|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
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Never Have I Ever
My Life (So Far) Without a Date
By Katie Heaney
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2014 Katie Heaney
All rights reserved.
THE EARLY YEARS
Heart and Soul
In 1991 I was a kindergartner at a small Catholic K–12 school in St. Paul, and on the first day, when my mom dropped me off, I cried.
My ability to negotiate successful social relations in those hallways got better, but not by much. For the most part, I kept my head down, my notebooks and my markers arranged in pristine, clinical rows, and my three-inch-long clip-on Polly Pocket earrings on my earlobes. (Only during free time, obviously. Those were the rules.) My report cards all said the same thing: "Smart and shy; a quick learner, but quiet; very, very quiet. A ghost of a student, a whisper on the wind." I'm paraphrasing.
Teachers and parents call any kid that's quiet "shy," but that's not always it. I wasn't shy, I was reserved. I needed time to figure out what the hell was going on with these masses of people running and screaming around me. I wasn't afraid of talking to my fellow children. I was simply watching and plotting. I have always chosen my friends from a silent distance, picking them out after a short observation period and only then attempting to get to know them. I couldn't tell you the criteria I use. I just know them when I see them. It's taken years of practice to get it completely right, and it started back in that brightly carpeted kindergarten playroom.
There are really just four things I remember about kindergarten. One, my new best friend was a nice and weird girl named Christy with a big pouf of hair like Hermione Granger's well before any of us knew who Hermione would be. Two, my teacher taught us about segregation by having the brown-eyed kids represent white people and blue- and green-eyed kids represent black people (there were no actual black students in my class), and I and my blue eyes couldn't use the water fountain for like an hour, and everyone cried. Three, I must have looked like a boy, because once I was biking in my neighborhood and an older boy asked me, "Are you a boy or a girl?" and all I could do was say, in an inexplicably apologetic whisper, "Girl."
Four: Cody Williams, heartthrob of the Twin Cities' Catholic elementary school community and probably the surrounding counties as well. My first crush.
There is no love like the love you have for your first crush. There isn't supposed to be, anyway, because your behavior toward your first crush was embarrassing and hopelessly naive. Don't fight me on this. I saw it with my own eyes.
First crushes inspire the sort of shenanigans that would get an older and allegedly wiser person in legal trouble. You can't just go around smacking a person on top of the head just because he has adorable ruddy cheeks, for example. The message that small acts of violence conveyed when you were five will not be conveyed now. You will frighten the person. He will look at you like you're some kind of lunatic, because you are.
First crushes last for years, no matter how they change as you make that all- important transition from age six to age seven, when all of you become harder, somehow. More world-weary. Some kids start out like buttons, or anything else cute that you want to pinch between two fingers, and then they grow up into Mr. Hyde versions of themselves (see: virtually every boy who became a TV or movie star before the age of twelve). These developments cannot touch first crushes. First crushes, in that way, breed resilience.
First crushes, generally speaking, have absurdly American-sounding names, like Mike Smith or Johnny Anderson or Mark Liberty. Sometimes they're so cute and masculine (well, for a child, anyway) that they have two first names. Paul Thomas. Freddy George. Sam Nathan. Look these names up in your elementary yearbook: These are the boys for whom the ink of a million glittery gel pens was spilled.
Thus was Cody Williams.
Everybody—and I mean everybody—had a crush on Cody Williams. First crushes and witch hunts are both born this way: out of mass hysteria. Cody, like so many first crushes before and after him, was nonthreateningly cute and pretty. He had floppy blond hair, which was ideal, because that way he kind of reminded us of the boys in Tiger Beat, who were all blond. He was athletic and popular and funny (by six-year-old standards). Again like most other first crushes, we all knew then, on some level, that Cody would never surpass a height of five-foot-six in his adulthood, and that was okay. He would always look like Cody Williams, or some slightly off older version of himself. In fact, I just checked on Facebook, and he looks exactly the same. Seriously, it's a little creepy. Like, you could hold his picture from our kindergarten yearbook up to his Facebook picture and you'd promptly forget which picture was which. You'd think they were identical six- year-old twins, one of whom had the genetic-mutant ability to grow facial hair.
So every last one of us loved Cody. We might have had other crushes, too—it was more about quantity than quality in those days, and it's always nice to have a secret—but he was consistently up there on the collective pedestal of my elementary class. My friends and I didn't mind that we all liked the same boy. We bonded over loving him. Cody Williams gave us something to talk about, because six-year-olds don't have real interests aside from double Dutch and Pizza Lunchables. That's a nice thing about little girls, I think—the ability to pin our youthful romantic aspirations on the same little boy, and talk to one another about it, without thinking about it as competition. There was no competition to be had because kids don't have any real end goal to crushes. We called certain people our "boyfriends," but these relationships lasted only days, or sometimes even just a few minutes. Best of all, the same person could be boyfriend or girlfriend to literally dozens of people and nobody cared. It was a simpler life.
Christy and I were both crazy about Cody because we were, after all, alive. We'd sit in the play kitchen under the lofted reading area and watch him across the room, building a fort out of foam bricks with some of the other boys. It was sort of like the 1950s, but with very small people and food that is plastic. Christy and I made ourselves busy pretending that two toy eggs and a piece of rubber lettuce thrown in a bowl result in muffins, imagining ourselves as the joint housewives to our husband, Cody. Sometimes we didn't even pretend like we were cooking, and we'd just sit at the kitchen table and talk about how much we loved him. Across a sea of kids playing with trucks, throwing things at one another, and pretending like they knew how to read (six-year-olds are so dumb), we watched him build towers, then kick down towers, and build more towers yet again.
One of the things about Cody that really sealed the deal, heartthrob-wise, was that he was also sensitive. Or, at least, that's what I decided about him based on the revelation that he had musical abilities. Conflating interest/talent in music with emotional maturity and a romantic soul is a mistake that even children make, apparently. Oops!
We had a piano in the kindergarten playroom that went largely untouched, because we weren't supposed to "play" it unless we could actually play it, a rule that seemed unjust at the time but that I now understand completely. On a few magical occasions when he needed a break from his normal building-block routine, Cody would sit at the piano and the girls from my class would gather around to listen to him play, because, despite the Catholic school uniforms, we were all shameless hussies. One time Christy and I each draped ourselves over separate ends of the piano, chins resting on our hands and eyes fluttering, like those blond triplets in Beauty & the Beast mooning over Gaston. She probably talked me into that one—she was the kind of friend I have always wanted and needed, one who makes me do things I want to do but am too scared to do—but it's also possible that I was involuntarily drawn to the piano's edge by gravitational pull. Cody was playing "Heart and Soul." Both parts at the same time. I mean, come on. I didn't even know that was possible.
Cody was also just plain nice. He cheered everyone on in gym class, even if they weren't on his team, and even if it was that kid who always ate peanut-butter-and-pickle sandwiches as well as his own snot. When we played T-ball, Cody would yell and clap for every single student who went up to bat, regardless of whether they were able to make contact with the stationary ball (it was harder than you would think). He was just happy for everyone. And because having a cute person say your name aloud is all it takes for most of us to fall in love, having it yelled enthusiastically by a cute person pretty much laid waste to our entire grade's female population. It's really no wonder that half the girls in class seemed to want to run to third base after hitting the ball instead of first base. We were all delirious with love and youthfully uncoordinated. It was chaos in that gym.
Picture this glorious day with me: Cody standing behind home plate, having just offered to give hands-on batting-stance lessons to anyone who "needed" them, followed by every last girl in kindergarten lining up to his left, suddenly and completely helpless when it came to holding a bat properly. At least half of us were lying. At least half of us played on intramural T-ball leagues and/or had families well versed in teaching us how to play baseball. I stood in line, shaking. Before that day, our main interaction of note went like this:
[Scene: before class has started. Children rowdy. Cody swaggers around classroom, holding imaginary concession case in front of him.]
Cody: "Tootsie Rolls! Whooooo wants a Tootsie Roll? Come and get 'em!"
Me, standing, shrieking accidentally: "I DO!!!!!!!"
Cody, throwing imaginary butts (?) in my direction: "*fart noise*"
I shook off that shameful memory. I mean, how was I supposed to know that "tootsie roll" was a poop joke? Honestly. I was a lady.
I stepped up to the plate, dragging the Wiffle ball bat behind me like, "What's this thing, *wink*!" I looked behind me to Cody, who stepped forward on cue. He stood behind me and moved my hands to the "proper" position on the bat—a bit high, to be honest, but I didn't care. This wasn't about baseball anymore. It was about me and Cody, sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Hands now in place, Cody pulled a move I like to think was shared with only me and not with the rest of the little girls in my class: He touched my lower back. There is no way for it to not sound inappropriate when I say that he was doing this to "bend me forward into position" but that was the idea. Plus, we were SIX. Don't be so gross.
That experience held me aloft—like an angel, with wings made of heartbeats—for over three years, and I would have kept right on being in love with Cody were we not cruelly separated when my family moved to the suburbs before I started the fifth grade. It was like my parents didn't factor him into their decision to move. I swear to God, we would have dated for at least a week within the next couple of years if I had stayed at that school. That back touch really meant something. I'm sure of it, still.
As far as I know, there is only one other man ("man," haha) who captivated at least as many girls as Cody Williams did for as many years as Cody Williams did, and that person is Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Tiger Beat and BOP referred to him as "JTT," and thousands and billions of girls followed suit. "JTT." It still feels good on my tongue.
Ten-year-old JTT starred on Home Improvement—a show my parents somewhat reluctantly allowed me to watch with them—in 1991, when I was five. He played the middle son, Randy. Brad, the oldest son, was popular and athletic. Too much of a jock. He also had a mullet, which I found problematic to say the least. Mark, the youngest, was overly sensitive and, later, a goth. Randy was the one for me, a selection that I felt probably set me apart from the undiscerning masses. He was the funny one. His voice was adorable—kind of a drawl without sounding southern, and sort of raspy. He was tan and had sandy brown hair that, no matter how long it got, always looked perfect. I thought he was dreamy, and it turned out that basically every American girl aged five to fourteen agreed with me. I cut out pictures of JTT from Tiger Beat and BOP, where he was featured on the cover every month, and taped them to my wall. My dad found it hilarious to comment on my JTT collage by asking me, "Who's that kid? Is that that Jonathan Diller-a-Dollar boy?" And I'd be like, "DAD, it's JONATHAN TAYLOR THOMAS! UGH!" And he'd be like, "Oh, Jonathan Bilbo Baggins. Sorry." And I'd be like, "UGHGHGH, DAD!"
My crush on JTT intensified to almost unmanageable heights in 1994, when he voiced the role of young Simba in Disney's The Lion King. I was eight at the time, and became convinced that I was able to sing "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" and sound exactly like JTT. I am not now nor have I ever been able to sing, so my assessment may not have been totally accurate, but it's probably fair enough to say that there wasn't much difference between the pitch of my eight-year-old girl's voice and JTT's then-thirteen-year-old boy's voice. That's just how it works. Anyway, I figured it was a perfect in—if JTT and I were ever to meet, I could sing to him and he'd fall for me. Presumably because he'd be in love with the sound of his own voice, coming out of another person's mouth, I guess.
It's only now, having looked up the YouTube video of this song, that I discovered that JTT did not sing young Simba's songs. They were sung by Jason Weaver. At first I was kind of outraged, all, "Who is THAT? Does HE have JTT's wit and sandy-brown hair?" but then I realized Jason Weaver is also an actor—he played Marcus on another much-loved sitcom from my childhood, Smart Guy. So now it turns out that I have a good in if I ever meet Jonathan Taylor Thomas OR Jason Weaver. Anyway.
Like most good things, my crush on JTT was doomed to end before I could get everything out of it that I hoped for (i.e., a diamond ring). I suppose it was bound to happen eventually, because we grew up to be very different-sized people. Standing as tall as he could, he would likely come up to my nipples, which might sound like a good thing but isn't, at least for me. I have a weird need to Google the heights of celebrities I have crushes on to make sure they are at least my height or taller. As if, like, Zac Efron came up to me in real life and asked me out, I'd say, "Ummm sorryyy, no," just because he happens to be five inches shorter than me. (For the record: I would not say no.) It's dumb, but I have to lighten my load somehow. I can't be in love with every hot movie star; it's exhausting. So I sometimes use height to make adjustments to my all-star celebrity crush team where I can, though I've learned that this is a hard game to win at in Hollywood, where the world's most beautiful, tiny little men go to live and work.
A person cannot take the strain of maintaining lifelong crushes on every last celebrity who has ever graced her adolescent walls. We all have our reasons to let them go: They become sullen drug users, or they come out as gay, or we come out as gay, or they go and do something so terrible, so heinous, that we must forget that we were ever attracted to them in the first place. So it was with JTT.
It all fell apart on October 22nd, 1995. Doomsday. The following passage is taken directly from my Mickey Mouse diary from that year. Though it starts off cheerfully enough, do not be fooled. Genuine heartbreak will follow.
Morning Diary! Boy, I slept real good. Listen, have you ever had a crush, and then have it ruined? I have. It was on JTT (short for Jonathan Taylor Thomas). If this stupid "Tom Sawyer" movie would never had [sic] been thought of, this whole thing wouldn't have happened. Anyway, he cut his HAIR! His gorgeos [sic] HAIR! Worse than that, he likes it!!!! He said it was better for the heat. (I know that 'cause Christy has a magazine of him.)
Excerpted from Never Have I Ever by Katie Heaney. Copyright © 2014 Katie Heaney. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
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