The Girl I Almost Married

{This forgotten gem by Tiffany (Could’ve Been – her second of two hits) wasn’t out until the end of the following recollection, but it’s a reminder of my childhood, and seems fitting here – ignore the cheesy video and just listen to the music – not that that isn’t cheesy in and of itself, but you get the idea – and it was the 80’s after all…}

Her name was Rachael. We met in Mrs. Green’s first grade class at R.J. McNulty Elementary School. She had beautiful naturally-blonde hair that was always shiny and clean. She wore matching clothes that must have been selected by her Mom (as mine were). We sat together at lunch, where she introduced me to the revelation of sour-cream-and-onion potato ships. She always gave me the cheese off her pizza too. (For some reason I hadn’t yet acquired a taste for pizza, just the cheese.) We were inseparable at recess and anytime the class was free to choose partners or scatter into groups. I think Rachael was the first girl who had a crush on me, and like many of my crushes, I was completely oblivious.

She had a neighbor, Ryan, who liked her a lot, and likely in that way. They had grown up together (well, if you call getting to age nine growing up…) and naturally he hated that I had won her attention, and therefore hated me. (I guess he was the first in a long line of people who would come to hate me, and I dealt with him as I’ve dealt with them all – a blind eye and a disdainful dismissal to disguise a puzzled hurt.)

I think it was during the summer after first grade that we decided to get married. We were playing at her house and it just seemed like the thing to do. Her sister would act as maid-of-honor, and Ryan, well, while I couldn’t have him as my best man, he could act as a witness (much to his chagrin). The side yard would serve as the location, beneath a vine-covered arbor. We were this close to actually going through with it (at least as close as almost-second-graders can get to being married) but for some reason we both paused and decided to wait. Oddly enough, it didn’t change our friendship.

It was adolescence that did that, and the inevitable way that most boys and girls have to stop being friends after and before a certain age, lest anyone think they “liked” each other (the bane of a boy’s existence, and the number one way to insult or embarrass someone). For that reason alone, I lost, or pretended to lose, many of my best friends who happened to be girls. (How odd that back then I was trying to hide my relationship with a girl while flaunting my friendships with boys.)

But Rachael was undaunted, and we went out to Pizza Hut and High Rollers (again, it was the 80’s and roller skating was big). I was terrified that people would see us together, and at the same time scared to hurt her by saying no, so these outings were stressful on just about every level, save for the fact that she always seemed to enjoy them, and was agreeable to everything.

I played ‘Material Girl’ for her in the car as my Mom drove us to the Amsterdam Mall. (A word of advice for girls hoping to find boyfriends: if he plays Madonna (or Lady Gaga today) he could be your best friend, but he’ll never be a boyfriend.) But we didn’t know that then.

She was the first of a few select girls who liked me more than I could ever like her back, and for that she will always be dear to my heart. Rachael saw something in me that was worth loving, and because she was so sweet and kind, it made me think I might actually be worthy of such love. That I could not return it fully must have wounded her deeply, as deeply as it did me.

By seventh grade, we had left McNulty behind, and with it our withered romance. Things were getting messy in our adolescence, and girls still weren’t supposed to hang out with boys unless they were dating. There was a guy in my Home Economics class (does such a class even exist anymore?) whose name was Chad. He was one of the first friends I had at Wilbur H. Lynch Middle School and he was, well, a bit of a dork. Not in the smart, nerdy, one-day-he’ll-make-millions kind of dork, just a bit of an awkward not-quite-teen whom I treated rather poorly (despite the fact that he was two times taller than me). That first week in class he confided that he liked a girl who came from McNulty, and he told me her name was Rachael. I smiled to myself, then told him he should ask her out. We always want the ones who don’t want us.

It was a few months later, I think, that Rachael and her family moved away to Florida, and I never heard from her again until yesterday when she found me through FaceBook (the modern-day detective service for lost loves). She said she wasn’t sure I’d remember her, but I did immediately. It looks like she has three beautiful children and a happy, loving family life.

Rachael, if you’re reading this, I just want to thank you for being so kind to me for all those years. Even when I didn’t deserve it (and couldn’t possibly see what it was you liked in me) you never treated me badly. I didn’t know what to do with it then – and in many ways I still don’t – but you showed me how it was never a waste to get closer to somebody, that girls can and should ask out boys, and how tasting a sour-cream-and-onion potato chip for the first time can be a life-changing experience.

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