Crushed: The Dangers of Falling in Love at Twelve
“He looked down his nose at me (not an easy feat; he wasn’t much taller than I was), and said, ‘Get the f*ck away from me, Finlea.’”
By Finlea Baxter, University of Oklahoma
I have only ever had one crush in my lifetime.
He wasn’t very tall or very kind. He joked often and treated me like I wasn’t worth the dirt on the bottom of his shoe. But I loved him.
He had skin the color of fresh walnuts and eyes as green as grass in the rain, with little brown flecks here and there to add some variety to the décor. His hair was short, thick and the exact same shade of brown as mine. He was a veritable Adonis, a young man with the air of one who graced our hallowed junior-high halls for the sole purpose of being noticed and praised.
I suppose it’s unhealthy for men of that age to receive the attention that he did, but it didn’t matter; he was beautiful, and girls fell at his feet like he was the second coming of Fabio.
Of course, I barely merited a second glance.
This kid had a buffet line of women to choose from, and he sampled often.
I was a platter of overcooked asparagus next to the three-tiered chocolate fountain that was the cheerleading squad and the choir girls.
For a while, the only time he ever deigned to speak to me was when he and his friends needed an easy target.
I admit that I was a bit bizarre in those days. I still am, come to think of it.
I wore my hair with a spiked strap braided into the strands so that, to the casual observer, nothing was there. That way, the boys never suspected a thing until they grabbed hold of that long rope of thick, curly braid and found me taking a piece of them along with me.
I spoke often and loudly, and I was ready and willing to fight anyone who got within ten feet of me and yelled, “Boo.” It would have been a bit more frightening for my classmates if I were anywhere over four feet and five inches tall. Unfortunately, I wasn’t, and my aggression did nothing but create an unintentional Scrappy-Doo effect that did little more than make me a bigger target than I would have been otherwise.
As you can imagine, there was a lot of fodder there for jokes.
My Adonis and his friends wasted no time in taking advantage of this. Apparently, low hanging fruit is the only fruit, and they battered me mercilessly. I didn’t mind because this particular group of boys never attacked me physically, which, to my mind, meant that they were the best men around.
After all, not having to fear for your safety means you’ll be friends to the end, right? And what’s a little emotional abuse between friends?
So I happily took the various verbal bumps and bruises, silently thanking God that I wasn’t being hurt physically. I’d had about all of that I could stand.
This went on for years until we were finally in high school and I found myself making actual friends.
I still loved him. I’m not sure why; maybe it’s because I could see the person he should have been beneath all of that posturing and posing for the people around him. I’d known him before when we were small and it didn’t matter that he was handsome and talented.
We’d been actual friends then, and he’d been kind to me. I suppose I never forgot that little boy and the person he could have been had he only given himself a chance. Maybe it was wishful thinking on my part, or maybe that person really is still there. I suppose I’ll never know.
The beginning of the end came at the start of my sophomore year. I had gone to a different high school for ninth grade, so I knew no one when tenth grade began.
I’m not one easily put off though, so I went to functions anyway and stood there awkwardly until someone made conversation with me.
This went on until October came and I found myself alone on the Homecoming Dance floor. I was in my brand new dress and heels, and I felt beautiful and bright. Then, lo and behold, there he was. My Adonis stood just feet away looking as charming and confident and carelessly handsome as ever. I walked over to say hello.
It was the look on his face that did it.
He turned around and stared at me like I was something he’d found stuck to a bathroom seat. His posse formed a protective ring around him in case my weirdness was contagious. He looked down his nose at me (not an easy feat; he wasn’t much taller than I was), and said, “Get the f*ck away from me, Finlea.”
It all came rushing back: the pain, the fear, the sense of all-consuming worthlessness I’d lived with for years on end. But something else sparked in me, too.
I had done nothing to this boy but love him blindly for years. I had not harmed a single hair on his head, never said one cross word to him once in all the years we’d known each other.
I did not deserve to be treated this way. For the first time in years, I felt the indignation of the bullied. I felt the slings and barbs of every insult he’d leveled at me while his pals all stood and laughed. I felt the seeds of hatred begin to take root.
And then I looked at him again.
I saw his absolute dependence on the approval of others, saw the fear of rejection and the need to be loved by anyone and everyone he ever met. I saw how pathetic he truly was. And I felt sorry for him.
Someone told me later that I had one of those TV moments where one perfect tear fell down my cheek as I looked him in the eye. All I remember is stepping close and whispering, “Goodbye.”
To date, he’s the only person I’ve ever loved that way. I suppose I could have been content enough to bask in his shadow and wonder what could have been. I could have been happy to gather whatever scraps of affection he deigned to throw my way.
But I deserved better than that.
Maybe it was me just being selfish or me defending myself emotionally or whatever the pop psychologists are saying, but I prefer to think of it as me finally realizing what I’m worth.
And let me tell you, I’m worth a hell of a lot more than what he was willing to pay.
And so are you.