Tuesday, July 13, 2004

PART 8 - Hiding My Love Away

Without further ado: Today's post is hosted by the Beatles:

Here I stand head in hand
Turn my face to the wall
If he’s gone I can’t go on
Feelin’ two-foot small

Everywhere people stare
Each and every day
I can see them laugh at me
And I hear them say

Hey you’ve got to hide your love away

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Secrets. They have always been a big part of my life. There were so many secrets to keep, that I pretty much lived my life "in my head". It was easier that way, and the less I talked, the less I had to worry about.

By the time I got to middle school, everyone around me was "pairing up". Girls and boys were trading leather ID bracelets that signified that they were, indeed, "going together". Co-ed parties were held on an almost-weekly basis, and because I worked, I missed most of them. I was an outsider in my own peer group, and I was generally considered someone that could be counted on for bubblegum, for being a good addition to a dodgeball team, for passing a note, cracking a joke and for good friendly advice, but that was about it.

As I watched these first blushes of love blooming all around me, I felt very, very isolated. I had learned long ago to mask any feelings I had for boys and never, ever reveal those horrible, heartbreaking crushes that I experienced in silence. It was a habit of self-preservation I had picked up long ago, and old habits are hard to break. In my house, confessing your feelings was like exposing your jugular to the enemy. Affection was nonexistent, and heart to heart talks never happened. I couldn't take the chance of rejection; the price was too high, and I had learned my lesson too many times.

I don't remember this clearly, but when I was 7 or 8, I came home from school very excited with the news that I had a boyfriend. My brothers and sister chuckled, and my mother played along, asking me about my new friend. "What color hair does he have?" she asked. "Black." I answered.

"What color eyes does he have?" she asked. "Black." I answered again. "As a matter of fact, he's black ALL OVER!" I crowed proudly.

My sister and brothers were momentarily breathless as the weight of that statement settled in on them. The moments that followed were full of screams of laughter and delight, as they rolled on the floor, pointing and tearfully sputtering "Black all over!" over and over again. (Editor's note: This was in 1974, in Georgia, in a predominantly white town. Jimmy was the first black kid I had ever met, and I was fascinated by him. For the record, my family rarely displayed racism of any kind, but this was too much to bear for them, evidently, and it has been a source of amusement for years and years.)

That same year was the year that Uncle Sonny had the aneurism. My mom and dad were doing their best to help my aunt and her three little girls, all my age. Before he left to work on the road, we spent weekends traveling to Anniston to be with them. I enjoyed their company, we played Barbies and I looked forward to the visits.

During one visit, I walked out the glass door into Aunt Rita's backyard to find my dad in the yard with my cousins. The girls were in a line on the far side of the yard, taking turns running to him. When they reached him, they would jump into his outstretched arms, and he would gleefully lift them high over his head, swinging them into the air, round and round. They looked like fairies, their little smiling faces lit by the sun. I ran as fast as I could to the back of the line to have my turn!

I was bouncing with excitement as my first cousin ran to my dad, then her sister, and then the baby sister. It was finally my turn! Just as I took off running to my dad, he put one hand out to stop me and the other on his back, saying "What, you wanna kill me? You'll break my back, ton o' bricks!" I felt my heart shatter in my chest, my cousins laughed, and my dad went into the house with them to get a cold drink. I felt ugly and I hated myself for having tried, for being rejected and for being laughed at. I didn't enjoy visiting there anymore.

So, after that, I kept my thoughts to myself. I denied my need for affection and I never divulged my thoughts about boys. I developed a pretty tough exterior, and it served me well for quite a while.

You can keep it quiet, but the heart won't lie. I first laid eyes on (let's call him) Jack when I was in sixth grade, and I fell in love with him. That simple. I didn't know him, but I loved him. From afar. In secret. My heart pounded when I saw him, my hands shook, and my face turned bright red when we crossed paths. I dreamed of him, and I fantasized about all the things he would say to me when we were together one day, just he and I. I memorized his class schedule, and watched wordlessly as he walked by me, never glancing my way.

That summer, I went with GB to his friend's house, and when I arrived there, there was Jack, in the flesh, with the friend's younger brother watching television. I stammered, and fought the urge to run out of the house. I thought my heart would explode. I had never had a chance to be this close to him, just us, and I blew it. Monumentally. I didn't speak a word, but it had to be obvious how flustered I was. That was one of the most painful things I have ever endured in my entire life. I was frozen with fear, and I was devastated (and a bit relieved) when Jack and his friend stood up and left just moments after I got there. Football practice (heavy sigh).

It was a very lonely, sad time for me. In my private moments, I drowned in my feelings for this man-boy, and out in the world, I did my level best to make sure that there was no trace of care on my face for him or anyone else. My cool, sarcastic veneer was barely holding up.

I spent every school year and every summer for the next 3 years in that agony. In the meantime, I continued to play the role of disinterested bystander at school as hearts were broken, mended, shared and celebrated. Things were slipping, and I didn't like the feeling. I had absolutely no way to break free from the paralysis of my own making.

It would take a strong man to break through the ice, one that wouldn't take no for an answer. One that could meet me on a level playing field. Someone older, aggressive, and determined. One that would give me the ability to say "Jack who?"

Little did I know that he was just around the corner.

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