I am shown a picture. It is of my youth group at a ski trip. In the picture is a pretty blonde, I’ve seen her around before. I must know her name. “Who is that, I don’t recognize her?”
I sit in church, she’s sitting with her family. 14-year-old perfection in a blue shirt. I do not hear the sermon, I stare. I notice I’m staring and look away. I try to pay attention to the pastor and his message of God, but my eyes drift inexorably towards His earthly angel. I need to talk to her after the service.
I have been roped into greeting people coming to church. I stand near the door, shaking hands and saying ‘hi’. A few people ask me how I’m doing, I answer as I always do, “fine.” My eye wanders expectantly towards the entrance as I hand out bulletins. Finally, I am rewarded. She comes into view. Her top is cut just right; it is modest and wholesome, yet the smallest bit of breast can be seen. My heart skips a beat, literally; it misses one pump, it hurts so good. How can just a square inch of milky-white flesh do this to me?
Never before have I had that strong a reaction to anyone; I did not know at the time, but I never would again.
This vision of perfection walks towards me. I can’t meet those green eyes, I look down. I shake her hand, say something, say anything. Out squeaks a “hi”, she says “hi” back. Say more, just speak, one sentence, that’s all, but my mouth refuses to open. She goes to sit down. My body is still roiling.
There will be other chances to talk with her.
At youth group, she’s there. A card game starts, I join, she joins. I’m good at games, this is my chance. Impress her, talk to her. She speaks, another replies. I stare intently at my cards. My gaze wanders to the face I think of every day, I pull it quickly back to my cards. Over and over again. The turns pass, I continue to draw and play saying nothing. Some conversation is engaged in by the others, but mostly it is silence. The game ends, I win, yet I know I lost.
I am at the mall with my mother. She asks about my life. She asks about girls. I tell her of Jenny, she tells me that’s cute. I say, but she’s 3 years younger than me. My mother says three years doesn’t matter. I hope, but am not sure if I believe her.
I am at youth group. A group is talking. I enter the group and stand beside her. Speak! But what do I say? Anything, just speak. What if I say something stupid? Just say something, I can’t. You must. I turn my head towards her, my mouth opens, and nothing comes out. My mind curses me.
I am newly 18, now a youth leader. We are at a corn maze, I see her and her sister enter. I follow behind. I catch up. We talk. An actual conversation, our first. It turns out the younger girl is her niece, not her sister. We walk through the maze, conversation flowing, awkwardly, but flowing.
“I’m cold.” “You can borrow my jacket.” “No thanks.”
“We should ditch my niece and go off by ourselves.” “That doesn’t seem very nice.”
We continue talking and talking through the maze. We get through after an hour and end up at the camp fire.
She sits elsewhere, I stare into the fire, poking it with a stick as I daydream of us. I have a natural high for the next month.
A few weeks later, at youth group. She walks up to me. She’s wearing a Corona jersey that drapes most wonderfully over her perfect breasts. The white highlights her pale skin. She smiles her perfect smile, and says “hi”. Her beauty transcends words.
I say “hello” back. She stands there, looking at me. Say something! what? Anything. Anything? Ask her about her week. How? I don’t know, just do it.
Time passes. She talks to someone else nearby.
I am talking with my mother and sisters. Relationships come up. I mention Jenny, both my sisters go “awwww”.
After church, she stands alone, leaning against a wall. Her lips are redder than usual, her hair in a ponytail. She’s wearing black leather boots and a leather jacket. She looks classy, cute, and sexy, all at once. I need to talk to her. I go lean against the wall nearby. I should speak. I say nothing. We both stand and lean for minutes.
I hate myself, but there will be other chances.
I am on the bus. I daydream of Jenny, as I do every day. I dream of holding her in my arms. I dream of coming home to her smile each day. I dream of the little blonde children we will have. The dreams are wonderful, yet painful and lonely. It tears at me.
I daydream of something less painful, of killing myself, of peace.
At church, she’s leaning against the wall again. So very pretty, I should talk to her. I will… After I help put away the chairs.
The chairs are put away, she’s still there, go talk to her. I will… but first I have to think of something to say.
You’ve though of something, talk to her. I will!
I walk towards her.
I can’t. I turn.
I walk home, raging at myself.
I get home, I cry.
I am 20, it is Christmas Eve. It has been a half-year since I have seen her. Months of daydreams, yet each month thinking of her less. I think about her only a few times a week. I vaguely wish to see her again.
I get my wish. I see her walk in. Her golden hair wreathes her angelic face. She looks the season in her classy crimson top. So very pretty.
I sit in the back, I can barely take my eyes off her the entire service. What should I say to her.
The service ends.
I walk out and stand in the hallway. She’s just inside the auditorium, I can talk to her. I can’t. I rage at myself. My friend notices me and asks why I am out here by myself, pacing. I tell him. Go talk to her.
I enter back into the main room. She’s leaning against the same wall as before. I stand in the back instead. I muster courage for 10 minutes. While I muster, she leaves with her family.
On the way home, my mother asks me what’s wrong. I don’t tell her.
The day after Valentine’s Day. My mother tells me she saw Jenny, she was at a Valentine’s supper at my church with someone else.
She goes back upstairs. I cry on my bed.
In my mid-late 20’s, reading my facebook feed. Her niece’s profile comes up as a friend of a friend. I haven’t really thought of Jenny in years, but I wonder. I go into her friend’s list. Search “Jennifer”. There’s a Jennifer, but the last name’s different. I click the profile picture; the girl in the dress matches my vague memories of Jenny’s face. She’s with a man in a suit. More pictures, pictures of children, pictures of her smiling with her children.
She’s aged, no longer the 14-year-old angel of my dreams. She’s now chubby, the perfect curve of youthful hip and breast hidden under a small layer of fat.
And yet, she’s still beautiful. Her smile still glistens and her flaxen hair still glows. I feel a dull ache.
I close the browser, trying not to think.
A couple years later, apropos of nothing, I think of her. I wonder.
What if I had the social abilities then that I do now? What if I had been able to summon my courage then, as I can do now?
Would I have been able to win her heart? Would those children be mine?
What if, instead of an empty house, I came home each day to my beautiful, chubby, blonde hausfraus and our adorable little kinder? If those children were mine?
How would my life be different, how would I be different, if I had been a better man?
I write my memories down.
While writing, I’m curious once again, I search for her profile for the second time. She’s aged, she’s still vaguely pretty, but not beautiful. She has changed, or have I?
Would I still find her beautiful had I been a better man?
She recently celebrated her sixth anniversary. They seem happy in the few pictures of them, but most of the pictures are of children.
There is no dull ache, just a slight wistfulness.
I don’t know what to think, so instead, I share my thoughts with thousands of people I have never met. Hopefully my writing will help a younger version of me; maybe it will only confuse him more. Either way, I feel this needs to be written.