My Life: A Story In Crushes

Karen Rivers

My first date stood me up.  

It was 1984.   I was fourteen.

The movie we were seeing was Legal Eagles, starring Debra Winger.  As I waited outside the theatre in my carefully chosen jeans and tank top, time played games with me.  The minutes during which he didn’t appear dragged by.  But, impossibly quickly, the long line up of movie-goers, people whose dates hadn’t stood them up, vanished into the building.  I was left alone on the sidewalk.  Seagulls fought over an overflowing garbage can.   Busses came and went, their brakes sighing.

I remember being painfully, acutely, overwhelmingly embarrassed.

Up until I met the boy who stood me up, my heart had belonged exclusively to one person.

That person was Simon Le Bon.

Simon, in case you don’t know, was the lead singer of the British pop group, Duran Duran.  I stared at his pictures in Tiger Beat magazine and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were destined to meet and fall in love.   I stuck clippings to my walls with tape that would peel off the paint when I tried to remove it.   I watched the sun dappling leaf-patterns on Simon’s smile. I dreamed up a whole life for us. 

For starters, Simon wouldn’t ever stand me up at a movie.

Simon wouldn’t even take me to a movie.  He’d take me to dinner, where the tablecloth would be checkered and there would be an old wine bottle with a candle in it, the wax dripping down the side.   We’d talk.  That was my big, romantic ideal:   Talking.  He’d tell me his favourite thing to order and it would be my favourite, too.   I’d tell him stories and he’d listen.  He’d tell me stories, and I’d understand them in a way no one ever had before.

I edited out all the potentially creepy parts of our story. 

It was safe and pure, a true love story for the ages, the kind that would make strangers swoon when we regaled them with it at our fiftieth anniversary party, our children all around us, raising their glasses to toast the love of the century.  

The next week, I gave the boy who stood me up another chance.

I hoped with my romantic fourteen-year-old heart that it could be a real love story.  

We went to the beach and drank vodka from a Slurpee cup.   I remember being so cold.   Later I lay on my best friend’s bathroom floor, staring at the wallpaper, which seemed to slide away from my eyes, and I missed Simon.   The boy, my date, had given me huge, plum-sized hickies all over my neck which lasted for weeks.

I hated the hickies.  I hated him.  I hated myself.  I felt dirty, used, tired, and sick.

Simon would never make me feel that way.

My favourite story was one in which Simon and I were alone in an elevator in the most obviously romantic building I was capable of imagining: the Eiffel Tower.   In this scene, suddenly, the elevator lurched to a stop and the Earth began to shake.   I screamed.  As we began to plummet downward, Simon leaned toward me and said, as you do when you are falling to your death, “I think I’m in love with you.”   Then the elevator stopped, and, trapped in that elevator, our story began.

We were rescued, but not too soon.   

We shared secrets.  He confided in me about how difficult it was to be famous, how he hated the screaming girls.  

He told me I was different.  

That I was special.

He said that he’d wait for me, no matter how long it would take.

Eventually, my “boyfriend” moved away.  I heard he joined the army.   I never saw him again.   Thinking about him made me queasy.

After him, I shied away from real boys.  

I always compared them and in the comparison, they always fell short.  I picked Simon.  

Real boys had no chance with me.

How could they?

Around the time he married Yasmin, I gave up or grew up, a bit or both.

I replaced him with a boy who was completely and utterly out of my league.   It was safe for me to yearn for this boy because there was no chance that he would notice me.  There was zero risk that he would suddenly ask me out, take me to the beach, leave bruises on my neck.   He was as safe as Simon, but he was also real.  

Sometimes he noticed me.

Sometimes he spoke to me.

Sometimes I was sure that he was drawn to me, too. 

I loved being in love with this boy.  I loved yearning for this boy.   I loved the version of him who existed solely in my imagination.    I knew almost nothing about him.   I didn’t really want to. 

I loved the fact that I wouldn’t have to actually have a relationship with this boy.   Real relationships were dumpster fires, in my limited experience.   The only fire I wanted was the flame on the candle in that wine bottle at dinner.  

I replaced Simon at the table with this boy. 

I still think of them sometimes, both Simon and this boy. 

I thought of them fondly as I wrote my book, You Are the Everything.

I remembered how it felt to be safe in love, to not have to risk, because – after all – I was making the whole thing up.  I controlled the narrative.   They were characters in the stories that I told myself.   Not real people, after all.

I hope they’re both well.  

I’d Google for facts, but that would ruin it, don’t you think?  It would alter it, the perfection of those stories, our stories, the stories that were mine and mine alone.  

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