Danielle R. Shapazian: Oh, the shame of being outed to a first crush

July 4, 2014 

The humiliation arrived with great flair and articulation: "Danielle likes Steve Kilpatrick!" Dick Lockher shouted the news across the playground, proclaiming my business to all who would listen. (Obviously, I'm still not over it.)

In a flash, I stood shriveled, a wave of self-consciousness suddenly transforming my groovy bell-bottoms into dorky high-waters. How stupid of me! Why hadn't I kept my crush a secret? I was mad at Dick and I was mad at myself. Exposing my feelings had caused me this trouble.

Children from all over Selma had gathered to learn macramé and ceramics, to cook and to sew, to build birdhouses in woodshop. These were gilded days in California education. We called it summer school.

I had first noticed Steve months before, when I was singing in a multi-school chorus across town. I was 11 and he was 12. Now, we were sharing the same campus. In this world of peril and possibility, I had fallen onto the wrong side.

The cutest boy I knew turned his head only briefly toward the teaser's big mouth. He kept walking, ample proof he barely knew I was alive. But Dick sure was having fun, bowled over and grabbing his torso in laughter.

My decision was immediate. No longer would I share my feelings about such matters. From now on, any boy I liked would remain an absolute secret.

I was silent for five years, almost a third of my life. At times, I struggled to hold back. Still, any confession would have been too risky. The only boys I admired publicly were those who lived within the pages of Tiger Beat.

This strategy worked for a while. You can't get hurt if you don't put yourself out there. Reticence protected my ego, even as it left me feeling like a ghost.

By 16, the only solution was to try again — a scary leap, but necessary. This time, the boy arrived in the best of ways, a compelling force that pulled me forward.

His name was Stan. He played the trumpet, and I played the flute. I diverted my eyes a hundred times before he got the clue.

Let me repeat: These were gilded days. In the summer of 1975, our high school band traveled to Britain for two extraordinary weeks of sight-seeing and performance. Quite the novelty, we marched down cobblestoned streets dressed as Welch guards.

In our heavy red jackets and furry black hats, we posed as the Queen's best, a bunch of American kids playing John Philip Sousa. On the main street of Dublin, I signed an autograph.

Somewhere around Glasgow, after dinner in a stately reception hall perched atop a lush hill, Stan and I and a couple of friends aimed toward a dark grove of trees that bordered the grounds.

Our path was void of brambles, but tricky nonetheless. I was nervous, not fully convinced that what I really wanted would surely happen next. In the space between hope and heaven, moonlight pierced the tree branches.

In that magical forest, Stan reached for my hand. As our fingers entwined, my silence returned. Sometimes a girl can't speak when her heart is bobbing in her chest.

If one meets her true love at 16, she is an exception. For most of us, it doesn't work that way. Heartbreak comes early and disappointment molds character.

But as I transitioned from child to adult, I became convinced that I would never return to a stifled existence.

My truth became cemented in an important clarity: As a nurse, I watched a person die. Then I watched another. I came to understand the commonality of our last breaths. I wasn't going to waste any of my early ones on trumped-up pride.

We may die similarly, but we live singularly — in the chances we take, in how we tempt fortune with our drive.

Occasionally, I use the old sewing basket that sits in my closet. As I replace a missing button or mend a torn hem, I summon the lessons I learned during my bell-bottom days.

In honor of my grand education, I offer this final shout:

"Dick Lockher, are you out there?! Dorky Danielle survived!"

(OK. Now, I'm over it.)

The names have been changed in this little story. The rest is absolutely true. Danielle R. Shapazian is a nurse and writer who lives in Fresno. She can be contacted at Danielle. Shapazian@sbcglobal.net.

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