In honor of Hanukkah and of my family being too terrified of open flames to keep candles aflame (we have a pattern of Wisel women's houses burning down, I'll give 'em that one), I'm drudging up some of the earliest tales of Awkward yore to remember the Maccabees or honor the fact that they had a drop of kerosene or whatever, I never paid attention to that Rugrats holiday special.
From gun-wielding parents to inappropriate obsessions, as long as I keep living and breathing through my mouth, there will be a fresh dose of Jewwy spirit and absurd happenings aplenty. "One for each night, to remind us of days long ago" never rang so true, and these stories of embarrassment and so much unrequited young love fit that mold cleanly. So Hanukkah, O' Hanukkah, let's get this party started....a full two days late. (What! I had some real Hanukkah stuff to do this past weekend. Maybe if we didn't waste so much time chit-chatting about the origin of latkes in Hebrew School, I would have had time for life lessons, like "How Not To Buy Presents One Hour Before A Party" and "Socks: Not A Good Gift For Your Boyfriend." Oops.)
Since my earliest romantic memory of creepily stuffing a classmate's 4th Grade mailbox with anonymous love letters, I've always been remarkably boy crazy. It's nearly indistinguishable now, since I pool all my obsession into the one I share a toilet, a Netflix account and restaurant checks with, but until I was, Jesus, twenty? (I can use his name in vein, it's one of his holidays after all), my one-track-mindedness had reached near-epidemic status. Seriously, if NBC had seen the levels of hormonal obsession I had over anyone with a one-syllable name and department store jeans back then, they would have pitched a reality show mixing Ugly Betty looks and teen Bachelorette suitors, or at least a 60 Minutes segment exploring "The Mind Of Today's Teenager", exploiting my undying love for prepubescent peers for news fodder and larger generational stories about pre-teen Hanson obsessions translating into an inability to function as a sixteen-year-old adolescen-adult.
Though my home friends and I could likely put together an Oral History of the lengthy "I'll-Die-Without-Him!" list of crushes I developed with an iPhone Voice Recorder and a bottle of wine (and often accidentally do under those circumstances), there was one thoroughly unrequited love that my friend Claire, and her mom, and anyone else who knew me during this special two months of my life reference at ease. His name was Gabe, and I, well, made a rather massive, sad attempt for him to be mine.
He was pretty much the best bass player in the world, and not in the "I'm just remembering him as wildly fantastic" kind of way. He was actually quite unbelievable, as well as the sole reason I snobbishly talk like I know what's up with USC's jazz program. And, naturally, being a brace-faced, younger, borderline freakish student of the same hefty instrument, I had to get him alone by any means necessary.
The means to that end? Well, that wasn't as seamless as most tales of young love. Because I was taking Orchestra for Major credit (did I think this would get me into college?!), I had to perform a solo in front of the entire class. I, the last chair bassist, who began playing the instrument one year prior for reasons that could be summed up in this Hilary Duff classic, had to play an entire song as though my adult life depended on it with the beady eyes of stick-up-their-ass violinists beating down on me. So, knowing how to match need + want perfectly from the start, I somehow successfully nagged Gabe into helping me with my elementary-level song, one-on-one.
Now, if this was a high school movie, I'd 1. be cute, 2. wouldn't have a brother in his grade and 3. would be so cute that it wouldn't matter that I had a brother in his grade. But, this shit's unfortunately real, so for my final private lesson, my mom dropped me off at his house for one last run-through, which also apparently happened to be...his graduation day.
At New Trier High School (prepare yourself, my life is like a Sweet Valley High ripoff that ends up in the $1 bin at Strand), Commencement called for white tuxedos, piles of family members in the stands at Northwestern University's basketball arena, and a basket of doves symbolizing freedom at the end. OK fine, so there weren't any doves, but WHITE TUXEDOS. Just picture every stoner, track star, science nerd, ex-boyfriend, future alcoholic, current alcoholic, wannabe class clown — 500 of them, tying lopsided bow ties for the first time and shuffling down the aisle next to an ocean of girls in floor-length ivory gowns like a mass wedding.
Two hours before this, I was in the middle of this kid's family living room — my personal dreamboat idol and all-consuming obsession — pretending I was a budding master of his own life craft while inside the very place he lived and grew up and probably told his mom the lasagna "wasn't as good as last time." Best of all, his entire extended family, all of the people who had seen him grow from a zygote to the budding professional musician he was now, were currently camped out in the kitchen, tucked away while this pale, sorta-sluttily dressed gangly teenage stranger made groan-like noises on the instrument their young Gabe had built a life's passion on. They, the family, the most important people in his life, were stuck probably licking the salt off Wheat Thins to keep from sheer boredom while this girl they had never met nor heard of legitimately made a racket six feet away, with nobody having any idea why she was there and ruining their special day.
So, there I stood, sweating, rosined bow in hand, playing an humiliatingly dinky ditty while he ran upstairs to put on each piece of his tuxedo between assisting me with screeching across his personal instrument. Up the stairs in a t-shirt, screech, down the stairs in a white button down, screech, into the kitchen to say hi to his grandmother, screech, introducing me to his grandmother, screech, putting his arms through a white jacket on the most important day of his life thus far, screech, brushing his teeth while pointing out the right note in the third measure, screech screech screech. Here I was, in perfect teen movie territory for him to grab my chin, kiss me and go, "Don't wait for me when I'm gone" before gliding off to Graduation...and instead, he came in close, mouth full of Colgate bubbles, toothbrush end poking out of his face, blubbering instructions mid-gargle for how to fix my third position before shuffling back up the stairs and out of my life.
As for that solo? Don't remember it at all. What I do remember is pulling away from his house when my mom bing-bonged the doorbell shortly thereafter, never to speak him again and to learn how most, likely all, of my future heavy obsessions would end. I guess when it comes to young love, though, performance anxiety in front of a pack of rabid cellists is nothing compared to meeting someone's family without anyone intending for it.