."

was it the fact that he was the epitome of everything i wasn't? i mean, he was more beautiful than i was for sure. it was obvious he took care in how he looked. he was always perfectly pressed, as though his clothes were impervious to wrinkles. his izod shirt or polo button-down always matched his pants and his footwear was pristine. if he wore sneakers they always looked like he'd just pulled them out of the box brand new. his hair always looked like he'd just gone to the barbershop that morning to get a shape-up before coming to school. even his bookbag looked brand new, a glistening square of cloth perfection hanging just right on his back. damon was smart and popular, even among the kids not in his grade. girls of all grades swooned around him.

meanwhile, i usually tumbled out of bed and stumbled into the first outfit i landed on. if i wore the same shirt twice in a week i didn't care. a few times i'd actually worn two different shoes to school, but penny loafers and sebagos look amazingly similar in morning darkness so it couldn't be helped. more times than not i showed up to school in jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers so as to be prepared for the impromtu game of football or basketball. my hair? mom had me cornrowing it myself at this point and it was little more than two misshapened lumps of braided hair on opposite sides of my head. my bookbag was ripped at the side from where i'd dropped it in street and watched it be run over, vomiting my books everywhere as it popped open beneath the weight of the car. i was smart and popular among the guys who needed a capable receiver on their teams. the only dudes who swooned around me were the boys falling behind me as i ran towards the end zone.

oh, and i was four-eyed.

yeah, he was everything i wasn't. he was quality clothing, a blazer made of the finest silk threads and tailored so as to create a flawless line across the shoulders and fall just so down the wearer's torso. i was that printed t-shirt that shrank and faded after one washing, the letters cracked and shriveled as i pinched tightly across the wearer's shoulders, stretching threadbare across her chest as my puckered edges fell three inches short of her waistband.

but he was still a fifth-grader. no seventh-grader in her right mind would ever contemplate having a fifth-grader for a boyfriend, no matter how cute and popular he was.

it would never work...

"so that you know for sure..."

damon had started coming to our house more often as he and little bro spent more time together, eventually becoming best friends. it got to where no matter what day it was, i would end up staring into damon's laughing face in our house as he and 'swad and their friend marc cracked jokes or wrestled or whatever the heck best guy friends do when they're hanging out. at first i was giddy about it. i didn't get to see him that much in school because we were in different grades so him being at our house afforded me uninterrupted minutes of staring at him on the sly. i'd stand just inside the kitchen entrance, head bent over the table as i pretend i was focused on the preparation of my pb&j sandwich, all the while stealing glances into the living room where the three of them rough-housed on the floor or watched television. during that time i know i ate enough pb& j sandwiches to feed a small nation, but it was the only way i could think of that would keep me in the area without them knowing i was doing it on purpose.

every now and again i'd slide a look into the living room and catch damon with his eyes on me. my heart would stop and i'd turn away quickly, trying to play like i didn't even look his way. it occurred with more frequency as the weeks went by and it was then i started to feel uncomfortable.

what does he see when he looks at me?

does he see the jagged edges of my fingers, nails bitten nervously to the quick? does he see the mismatched cornrows planted haphazardly across my head? does he see the t-shirt with the grape stain right below a chest squeezed into a training bra already uncomfortably tight after only two weeks of wear? does he see jeans polka dotted with grass and mud stains and torn at the knee from where i tried to imitate drew pearson diving across the middle to catch a pass?

what does he think when he looks at me?

he's probably laughing at me right now. i look a mess. i'm too tall and too big and my glasses are all scratched up and they're so corny, all large and nerdy looking. my clothes don't fit and they're raggety and i know i smell. he's looking at me and thinking every girl he's ever seen is prettier than me. he probably doesn't even think i'm a girl.

i decided then i couldn't be around him anymore. i made a point of being in the street whenever he stopped by, focusing my attention on playing with my friends. i couldn't face the idea that he was looking at me and finding me lacking. i'd rather get hit helmet first by a hundred too tall joneses than to face that.

"...that you're the apple of my eye girl..."

the yearning grew within me, an insidious vine of hunger crawling across the bricks of my being, rooting itself deeply into the mortar of my mental. the self-inflicted blindness to his form only sharpened my other senses to his presence. i no longer had to see damon to know he was around. i'd walk in the school hallway and feel the hairs on my arms rise and my skin would start to tighten and i'd know he was somewhere around me. i heard his laugh as though he was right next to me blowing chuckles into my ear, imprinting his smile on my eardrums. i could feel his breathing against my skin as surely as if he had his nose pressed close enough to smell the scent of the marrow in my bones. he never approached me, never stopped me in between classes to make small talk, and yet i knew he watched me. at times i'd pop my eyes around quickly and ensnare his covert stare for a second before releasing it frantically and damn near running in the opposite direction of him. i really didn't know what to make of him, but i wasn't courageous enough to find out, even if he was two years younger than me.

"...fulfillment of my dreams..."

i had just limped into the house, sweaty and short of breath after two hours of basketball with the crew. my knee was skinned, dripping blood onto the frayed lips of a mouth torn open on my jeans. my ankle was throbbing from where ced had fallen on it and i knew it was swelling. i looked quickly into the living room and sighed with relief when i saw it was empty. i slowly made my way into the kitchen where i opened the freezer, pulled out an ice tray, and popped the cubes from its pockets before cramming them into a ziploc bag. then i limped down the hallway to my room, falling tiredly onto my bed as i pulled up my leg and gingerly placed the bag of ice on my ankle. i was sitting there forcing myself through the torture of allowing the cold to numb me to the pain when i felt something pressing into my butt. leaning over, i reached my hand beneath me and yanked out what looked to be a folded sheet of paper and a tape. i unfolded the sheet of paper and stared at it for a minute, my mind still sprawled across the ache in my knee and ankle. the words neatly penned across the page were slowly being absorbed by my brain. i read it three time before snapping to full attention.

i read it one more time, just to make sure i wasn't dreaming...

"dear nikki

i thought i would be able to write a letter telling you how i feel about you, but i can't come up with the words. i taped this song instead. i hope you like it.




i fell off the bed in my frenzy to get to my tape player across the room, wincing once as i tripped over my feet. my heart was hammering a mile a minute, the pain of my ankle and knee evaporating in the wake of the hope building a fire within my veins. the anticipation and trepidation entrapped my breath within my lungs. i forced myself to calm down as i my fingers became all thumbs and i fumbled with the tape before finally jamming it successfully into the player.

i stood still and looked at the tape nestled in the deck.

i exhaled.

and then i pressed play...