Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Robin Talley takes a Dare!

We are so pleased to introduce Robin Talley, who's amazing book, Lies We Tell Ourselves, comes out Spring 2014! Congratulations Robin! We are all so happy for you! And Robin is an extremely talented writer, as you will see when you read her dare - Write a letter to your middle-school crush. So let's give the blog over to Robin today!
Bio: Robin Talley’s first novel, Lies We Tell Ourselves, set in 1959 Virginia at the height of the school desegregation movement, will be released in Spring 2014 by Harlequin Teen. Robin lives with her girlfriend and cat in Washington, D.C., and spends her days working for a progressive nonprofit organization. She then spends her nights and weekends writing, obsessing about writing, and reading. Unfortunately this doesn’t leave much time for the aforementioned girlfriend and cat, but they’re both good sports that way. (Well, not so much the cat, actually.) You can reach Robin on Twitter at @robin_talley or on her blog at http://www.robintalley.com. 

It’s Not You, It’s Your Penis: A Letter to My Middle-School Crush

Dear Danny,

First of all, let’s be honest. We both know your name isn’t really Danny. I’m not going to use your real name in this, or any real names, for that matter. After all, you and I are still friends on Facebook. I just hit “like” on the picture of your wife and new baby being all adorable in the hospital. So I’m going to keep this letter generic, for all our sakes.

As you are well aware, I had a fervent crush on you for most of middle school. Except for some weeks, when I’d decide to have a crush on your friend James instead. And also there were days when I had a crush on Oliver, the other guy in our advanced math class, who had been home-schooled for years and came out of it with an eerily strong grip on the principles of Algebra II. Also, there were Sundays, when I’d go to church and remember that there were other boys at other schools who had kind-of-cute smiles too, and I’d develop a crush on one of the boys in my Sunday School class. Those would last until I got back to school on Monday morning and remembered that there were way more boys my age there.

But most of the time, it was you, Danny. I’m still not sure exactly why. Was it your still-developing-but-already-pretty-impressive sense of snark? Your Geometry prowess? Your early forays into ‘90s grunge fashion?

Honestly, I think it’s that you were smart, and funny, and, well, you seemed non-threatening. You were in all the nerdy advanced classes with me, and you had a disarmingly abashed smile, which was usually directed down into your notebook rather than toward me. You were probably terrified of me, as you had every right to be, given just how scary a 13-year-old girl with a crush can be.

Our math teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson, had been teaching middle school for decades and was always keenly aware of all the crushes in her midst. And you once told me, many years after all this was over, that you were pretty sure Mrs. Wilkinson had been kind of unhealthily obsessed with the idea of you and me making babies someday. I never actually picked up on this at the time, but now I suspect you were right. Regardless, though, I think Mrs. Wilkinson would be really pretty happy with the way we both turned out.

You and I both know the irony of all this, of course ― my rotating series of boy fixations, Mrs. Wilkinson’s hopes and dreams, those painfully awkward math classes ― which is that a few short years after the fervency of my crush on you had faded, I got it into my head that it was actually maybe OK to have a crush on a girl every now and then. And once that idea had gotten hold of me, it held on hard.

That’s why, since we’re being honest here, I never understand it when someone (and usually it’s men who do this) tells me they’ve “always known” they were gay. I don’t doubt that that’s true for plenty of people. But even though I nod and accept such statements without question, deep down I can’t help thinking, “Really? You never had a Danny? An opposite-sex crush that came about partly out of a sense of obligation but also maybe because there was a kid who had a nice smile and a talent for Geometry and an appealing sense of comic timing, and you didn’t know any better yet?”

Because, yes. Part of the reason I had crushes on boys (and later a couple of actual, honest-to-God boyfriends, none of whom were you, Danny, although do you remember that time junior year when you made out with my best friend Jonie in the parking lot across the street from the movie theater and I pestered you with questions about it for months afterward? Good times, good times) was that I thought I was supposed to. Having crushes on boys was what you did, if you were a girl.

But that wasn’t all there was to it. There were also all those cute smiles I kept seeing on the boys around me. Because being 14 is confusing, and hormones are confusing, and it’s hard to know who you actually like, like, when the truth is, you kind of don’t like anyone. Because most 14-year-olds are kind of annoying and immature, so what’s to like, really? So you find yourself desperately grasping for some kind of meaningful human connection because you’re just so dang lonely sitting over here having all these Feelings all by yourself.

You and I haven’t talked about this part, Danny, but even after I figured all that stuff out, about the having crushes on girls ― and I’m talking BIG crushes, way bigger than the one I’d had on you (please don’t take offense; as we now know, it wasn’t you, it was your penis) ― it still took me a couple of years to actually admit to myself that I didn’t particularly like boys. And part of that was because I was trying to reconcile all those Feelings I was having about girls with the part of myself that had crushed on you so hard. You, and James, and Oliver, and the various boys from Sunday School, and that one guy at camp, and the boy with the corduroy pants at the 9th grade St. Patrick’s Day Dance. And all the other places where I’d put all my focus onto the people around me, and on trying to get those boys to like me. I know now that really, I was trying to make sense of myself, and I thought the way to do that was through other people. But as it turned out, the only way to make sense of myself was to spend a lot of time ― like, years ― talking stuff through in my head. The truth is, Danny, if you’d ever given me any indication that you liked me back ― which, to your credit, you never did ― it probably only would’ve confused me further.

Anyway, I wanted to say that I’m sorry for being scary in 8th grade, and I’m sorry for harping on you for so long about that time you made out with Jonie (though looking back on it I think we probably agree that that whole episode was pretty funny).

Also, I’m sorry I didn’t clarify the lesbian thing sooner. I’m not sure when you found out about that, but I strongly suspect that when you did, you breathed a big sigh of relief. Though you were too classy to tell me about that. Again, to your credit.

Congratulations on the start of your new family. You all look really happy, and I’m sure you’re going to be an awesome dad.

Just please don’t make your kid take Advanced Geometry in 8th grade. That stuff is a killer.

Hugs, Robin

13 comments:

  1. What a wonderful letter! Hilarious and emotional in so many good ways. Makes me remember thirteen all over again, with all those crushes -- many of them silly and for no reason at all other than that the boy just happened to be there.

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    1. Thank you so much! The "just happens to be there" crush is pretty much the only kind I had up through college, come to think of it...

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  2. What a touching and funny letter, Robin! Thanks for the insight into those teenage years and mistaken crushes that we all had

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    1. Thank you! It's funny how at the time it always seemed like you were the only person who'd ever felt like this, and then years later you realize it's actually totally universal. :)

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  3. Robin, this was just great.

    You did leave us hanging though...what happened with the corduroy pants boy at the 9th grade St. Patrick’s Day Dance?

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    1. We dated for four months, and then he had a psychotic break or something? It was unclear. We broke up, in any case.

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  4. Love this, Robin! Especially: "...given just how scary a 13-year-old girl with a crush can be." Truth!

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    1. I think they should be on the most dangerous species list. ;)

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  5. LOVED THIS. Paragraphs 2-4 are especially magical. Something about the voice and honesty and how it made me remember my own 13yo crushes. Thanks for sharing this, Robin!

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    1. Thank you Erin! *hugs*

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  6. Love this! Makes me remember all my own misguided crushes.

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  7. My best friend Maria tried to get me together with a girl once. Theresa. It was the most awkward thing ever. You might be right about scary girls at that age. Or it might have been because she didn't have a penis. I don't know. Good post nevertheless. :)

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