The First “No” Is the Deepest

10 Mar

Man, that Facebook’s a ceaseless wonder. After reconnecting with distant relatives, old classmates, former paramours, half-remembered acquaintances, and cherished childhood friends, I’ve hit yet another nostalgic milestone: the first girl I ever asked out.

I was 15 then, and way behind the curve. I’d been on dates before — don’t be silly! — but those were usually parent-finagled scenarios to get me out of the house so they and their adult friends could guzzle brandy, smoke cigars, and lament the horrid backslide of education, politics, and the arts since 1969. “Heyyy,” pops could cajole, draping a fatherly limb across my skeptical teenage shoulders, “the Colsons have a daughter about your age…” By ellipses’ end I’d find myself at the cineplex, $20 in my fist and a virtual stranger at my side. There’d be wandering glances and awkward pauses as we desperately, nervously struggled through small talk, clawing for common ground. Oh, you like Mr. Mister? Cool. Want some popcorn to hide behind for the next two hours like a buttered potted plant?

Together we’d sit like Frigidaires, me duded up, slightly hopeful, her plotting quiet revenge against all of our parents. License to Drive would cut shadows into our sad charade. She’d watch Corey Feldman and Corey Haim do their ridiculous Two Corey schtick and wonder why, of all the available Cory/Coreys in the universe, she was saddled with me.

She was lucky, though, that I wasn’t actively pursuing her. ‘Cause I was utterly hapless with girls. To compensate for an otherwise quiet demeanor, my adolescent courting technique could best be described as suicidal. When I liked someone, I expressed my affection by mocking the shit out of her. That was my surefire formula: relentless ridicule. Plumb her pleasantries for puns, lob salvos and barbs upon contact, repeat until the subject falls in love.

Hey, it worked for my hero, Groucho Marx. In my hands, however, it proved surprisingly ineffective. One girl wouldn’t speak to me for five years. (Well, that’s not entirely true: late in our senior year, she directed a barrage at me that contradicted her status as an Honors student.) Prank calls weren’t endearing, either, unless you found tiresome rounds of Asshole Telephone sexy. My exasperating immaturity cost me a few potential friendships. Somehow, my actions weren’t seen as scampishly clever.

For a Lothario in training, my track record stunk. I’d had exactly one girlfriend by the tenth grade, a relationship I demolished with my loutish behavior. She was a sweet girl who deserved far better than my phony strut for however long she endured it. When we were 12, it felt like months, when it was likely only weeks. But it was a middle-school romance and oh, so serious. Florid, yearning origami jammed through locker vents. Long afternoon phone calls to listen to each other listening to music. Communication through song dedications: “This one goes out to Cory — it’s Toto, with ‘Stranger in Town.’” Making her cry ’cause I had to be a prick. A showoff. An icehouse.

She eventually got her revenge by forgiving me. But not before announcing to our junior-year creative-writing class that we’d once been “lovers,” relaying this information with an evil grin and eyes of playful malice. Touche. (She’s a Facebook friend now too.)

But what the hell. I’m leaping around the timeline. Focus, soldier; you’re a Professional.

This particular incident took place during my sophomore year of high school, late ’87/early ’88. The girl was in my Bioscience class. Quiet and intriguing. Naturally, my usual approach would not be appropriate. I was still young, but I was learning fast. Slowly dulling my vicious edge. Honing my filters. Cooling my dickish lean. I had to be delicate, do things right. This meant handling the situation as the private me — the dope who poured poems into notebooks and harbored dreams of writer-dom — and not the stumblebum knucklehead junior raconteur. I had to talk to her at school or call her at home, engage her as a human being instead of as a straight man, and ease, organically, into a formal proposal.

I suspected that calling her at home was the easiest option. No barking-sweat visuals to turn her stomach. But still it took three nights to summon the courage. My logic was sound, I thought. Monday was too early. Tuesday was too volatile. Wednesday was just right. Weekend plans would still be in limbo and, uh — well, it made perfect sense at the time. All that was left was to actually make the call.

I was an anxious wreck, kneeled over the rotary phone in my parents’ bedroom, door securely locked for maximum privacy. The cool drone of a dial tone hummed expectantly in my ear as my fingers tapped the black beast in thought.

You poor kids today will never know the beauty of the rotary phone, the anticipation as tumblers fell into place. It was the perfect agent of suspense. The numbers clacked and spun, giving me time to concentrate on potential outcomes. What would I do if a parent answered, a protective father type demanding my name, address, and intentions? Or maybe she’d answer, first ring, and catch me unawares. What if an answering machine picked up? Would I leave a message? What would I say? Would I pretend to be a wrong number? Disconnect without a word?

Too many options, too many question. So I’d hover over that final digit, quailing at the crossroads, rewriting history, until that angry chorus of “EH! EH! EH! EH!” sent me all the way back to the beginning. CLACKCLACKCLACKCLACK … CLACK CLACKCLACK …

After 700 attempts, I finally spun the orphaned number, largely out of sympathy. It looked so forlorn and untouched, separated from its tribe by a teenage pussy. Also, I’d compromised by then, vowing to hang up after three rings. Couldn’t say I didn’t try.

The tumblers settled. I was in.

One ring. OK.

Two rings. Almost there.

Th —

“Hello?”

Deep voice.

Father?

Shit.

“Uhhhh, hi!” I sang, whitening my delivery with counterfeit sunshine. “Is [NAME REMOVED] there?”

Pause. Interminable pause.

“Sure. Hold on.”

Muffled voices. Silverware? Dinner. Bad, bad form. Brush of phone on flesh and

“Hello?”

It’s her.

“Hey!” I shout for the benefit of neighbors six blocks away.

“Hi.”

“Hi!” I reply, as if trying the word out for myself. Then I realize “Hey!” and “Hi!” aren’t exactly exclamations exclusive to me, so I decide right then and there to be helpful.

“It’s Cory. From school.”

“Hi.” No discernible change in tone. Not cold, not glad, just mildly friendly.

“Hey. So, um, did you get that assignment done?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Oh, no reason. Just wondering. Science, y’know. Like, pshoo. Science.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I’m sorry, did I interrupt your dinner?”

“Yeah, kinda.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“It’s OK.”

“Didn’t mean to be, y’know. Rude.”

“It’s no big deal.”

“Anyway,” I continue, finally seizing the reins to strangle this dying pony, “the reason I’m calling, actually, is because, well, y’know, I was curious. Would you maybe wanna perhaps, I dunno, go out sometime? Like Friday, maybe? Or next Friday? Or …”

I feel a surge of genuine shock course through the cord like Kool-Aid up a Silly Straw. Now it’s her to turn to stammer.

“Whuh — um. Hm. Sorry, but no.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just — ”

“No! No. That’s OK.”

“OK.”

“OK. Cool. Well.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I will, um — I will see you in class tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow, Cory.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

I hung up, sat on the edge of the bed. My first formal proposal, my first formal rejection. 0-1. Or 1-1. Why be a pessimist.

Honestly, though, it didn’t feel so bad. In fact, it was better than I’d expected. She was gentle, not at all what I’d feared — what I’d always feared: combative revulsion, angry denouncement, emasculating laughter, or outright physical retaliation at the very idea of socializing with me in a non-academic environment. It was not a harbinger of my future. It was just the word “no.”

And that, as they say, was that. We returned to class and, with the exception of an occasional bemused glance, never acknowledged what had happened. In fact, that Wednesday night exchange turned out to be the longest conversation we’d ever have.

She’s probably long forgotten it, but I carry that memory with a peculiar fondness. It was the beginning of the private me overcoming a self-conscious manufactured asshole. The process was long and painful, and I can’t say he’s gone completely — I’m still a sucker for well-laid snark; its pull is sometimes too irresistible — but I’m more civilized now and, might I add, an excellent lunch companion, so…

No? Well, maybe next time.

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2 Responses to “The First “No” Is the Deepest”

  1. Josh Dobbin March 19, 2011 at 7:20 pm #

    No fair. Your high-school girl-infatuation story is easily 10 times better written than mine.

    • coryfrye March 20, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

      Pfft. Balderdash and hogwash. Yours must be required reading for all younger versions of podunks like ourselves.

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