Everyone has at least one major crush when they’re a teenager, don’t they? A celebrity, or a family friend. Perhaps some guy a few years above them at high school. The difference is that when the maelstrom of hormones has died down, most people get over the silliness of unrequited love and they move on.
It’s over fifteen years since I’ve seen him. In that time, I’ve had several long-term relationships, celebrated my tenth wedding anniversary, and given birth – but I still think about my teenage crush almost every day.
My teenage years were awful. I was dealing with abuse at home. I was smart but unpopular at school. I was a walking fashion disaster – my hair so short and boobs so small that I was regularly mistaken for a boy. The only time I was really happy was when I had my nose stuck in a book, and my imagination was running wild about other lives I could be living.
It was no surprise then that my crush was a book lover too. He was my English teacher.
Even as an adult – and one who makes her living from writing – I still struggle to find the right words to express how strongly I felt about him. When I read my journals from that time it scares me how blurred the lines are between a harmless crush and a dangerous obsession with the potential to damage both of us.
I could barely string a sentence together in his company. I had his timetable memorised so that I could engineer bumping into him in the corridors of school. One time he left a message about a school trip on our home answering machine, so I took out the tape and would sit at night listening to those forty seconds of his voice, rambling on about permission slips and bus times. I spent hours fantasising about what it would be like to stay behind after school one day and lock myself in the book cupboard with him. The sex, of course, would be amazing.
Of course, nothing ever happened. He was a middle-aged family man, working his way up the career ladder, and even if I’d been a schoolgirl stunner rather than a gangly geek, I think it’s unlikely he would have jeopardised all that for a quick fumble. Our conversation never strayed far beyond Salinger and Shakespeare.
But occasionally – very, very occasionally – he would do something that made me wonder – just a tiny bit – if it had crossed his mind.
My mother came home from parents evening at the school one time and said “That was odd. Mr D says you’re wonderful. He asked if I had any more like you at home, and then went terribly pink and apologised for being inappropriate.”
Another time, on school photo day, it was my turn to go and stand in line for the standard, awful shot. I was in a bad mood for a couple of reasons – I hated having my photo taken, and the time of my slot meant missing ten minutes of English class and therefore ten minutes with Mr D. As I stood up and pulled my crumpled school tie out of my bag, he glanced at me and muttered something under his breath that sounded an AWFUL lot like ‘all the better to tie you up with my dear’.
But I must have been mistaken. He would never have said that.
A few years ago, I sent him an email. I think I understood that still thinking about him every day was a bit odd, and I wanted some kind of closure on the whole thing. Part of me wanted to apologise if I’d ever unintentionally let my feelings get the better of me and been too obvious – if the Christmas cards and Happy New Home cards I’d given him had crossed a line and made him feel awkward. I wondered if he remembered the essay I’d written about my ambitions of becoming a stripper – not true, but at sixteen I thought it was a provocative and funny thing to write about. He gave me an A for it.
In the end, I didn’t apologise, or ask any of those things. I just said that he had been an excellent teacher, and that I was very grateful for his influence on me in going on to study English at university.
He sent a lovely email back, thanking me for the good thoughts, wishing me well, and noting my change in name. He also said that thanks to a couple of Google searches he’d done over the years he’d seen that I’d done ‘very well’ since leaving school.
He’d Googled me?
Do all teachers Google their ex-pupils?
I’d been looking for closure, and instead been left with a whole new set of questions. What had made him think of me? Why had he taken the time to look up and see what I was doing? Did that mean – maybe, just maybe – that he had felt a little of what I had felt too?
I don’t suppose I will ever know. And that is probably best. Some things should just be left alone.
Without the advent of social media, it’s possible that he would have faded from my thoughts entirely by now. I live in another country, and am never likely to cross paths with him in person ever again. But I still look online every couple of months to see how his school is doing, and if there are any new pictures up. I still check his Twitter feed and his Facebook profile – from what I can see, he is ageing well, and I’m delighted to see that he seems to share my leftist politics.
A few weeks ago, I dreamed that he was sitting outside a café in the town I now live in and I was doing skateboard tricks to impress him. When I fell off he came rushing over to pick me up and whispered in my ear, “Still? After all this time?”
My overactive imagination – the one that developed out of necessity to avoid the unhappy reality of my teenage life – still plays films in my head sometimes, where we bump into each other and go for a drink and finally get around to having that amazing sex.
So yes, Mr D. Yes.
Still. After all this time.
I would not give up what I have now – a wonderful husband and child and a very happy life – for anything. Loyalty and trust are everything to me, and if it came down to it I know there is not a bone in my body that would consider an affair with anyone. Not even my beloved Mr D.
But there will be a tiny part of me – a part that I keep buried very deep inside and don’t admit to anyone – that will always think of him as the one who got away.
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