February 23, 2017 by Julia
Once, a popular boy in my class pretended that he was suddenly, irrevocably in love with me. Luciano was the funniest sophomore at our high school, someone whom everyone across all four grades knew and liked. He was a great soccer player – too quirky and small to be a jock, but he was good-looking in a ruddy, strawberry blonde way. I remember envying his unusually perfect skin; he almost glowed. We shared French in the last period, sophomore year.
Our teacher was good-humored and had been known to laugh at Luciano’s jokes despite herself; she kept him on as loose a leash as possible while still retaining control of the class. Who knows what she thought was happening on this particular day, between the second row back of desks that formed a U-shape around the whiteboard? Teachers have to keep so many plates spinning in the air.
There was another boy, Brendan, whose desk separated mine from Luciano’s. He was about as averagely dorky as me, which is to say somewhere below “cool” on the totem pole, but not a total reject, either. Brendan was laughing, not knowing what to make of the situation, aware that he could not operate on the same level of weird humor, but trying to play along with some caution – testing the waters as a sidekick, trying not to make too much a fool of himself.
My “French name” was Violette, so Luciano used that as he waxed eloquently about my beauty. It was very dramatic, ridiculously passionate. None of us believed him, not really, but he persisted. The oddest part was how deadpan he was about it. I can still recall that he stared at me with clear brown eyes, utterly sincere, as he begged for my phone number. I kept shaking my head and trying to ignore him. No doubt I blushed.
Luciano was a strange, fascinating person. He somehow managed to appear confident and vulnerable at the same time. This is tricky for anyone to pull off, especially in high school. He inhabited his own skin whether he was making the class laugh, or was having a bad day. Once I saw him sit by himself at an empty table in the middle of the cafeteria, as if he didn’t care how it looked. I don’t know if there was a conflict at his usual table of friends, or what; I assumed he’d be welcome to sit anywhere in the whole place. But that day he seemed to want to be by himself, so he was: Simple as that. It was like nothing I’d seen before. He made eating a sandwich look soulful.
So, this boy whom everyone knew and liked, blessed by freakishly good skin and confidence for a teenager, was suddenly in love with me. I was at major risk of getting Carrie-d in such a setup – pig’s blood-level humiliation. I knew this. Brendan knew this. Luciano surely knew this.
Still, he persisted throughout the entire class period, writing me notes, writing notes to Brendan about me, lying his head sideways on his arms on his desk, gazing at me as though he were overwhelmed by emotion. It was absurd. Maybe I was having a good hair day. Was that it? I was wearing one of those ugly floral dresses so popular in the early nineties – was that it? No matter how we questioned Luciano, scoffed at him, insisted that he was obviously joking, he insisted right back that his feelings were real.
I think I finally gave him my home phone number, though I never quite believed he would call. Still, I couldn’t shake off the electric thrill of the attention, even when I knew it was probably fake. No one had ever spoken to me or about me that way before. I practically floated home from the bus stop. At home I was like a live wire; I couldn’t relax or eat. Against my better judgement, I entertained what it would mean if Luciano wanted to be my boyfriend. If I squinted, let my brain go out of focus, I could almost believe that love had struck this nearly famous boy and he was really, truly into me. I halfway believed it. I didn’t want to. I knew the deeper truth that it was all just a joke, too – something to entertain him in class that day.
He never called. The next day in French, Brendan carefully alluded to Luciano’s overtures from the day before, but that was the only indication any of it had happened. Luciano played it cool, shrugging and dropping the game. I acted as though all of this were normal. That was it. I may have cried later that afternoon at home, because it did hurt.
I still don’t know what his intentions were. Maybe he was testing a hypothesis, to see if an average high school girl would blossom if she were suddenly adored by someone out of her league. He seemed interested in life that way. You could see that he thought deeply about things. Sometimes I wondered if he’d simply noticed me that day, turned it into a joke, and then the next day was over it. It seems cruel, now, to toy with a fifteen-year-old girl that way. But I’m not sure fifteen-year-olds always know better. Back then, we often only halfway knew when things were wrong.
It did leave a scar on me, but it’s a weird scar, tender to the touch but not entirely painful. That afternoon when he was pretending for forty minutes to be in love with me was possibly worth the experience. I realize that sounds crazy. But I was a dreaming teen-aged girl, creating illusions around boys that had nothing to do with reality, no different than a hysterical fan of boy bands (although I listened to grunge and considered myself much better than that). I wanted to be adored, too, even if it was fake – maybe fake was all we really wanted at that age, the fantasy of it. Certainly, the sense of infinite possibility was one of the best things about that age. We were all reluctant to burst that bubble.
There were things I did as a teen, too, experimenting socially, that I didn’t fully consider the consequences of. Many times, I humiliated myself or hurt someone else’s feelings without intending to, because I had not yet learned to think things all the way through to the end. It would be easy now to condemn Luciano for that fake declaration of love, but we were teenagers. Who knows what was going through his mind, or mine when I said the wrong thing or crushed on the wrong boy? I saw the wheels turning on his end, too. I think I forgive him.