Part 1 is here.
So I was a junior in high school. One day a friend of mine (remaining nameless - ha!) mentioned this guy named Chris who was a sophomore and in one of her classes, and she wanted to know if I thought he was cute. Apparently, she did, and she was seeking confirmation from me that he was in fact cute. That’s a big thing when you’re 16, you know. I didn't know who in the world this Chris character was that she was talking about, so I just made a mental note to figure it out and get back with her about it later. Then one day a guy walked into our class running an errand for another teacher, and my friend got my attention and whispered, “That’s the Chris I was telling you about!” I glanced up, then made a face and looked at her and said, “Really?! You think he’s cute?” and turned back around to my desk, unimpressed. He was just kind of skinny (and we all know I preferred the athletic ones), and he had that ‘90s guy hairstyle where it was longish and parted in the middle, but it just wasn't working with his curly hair.
That spring I was in our school’s production of Fame, playing the role of the one of the ballerinas. Right around the time of our performances, I happened to win the poetry division of the school paper’s essay contest. I’ll have you know that I did not enter that thing voluntarily -- it was a requirement for my English class. I never enjoyed being recognized for my writing in that era of my life, you see, because I was horrifically self-conscious and just knew that I’d probably say something I really ought to be ashamed of.
This was a legitimate fear, stemming mainly from an essay I had to write for an assignment in 9th grade that my teacher took a liking to and then proceeded to read to each of her classes that day. The essay was supposed to demonstrate personification, and all I can remember now was that a volcano wound up saying something like, “Mission accomplished!” at the end. I’m sure my teacher meant well and wasn't trying to humiliate me publicly, but I wrote it thinking no one would ever see it but her. Instead, half the people I knew (and even some I didn’t) were coming up to me and saying, “Did you know Mrs. So-and-so read your essay to our whole class today?” I about died.
So not only was my poem published, but it also won an award, which meant that I had to go to a luncheon with the newspaper staff for all the winners. This was not something I relished. The year before, I had been accepted onto the newspaper staff and then had quit in what was, at the time, quite the scandal. I can even remember standing in front of the bathroom mirror in the A Building and crying at the drama I had caused, all the while wondering what was going to happen to my eyes because I had just gotten contacts and had never cried while wearing them before. (Nothing did, for the record!) Ever since that fateful day, I had tried my best to avoid the newspaper room altogether, and now here I was being invited to a luncheon I’d have to attend for having my poem (which was really not very good) win an award. The whole scenario was pretty preposterous, and I knew it.
Most of the luncheon was a blur, but I do remember wearing a pink angora sweater with pearls that day. I also remember sticking close by Melissa, who was a newspaper staff member still in good standing, and just trying to blend in and pretend like the drama had never happened. At some point, someone told me I did a good job in the play, and then Chris, who was apparently on the newspaper staff now, chimed in and said, “Yes, you did!”
After lunch, he came up to me and introduced himself. I think I put it together that he was the Chris my friend had mentioned. He asked if I was in his math class (I wasn’t!), and we talked for a little bit. He was very easy to talk to, and he had strikingly beautiful eyes. I found myself wishing I were in his math class, so that I could have an excuse to see him more often. Now I wouldn’t say I had an official crush on him at this point, but he did seem like a nice guy.
Not long afterward, I had to attend a foreign language convention being held at the University of Memphis. I had made a doll for a project in French class, and my teacher had entered it in an art contest there. My mom was already planning on driving a friend and me up there that day. The night before, my best friend Jennifer was hanging out at my house when I got a call from the friend (different friend from earlier) who was riding with me the next day. She asked if we could give Chris a ride too. It turns out that she had told him she’d give him a ride, except she was riding with us. When Jennifer heard about it, she fell out laughing about how sneaky our friend was! That friend had been talking about how she had a little thing for Chris, and now she had arranged for us all to go to that convention together.
My memories of the convention are blurry too, but I definitely remember having a blast hanging out with Chris. He made me laugh the whole time he was with us. In fact, at lunch, he made me laugh so hard that whatever I was drinking came out my nose! “Good thing I’m not trying to impress this guy,” I thought, “right?”
My family went out to eat that night, and my mom asked me what I thought about Chris. She had given him a ride, after all. “Mom!” I'd said, annoyed that she’d even go there.
About the only other significant remark to make about Chris and my junior year was that I’d occasionally run into him in the halls, and whenever I did, I was always struck by how nice he was to me. He would always go out of his way to compliment me or say something silly to make me laugh.
The summer after my junior year, my best friend Jennifer came along on our family beach vacation. One night, before we went to sleep, we were talking about whether we’d go to prom and whom we’d like to go with. “I don’t think there’s anyone I could think of that I’d like to go with,” I lied. (After all, Jennifer and I famously used the guy selection at Bartlett High as a benchmark of badness. “How was the food at camp?” “Let’s just say it was almost as bad as the guy selection at Bartlett!!!” “UGH!!!”) “Actually,” I added, feeling a twinge in my conscience, “I think I’d go with Chris if he asked me.” “I could see that,” she said.