There was a boy who liked me when I was about fifteen. He was in my Internet class (do they still have those in high schools?), and he had the nerve to sit next to me and make small talk and even, once, invite me to go surfing with him. (He’d have had to teach me, of course.) A couple of his friends were in my chemistry class and they tried to persuade me to give it a try. I wasn’t moved. I did my best to brush off the guy’s attempts, and I was so agitated that I wrote a poem called “Intruder.” Nobody asked you to be here—what are you doing in my life?

I was too scared, and/or judgmental, to accept this from anyone. Dwayne, from my freshman year ceramics class, wore big sunglasses and a tattered denim vest adorned with Led Zeppelin and AC/DC patches. He came straight for me on the first day of the semester; I was standing alone and unprotected. I thought he was strange, or at least strange-looking, but somehow he ended up walking me home one day. We lived in the same neighborhood about a mile away from school. I can’t remember a thing we talked about, but I’ll bet that he felt like he was conversing with a block of ice. (That simile only works if you pretend this didn’t take place during late summer in Sacramento.) He asked for my phone number before we reached my house and parted ways. I refused, and he offered me his number instead. I shook my head, fidgeted, avoided eye contact, and said I’d better get home because it was hot outside. Back at school I figured that he would try to talk to me again, so I hid in the bathroom during lunch time. I’m pretty sure I kept that up for several weeks—maybe longer.

I narrowly evaded the affections of a couple other boys in junior high. Lamon was an acquaintance who flirted with me in class sometimes. I remember him taking my hand (probably on pretense of borrowing a pencil) and remarking on its softness; that made me blush in the middle of social studies. There were other hints that I can’t recall. The culmination happened during a break between periods, when the whole student population milled around outside before heading to classes in different buildings. A girl I knew, who was a friend of Lamon’s, approached me and asked if I liked him. She nodded her head toward the basketball court, where he stood at the top of the stairs and shouted a request to “get the hook-up.” I hedged, and she impatiently started to tell me that he was a perfectly nice guy and I should give him a cha—Then Lamon lost his footing on the stairs, and my friend’s attention was diverted. Everybody was too busy laughing at him to care about the tiny drama that may have been unfolding. I used the opportunity to escape to class.

Michael asked for my phone number in wood shop. He was also in my P.E. class and seemed a bit too suave to be trustworthy. I refused his request on the grounds that I lacked a writing instrument and paper. He left my desk and returned a minute later with both items. Since I was out of excuses and didn’t have the fortitude to reject him, I reluctantly inscribed my phone number. That afternoon, after I got home from school, I was a nervous wreck. I expected him to call, but he never did. In class the next day, he confronted me and asked if I had given him a fake number. I told him the truthit really was my number—but he said that he’d tried to call and couldn’t get through. “Come on, was it a fake? Just tell me.” After a couple reiterations I changed my answer to Yes. That got him to leave me alone and garnered me some cool points with the other kids.

I behaved poorly even with the boys I did like. I don’t know if I’m any better as a grown-up. Now I have more possible excuses for being guarded, since I’ve actually been through a few relationships. My first love left me scarred and emotionally “off the market” for years. I started moving on quite some time ago, but I’m still reticent because that’s in my nature. Letting new people in is not easy. Being choosy means acting on instinct and on judgments that might be made hastily (but not necessarily in error). It’s a way of trying to maintain control over my life’s trajectory, which I realize is foolish in some respects. It figures that sometimes the person I resist most is the one who manages to get under my skin.

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