he first one doesn’t count, because you’re only four or five, and you don’t even realize it’s a crush. You just think it’s funny when he eats glue or makes fart sounds or imitates the teacher when her back is turned. You’re too young to know any better, so we’ll let this one slide.
Cure: Don’t need one. Eventually he’ll do something ridiculous and mess everything up—like pull your skirt over your head in front of the class, steal your Barbie doll, break your crayons, or tattle on you. You’ll lose interest. Either way, it takes care of itself.
The first one you actually realize is a crush is a different matter. You’re old enough to realize there’s competition, and girls who have better boobs, better butts, better blonde highlights, better everything, are the ones who are going to get his attention. What could he possibly see in you? He doesn’t know you exist.
Cure: Fortunately, adolescent hormones make you so ragingly stupid that you’d probably ruin it if given half a chance, so it’s probably best that he doesn’t know you exist. Need comfort? Picture him at the 20-year class reunion bald and fat. Tell yourself that better fish are out there.
You decide to go to a college near a large city—maybe getting out of your hometown will make you forget your stupid crushes. But then you’re in Psychology 101 and your professor has a wild mane of curly blonde hair and hypnotically green eyes. You sit in front—you tell yourself—to see better because there’s a horrible glare from the afternoon sun that comes through the windows and dances on the chalkboard. He talks of Freud and sex and Pavlov’s damn dog experiments and what it must be like to go absolutely, completely crazy. You Google him. Read every paper he has published, including “The Transcendental State of the Ego as Opposed to Degeneration of the Id in South American Men During 1976 to 1978.” You’ve never been more turned on.
The biggest weakness is not for their kind eyes or salt and pepper hair. It is always the curve of their hands—the gentle tender area between the thumb and forefinger, cleft there, so vulnerable, yet so hidden, it makes you think the whole world would allow you this one indiscretion if you could just get a little closer.
Cure: Do the math. If you’re 20 and he’s 50, by the time you’re 30, he’ll be dragging—everything will be dragging—and he’ll be popping little blue pills while your other friends are married to young bucks who are still in their 30s.
If that doesn’t work, just remember that it could get him fired.
If that doesn’t work, eat raw eggs until you throw up. Repeat if necessary.
You’re so messed up over the professor that you head to a shrink. He talks about how you never felt unconditionally loved by your Daddy and this has caused a fixation on authority figures. All that transference (a term you ironically learned from the professor) causes you transfer your crush to the shrink. At first you tell yourself that any man that good-looking and still single just has to be gay. It gets you off the hook for a few sessions, then one week he shows up with a Caribbean tan and a wedding ring. Now when you think of him, it’s almost like adultery. But maybe he’s miserable, you tell yourself. Maybe he got her pregnant.
Maybe he found the woman of his dreams.
Cure: You go to confession and unfold all your lusty desires before the priest. Then he points out that you haven’t really done anything, just thought about it. Then you realize how your confession pales in comparison to the tales of lust and wild abandon he must have heard all week. He gives you some half-hearted penance, but then you remind him that Jesus said if we look at someone with lust, we have committed adultery with them in our hearts. He adds a few more Hail Marys. You think—or maybe imagine—that he whispers “give it a rest, already” as you slink from the confessional booth.
If you’re Protestant, see the raw egg comments above.
You notice the guy in the cubicle across from you. He’s Asian, and all of a sudden you’re thinking of the sheer exoticness of it all, some ancient Chinese sexual wisdom—even though he was born in upstate New York. He’s an associate supervisor. It’s all so taboo and that makes you want him even more. You’re sure the shrink would have something to say about this one.
Cure: You’re lucky this one took care of itself. They found him downloading porn and instead of firing him, they quietly transferred him to Sacramento, where he is scheduled to undergo some kind of porn counseling session.
You wonder if your shrink offers porn counseling.
Lest you be tempted to go back to the shrink, take a look at your checkbook balance and remember how much you shelled out because you exceeded your insurance company’s allotted 20 visits per year.
You want to meet someone who shares your interests. So you take a lit class at the local college. You’re relieved that your professor is a woman. Until she’s out for maternity leave. Then you get this beatnik grad assistant working on his PhD on Nabokov. He has black hair in a ponytail and some kind of tattoo on his back. You can tell because you see edges of it creeping around his upper shoulder when he wears a loose-fitting shirt. You imagine going to his place for wine and cheese and finding that he has 100 copies of Lolita. Everywhere. Lo- li- ta.
Cure: This one’s probably okay because he’s just a substitute. At least that’s what you tell yourself. You wait until after the semester. Then you go to his place for wine and cheese and see that he really does have 100 copies of Lolita everywhere. Okay, maybe only seven—10 if you count the ones in French, Spanish and Italian. But it feels like 100. It feels like a million.
You’re feeling nauseated. He takes you home. Probably all those raw eggs.
Then one day, when you least expect it, there’s a crush who responds.
He may be the professor, the boss, the shrink, the substitute. You linger after class asking questions until he gets the message. You schedule appointments even though you’ve reached your insurance max. You know exactly how he takes his coffee. You know his favorite novel. Then one day, he asks you for some help on a project. You type, file, whatever, for hours. You take a walk for a study break, ergonomic break—just fill in the blank here. You walk down a
wooded trail. You feel perfectly safe with him. You halfway expect squirrels and birds to hop out of the bushes and sing to you like some kind of sappy Disney cartoon. He touches your shoulder. Then rubs it. He leans down for what you think is a peck on the cheek, and the next thing you know, he’s kissing you full on the lips, and suddenly you’re back in the middle of your tenth grade fantasy—the crush has noticed you.
Of course, as soon as he does, he ruins it. Because he’s your professor, boss, shrink or substitute.
That’s the ultimate cure. You realize you can’t ever win.
And he can’t, either.
* * * * *
Dawn DeAnna Wilson is an award-winning North Carolina writer and the author of three novels, the most recent of which is Ten Thousand New Year’s Eves. This short story is from her collection Welcome to Shangri-La, North Carolina. Information on her publications can be found on her website http://www.dawndeannawilson.com. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina and her master’s degree in English/Creative Writing from East Carolina University. She currently resides near Raleigh, North Carolina.
This week is being guest edited by Australian poet Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke.