The movie “Never Been Kissed” has always been one of my favorite chick flicks. I watched it again just the other day, as it is the perfect way to take my mind off a healing abdomen.
First off, Michael Vartan is extremely cute. Secondly, watching an undercover reporter (Drew Barrymore) go back to high school and make a fool of herself – resulting in flashbacks to awkward moments of her real high school past – reminds me of my own teenage years.
I, too, had ugly metal braces and unwashed hair. I, too, survived moments that are just too embarrassing to talk about.
Don’t worry – this isn’t going to be a story about my first kiss at 14 – that refugee from Kosovo I kissed one evening barely deserves a mention, that’s how memorable it was. No, this is the story of what got me through personal pronouns, equations and Greek mythology – it’s a story about my first real crush.
I was 13, and my grandfather had just died. I stopped taking violin lessons, since every stroke of the bow reminded me of him. I stopped eating bread, since he was the one who usually made it. I stopped going to school. I pretty much stopped doing anything, for at least a month. Then, with help from family and friends, I picked myself up and started my life over.
In June 1991, I graduated sixth grade – the first graduation I could remember without my grandfather by my side. Later that summer, we took our first family trip without him as well (to Greece to visit my cousin).
When we got back, I spent most the summer at my aunt’s house. She talked to me about gay people and alcoholism. We looked after horses and kittens. I developed a joy of writing.
I started school that August as a different person.
The man who walked into our new classroom that first day of school was both comforting and intimidating. He was handsome and cute. He was young, yet adult-like. He had blonde, curly hair and sparkling blue eyes. When he looked at me and smiled, everyone else in the world disappeared. It was just the two of us, and nothing else mattered.
I could look at him for hours. I loved to listen to him talk. His voice was soft, yet determined, and he was so mature and so smart.
There was just one problem: He was our homeroom teacher.
When I confided in my closest friends, they told me I was insane. But I didn’t care. Nothing could stop me from dreaming.
And boy, did I spend many nights dreaming about him. And days, too. It turned into an obsession. It was a mind game of “what ifs.” What if I were just a few years older? What if something happened on the upcoming school trip? What if he liked me too? What if he was more than just my teacher?
Unlike “Never Been Kissed,” however, I wasn’t actually a 25-year-old posing as a student. I really was a student. And unlike the movie, the teacher never had a thing for me.
This man didn’t give me my first kiss. What he did give me, however, was help and support to get through those very tough years when my grandmother and I were all by ourselves, trying to figure out how to live our lives.
He was a smart guy, and he could hear my cry for help. Over the phone, he spent many evenings mentoring me in math, and whatever subject I was having trouble with. "You call me when you need to, OK?" he would say.
He would always ask “how are things at home?” and I would always say “fine.” They weren’t always fine, of course, but just the fact that he was asking – the fact that he cared that much about me, meant the world to me.
We kept in touch sporadically as I moved away and started going to my media school. I sent him articles I had written – sometimes I’d call for moral support.
Then three years after our ninth-grade class had parted ways, we had a mini-reunion – just the 24 kids from our class and our teacher. I was dreading it – one of my friends was avoiding it altogether. Another friend and I loaded up on booze to get us through the night.
But it wasn’t as bad as we thought. We had dinner, and our former homeroom teacher spoke to us about what it was like to have his first class at age 22. We were his first – and his only class – that he had for three years in a row. He would always remember us, he said.
After everyone had had their share of drinks, the dancing began. I saw the teacher ask for a special song. “Number four on this CD is very good,” he told the DJ and walked away.
A few minutes later, Jon Bon Jovi’s “Always” started playing from the speakers. The dance floor emptied quickly. I was getting a glass of water from the kitchen when he came up to me – me, of all people – took my hand and led me out onto the dance floor.
It was more of a very long hug than an actual dance. We stood there, in the middle of the dance floor, holding each other, as all the former classmates were watching. Some of the “cool” girls – with disgusted looks on their faces – walked outside to smoke, pretending to be indifferent.
That’s when I realized it: I wasn’t the only one who had felt what I did about this man. Some of the other girls had also been in love with him - I could tell from their jealous looks through the window. But he chose to dance with me.
“I will be here for you,” he whispered as we held each other. “Always.”
It was the only time he danced that night. I felt like the only girl in the world.