A Brief History of Love

Writing Prompt: “Crush/First Love”

I don’t know for certain that I’ve ever been in love.

I’ve had crushes, I’ve been in lust, I’ve had fondness and affection for people, and maybe all these things are love in various forms, or maybe none of them are and I’ve never really been in love. I don’t know.

I remember in fifth grade a boy named Patrick Hurley who, I swore to my best friend Emily at the time, I had a raging crush on. But that wasn’t true. I didn’t care a fig for Patrick Hurley, I only felt I was expected to like someone and he seemed harmless enough as a target. Meanwhile, two boys named Andrew and Craig did their best to get Emily’s and my attention, including attempting to talk us into “kissing lessons.” I was fond of Andrew, despite that awful tail of hair he had (that was the fad at the time); he would sit in bus line with me and draw pictures of houses he would build for me someday.

So there’s the world of contradictions opening: professing love for one person while having actual affection for someone else. I wasn’t even aware of it at the time. Andrew was Andrew and somehow not a viable prospect for that very reason. It’s the plot line of any number of romantic comedies. I don’t know if we’d have had a Hollywood ending, though, because my family moved the following summer.

And at my new school for sixth grade, oh! In sixth grade it was all about Joel. Joel, whose family had only come to the U.S. after being missionaries in Nigeria. Joel, whose parents had named all their children with the letter J, Joel being the oldest of four. He was tan, with sandy hair and vivid blue eyes, tall and athletic, and best of all he lived in bike-riding distance. My friend Sarah and I would make not-so-subtle trips through his neighborhood. We were vultures, circling.

The best day of my sixth-grade life came when Miss Fuller named Joel and me co-captains for Field Day. I don’t remember anything else about that day except at the end of it Joel put an arm around me and kissed my cheek. Bliss!

But Field Day marked the end of the school year, and I was switching schools. Meanwhile, Joel’s family was moving again. No more rides past his house.

Seventh and eighth grades were taken up with Kevin Kessler. We had Honors English classes and were Office Aides together. I don’t know why I liked him—today I can’t even picture him clearly—but I did.

Now here’s the problem with being a focused and dedicated individual. I was so often consumed by whatever current crush was on my mind, I was blind to the possibility anyone else might like me. In fact, I was pretty certain no one could ever like me, which is why I often didn’t bother with anything more than jeans and t-shirts, and it was ages before I considered makeup. Meanwhile, my white-hot attention often sent the objects of my desire running for cover. Even when I wasn’t being obvious, I was. I was too intense, even at a distance. It made me unapproachable. Smart and aloof, I had only a handful of friends, people who’d braved getting to know me. But no one knew me so well that I was willing to discuss who I “liked.” Everyone knew, because I couldn’t seem to hide it, but no one discussed it.

My junior year of high school was my nadir. I cringe to think of it. I had the fiercest crush on Mark Pierce. He was a senior, and we were in public speaking together and both National Honor Society members. Without going into details, I’ll just say I made a fool of myself. Utterly and completely. But I felt powerless to scale it back. It made no difference to Mark; he only wanted to be done with high school so he could go off to college and start a “real life.” He had no interest in me or any other ties to our town. He was preparing to shake it all off and run.

And if anyone liked me during this time, I was oblivious to it. My blinders were on. I would guess now, based on broad evidence, one or two people might have liked me a little. One boy who lived around the corner offered to drive me to school (I often walked when I couldn’t have the car). Out of an acute attack of shyness, I declined. I fear now he took it as a rejection, and that makes me sad. Later he would write in my senior yearbook, “And now you even talk to me sometimes.” I must have seemed like a terrible snob, but really I was just living in my shell.

After Mark, I took a break on crushes. Mark had used up all my emotional energy. A boy named Charles auditioned for the role of boyfriend, and I cast him temporarily, but his need to call every day—sometimes several times a day, just to tell me a music video I liked was on or to tell me he also liked apple cinnamon Cheerios—became oppressive. I might still have kept him on, but I inadvertently broke up with him via postcard. I had remembered he liked Billy Joel, and so on the card I wrote a lyric:

You may be right, I may be crazy, but it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.

In retrospect, not a terribly affirming message. I returned from my visit to my grandparents in Alaska to discover Charles wasn’t speaking to me. A mutual friend explained why. Realizing I was actually relieved by this, I didn’t bother to plead my case of lack of forethought. I just walked away.

I did have a tiny interest my senior year in a quiet, mild-mannered boy named Jon Howard. After my intense feelings for Mark, and Charles’ intense feelings for me, Jon felt like an oasis of calm. This time I did confide in a friend. She promptly began dating Jon behind my back.

Toward the end of my senior year, a family friend (he was a pastor-in-training) began asking me out. His name was Greg, and he had red hair and, of all things, a beard. I wasn’t all that interested, but Greg seemed like a safe way to gain dating experience. He was unfailingly gracious, always polite, and my parents loved him. But he was boring. It wasn’t long before he asked to walk in the park with me and, parked on the steps of the gazebo, he broke up with me. Gently. It didn’t hurt a bit, actually, because I simply didn’t care.

At that point I was where Mark Pierce had been the year before: ready to leave for college and start fresh. I didn’t date much my freshman year—in fact, I went on exactly one date, with Matthew from my French class. We went to play racquetball, which I’d never done. I twisted my ankle. He never asked me out again, and French was awkward for the rest of the semester.

My last big crush started my sophomore year. I had landed a job at a little family-owned copy shop, a place that did photocopies, printing, binding, and offered some typing and graphics services. We sold office supplies and Tic Tacs and had a soda machine that only cost a quarter per can. That alone probably brought in most of our foot traffic.

Danny was one of my co-workers. Blond, blue-eyed, smart and funny. Kind. I liked him as a person long before I started to fall for him.

We didn’t hang out much outside of work, though we did go to the movies a couple times and out to coffee houses once or twice. Something about Danny felt very safe, and I was able to be more myself around him. For the first time in my life, I was wondering what it would be like to share space with someone; I pictured Danny and I reading books beside a cozy fire. And yet for all that, there was very little about the situation that was romantic. I only knew I liked this person and wanted to be around him and spend time with him.

But Danny was a couple years ahead of me in school, and upon graduation he joined the Peace Corp. He was going to Mali. I agonized over this; how could he leave? Finally, I did one of those foolish movie-type things: I sent him a letter telling him how I felt.

To his credit, Danny took it all in stride. He wrote to me from Mali, even sent little trinkets. He had the courtesy not to mention my letter.

It wasn’t until I had moved to Boston for grad school and Danny had settled in New York for law school that he told me he was gay. By that time I’d met the man I was going to marry, and so the announcement had little impact on me in the romantic sense. I did feel a bit stupid for not having known, but then I’ve never had good “gaydar.” Which may be why I got asked out by more women than men in college. Maybe I give off a vibe I’m not aware of. But that’s something else again.

Somewhere in there, I began working on a film set. An actor got into the habit of pulling my hair and calling me “Pigtail.” (And yes, he knew my name, even used it sometimes.) It was such a juvenile thing–all the things he said and did were grade school ways of getting attention. I knew I should be flattered, but I mostly found it confusing. And all the while a location scout named Marcel had become my best friend on the set. My fondest memory is of he and I hanging out during an early-morning shoot, singing “The Way You Look Tonight” rather badly because we were so tired. Marcel gave me candles at the wrap party, to this day the best-smelling candles I’ve ever owned. They smelled like fresh-cut grass. I wish I knew where to find more, or where to find him, because I think I took him for granted as a friend, and I also think maybe he “liked” me just a little. If I knew where he was now, I’d ask him.

Eventually I graduated, spent a year trying to decide what else to do, then moved to Boston grad school. At that point I’d decided to start fresh again. I would focus on my work as a writer, on my career, and love would come in its own sweet time. Which, as it turned out, was day one of my first class. Not love exactly, but the kind of real, long-term relationship I’d never had before.

I spotted Scott sitting across the room when I walked in the door, and I thought, “That’s the boy I’m going to marry.” There was no question in my mind about it, and no echo of love or passion in my brain, either. The statement was a simple fact, something I was as sure of as the sunrise.

Scott dressed in the flannel grunge style popular at that time. He wore a flatcap, backwards like Samuel L. Jackson. He slouched in his chair and oozed nonchalance, insubordination. “Impress me,” his attitude said, “bet you can’t.”

I tried talking to him a few times. It seemed so inevitable, our being together, I figured I might as well get us started. But Scott was reluctant. Or, as it turned out, shy. I had almost given up, was starting to think my usually keen intuition had short circuited somehow, when Scott finally began to open up. We got assigned a project together (Scott’s doing). We met for coffee. Went to a couple movies. Scott cooked for me. Took me to a nice restaurant, then away for a weekend in Maine.

By the end of our first semester we were engaged.

We wrote our theses and planned a wedding for immediately after graduation. I gave up plans for an internship in LA because Scott wouldn’t have been able to go. And I gave up plans to move closer to family and friends because Scott felt we had more opportunities in New England.

Well, my instincts had been right in picking who I would marry. They never promised I’d get everything I wanted.

Scott has taken care of me, though. I can’t fault him there. He loves me, and as little as I know of love, I guess I do love him, too. It isn’t the kind of passion I felt for those teenage crushes, but one is expected to grow out of that kind of thing, and relationships are supposed to evolve into something more staid and mature. Grown-up love.

Or maybe I traded in or up or something. Passion is like a shiny sports car, fast but also not equipped for everyday use. Affection, and the kind of love that comes with it, is a sort of reliable family vehicle with a good warranty. It has four-wheel drive and seat warmers and can get you over rough terrain.

Every now and then a sports car will catch my eye, and I think it might be fun to go for a test drive. Then I remind myself that the thrill is fleeting, that in bad weather a sports car would be useless. I stick with my SUV. Roomy and comfortable, and it fits all the kids.

All-Time Favorite Movies

I was thinking about this last night because, for whatever reason, the old film Summer Magic sprang to mind. I love that movie, but I almost never remember to put in on any of my favorites lists.

So I started thinking about other movies I’ve loved, ones that might not always end up on obvious lists. The Innocents, for example. Rope. Okay, that one could be obvious.

So here, in no particular order, are my all-time favorite movies . . . At least the ones I could think of while sitting here.

  1. Summer Magic–I spent a summer when I was 9 or 10 watching this repeatedly on the Disney Channel. I sing “On the Front Porch” to my daughter at bedtime each night.
  2. Rope–so tightly written and directed; a Hitchcock classic.
  3. The Innocents–Deborah Kerr stars in this old take on “The Turn of the Screw” and the result is awesome.
  4. Now, Voyager–I get sucked in every time.
  5. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil–while I can’t love the choice to create a love interest for John, thanks to the stellar cast this film stands as one of the rare moments when the adaptation is as good as the book.
  6. Young Sherlock Holmes–probably the most influential film of my childhood; I used to come home each day and pop it in the VCR while I did my homework.
  7. Clue–still a go-to for stormy nights.
  8. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels–such a funny, clever little movie.
  9. The Uninvited–by which I mean the old 1944 film, which is truly spooky.
  10. The Haunting–the 1963 one, of course. So chilling.
  11. Raiders of the Lost Ark/Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade–okay, obvious again, but these two films were also backbones of my childhood. Raiders is the first film I can actually remember seeing in a cinema.
  12. All the fantasy films that came out around the time I was eight, including Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, and The Last Unicorn. These became sleepover staples.
  13. Anything starring Cary Grant.

There are others. I know there are. I keep wracking my brain over which movies I feel I absolutely have to own, you know, the ones I had on VHS and felt the need to convert to DVD and then (when available) Blu-Ray. That’s sort of the gold standard, isn’t it? Spending that kind of money repeatedly on something?

I could add more recent films that had an impact on me: Jurassic Park, The Matrix . . . These two hold the record for films I’ve seen in a cinema, 10 times and 7 times respectively. In high school it became a bit of a gag for my friends to take me, yet again, to Jurassic Park. That was back when movies stayed in the theater for more than two or three weeks.

And Gone with the Wind is what I curl up with when I’m sick. I tuck up on the sofa and sip tea and watch Scarlett manipulate everyone around her, everyone but Rhett because he’s her match. Too bad she doesn’t see the truth of that until he walks away.

In college my friends and I used to rent a bunch of movies at a time–we’d pick a genre and rent one or two films from each decade, then have a marathon as we worked our way through chronologically. I discovered a lot of great movies this way.

I knew pretty early on that I wanted to work in film and television (thanks, Mr. Spielberg!), and the above are just a handful of the reasons why. I’m lucky to do what I do, even in the modest amount that I do it.

Today: The Noughties Blogfest

This is the blogfest in which you list your favorite movies, music, books and so forth for each year from 2000 to 2009. Ah, a bygone era! (Visit Dave for more info.)

2000

This seems like so long ago. It was the year matchbox twenty’s Mad Season came out, and I remember the first time I listened to it thinking, What the hell is this? Because it didn’t sound anything like their first album. But I continued to listen to it; it fact, it was on almost constant rotation as I wrote my thesis. I also got to see them play in Amherst that year.

Also the movie State and Main. To this day it’s one of my favorites.

2001

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Right? Came out just before my birthday, and what a treat. I grew up listening to my dad tell the stories of the Hobbit and Middle Earth (I had only read The Hobbit, never the others), so this was special to me, to see it come to life in such a wonderful way.

Also: Alias. Loved that show. I want Victor Garber for an honorary uncle.

2002

Okay, I’ll go for something less obvious here. The Mothman Prophecies. That movie was seriously creepy. Oh, and the book Batavia’s Graveyard. More mainstream: The Two Towers, which is my favorite of the trilogy, and matchbox twenty’s More Than You Think You Are.

2003

Runaway Jury. I really enjoyed that movie (and not only because I was in New Orleans for some of the filming of it–more that I love John Cusack). And of course, in television, this is the year Arrested Development debuted.

Notable concert: matchbox twenty with opening acts Sugar Ray and Maroon 5.

2004

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb by U2. The Other Boylen Girl by Philippa Gregory. Also saw Rob Thomas play a special charity concert at the China Club in NYC, along with Jewel and Darryl Hall. Saw Jimmy Buffett play at Fenway Park. And got some of my first written works published.

2005

Rob Thomas’s . . . Something to Be. I saw him live again at Avalon in Boston and also saw U2 live in concert for the first time. Jude Morgan’s Indiscretion. Robert Downey Jr’s rising star with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. And the return of Doctor Who to the television schedule, as well as the premiere of Bones.

2006

At this point I had an infant and did not have much time to watch or read or do much of anything, but I did go see V for Vendetta. And I read Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story.

2007

Hot Fuzz is a classic, is it not? And I loved Alison Weir’s book Innocent Traitor as well as Jude Morgan’s An Accomplished Woman.

2008

Cloverfield. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Weir’s The Lady Elizabeth and Stephen King’s Duma Key.

2009

A year for books: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, One Day by David Nicholls, and Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby.

Also, Sherlock Holmes. And Rob Thomas’s Cradlesong (saw him in concert again). And OneRepublic’s Waking Up.

My Day as Associate Producer

When I was an undergrad, I scored an internship working for producer Lynda Obst. It was a volatile film set (I was later told by an old pro that it was one of the most difficult he’d ever been on), but I fought my way through it–odd hours, weird requests and all. Some of the other interns had money and connections; it was clear they’d been given their jobs via networking. (One of them drove a Lexus.) I was just little, lowly ol’ me, keeping my head down and doing my best.

One intern got booted. I heard a lot of different “reasons” and stories about why and what happened. In fact, I heard a lot of interesting stories about a lot of things–and experienced a few firsthand–none of which I’d repeat for fear of being sued for libel. But ask me out for a drink sometime . . .

I had a lot of bizarre tasks, including long phone calls with someone in the L.A. office while, between us, we tried to draft an afterwords to a book. I remember the topic being primarily about alpha males in the industry or something. One thing I did enjoy was reading scripts that had been submitted. Most were not great, a few were okay but nothing I’d personally be interested in going to see, and one or two were really good. As someone getting her degree in Radio-Television-Film with an emphasis in screenwriting, it was good experience.

Now one day on set, things fell apart. Actually, I think they’d probably been well on their way by the time I arrived on set for my shift. I was in the trailer checking Lynda’s e-mail while another intern (and it only occurred to me years later that this guy might’ve had a crush on me, poor thing, but I’m the kind of person to be kind of oblivious unless hit over the head with it) went to bring me some lunch. I distinctly remember it was chicken fried steak, my favorite. And I remember the associate producer storming in and being dumbfounded that I had someone bringing me my lunch. I guess maybe I’d overstepped? I don’t know. To this day I don’t entirely understand her reaction.

But then the AP disappeared. She’d walked off (some said she’d quit). And Lynda came in with Mary McLaglen and whoever else was producing, all women, and I don’t know if it was that I just happened to be sitting there, but Lynda said, “You’re associate producer for today.”

Huh?

Because I had no fucking idea what that meant. What was I supposed to do exactly? I’d never watched our AP do much of anything because I’d always been too busy with whatever she’d given me to do.

I spent the rest of that day following Lynda and the other producers around. I attended rehearsals. I answered Lynda’s cell phone when she was too busy (it was usually her son calling). At one point that afternoon we all went back to the trailer and looked at tabloids and industry rags. Mary said to the others as I settled down with some magazine, “Look at her. She’s taken right to it.”

I guess. But I felt like a kid dressing up in her mother’s clothes.

The AP came back later that evening. She thanked me for covering for her, which I suppose was her way of relieving me of duty. I remember when we wrapped, she wrote me a nice note about my “can-do attitude.” I recently heard that one of the most important things to have in the industry is a willingness to step up to the plate, so I guess this was a great compliment in a way.

Lynda suggested I go to L.A., maybe work in her office there, and to this day I sometimes wish I had. But I was so close to my degree, and I couldn’t see leaving my education unfinished. Formal education, that is. My working education came from that internship, and especially from my day as understudy.

How I Learned to Drive

Although I had a driver’s license, I didn’t really know how to drive . . . until some Teamsters took pity on me.

Here’s the whole story. I went to driver’s ed like most other high school students, dragging myself to school very early in the morning in order to watch gruesome VHS tapes of “bad things teenagers do in cars that get them killed.” Then, after many weeks of these videos, we were split into groups, put in cars, and forced to run the gauntlet. By which I mean, we tried not to do any of the “bad things teenagers do in cars that get them killed.” Because besides getting us killed, it would get us yelled at by the high school’s Eastern European basketball coach who was doubling as our driving instructor.

After a few weeks of that, and once we’d passed the written exam at the DMV, the Eastern European basketball coach took us out individually for a driving test. I remember him telling me that if he had to use his special emergency break, I would fail. I actually yelled at him at that point. I said something like, “I am FOUR SECONDS BEHIND THAT CAR! I am NOT going to hit anything!” After that, he didn’t talk to me any more. But I passed.

Okay, so if I passed the driving test and had a license, why did the Teamsters need to teach me to drive? Well . . .

I was an adequate driver. Really, I was. But a nervous one as well. I didn’t drive if I could avoid it. In fact, I was relieved in college not to have a car, and therefore not to have to drive. The campus buses were fine for getting around the area. The city buses weren’t terribly reliable, but I made do.

So then I was working on a film set. And I didn’t have a car of my own, but I was also too young and too expensive to insure for a rental, so the production office gave me a driver. Score! His name was Charlie, and he was awesome. He had lots of great stories about famous people he’d driven for, and told me that the set we were on was “one of the worst” he’d ever been on (it was a pretty difficult shoot). He said to me, “If you can get through this, you can do anything.”

And then one day the producer had me drive her Dodge Ram truck, and that made me all nervous. So Charlie and some of the other Teamsters took it upon themselves to buck me up. And they basically re-taught me to drive.

I imagine it was something like a defensive driving course, though I’ve never taken one, so I don’t really know. But I learned to maneuver and such, learned how to watch for other drivers in ways that were effective . . . Not so long ago, my husband said something about how, when I’m driving, I “worry about other people a lot.” But being aware of the other cars is part of driving well–especially since these days a lot of other drivers aren’t watching for you.

What Charlie and his fellow Teamsters really gave me, though, was confidence and a sort of freedom. It was years before I had a car to drive, but when my boss gave me his for a week at one point, I was able to go forth with few reservations. I had survived working on that awful movie set, after all, and as Charlie had said: if I could do that, I could do anything. Even drive.

My 9/11 Story

Everybody has one, and I won’t pretend or presume that mine is any more or less important than any other. But for some reason I like reading these stories; there’s something cathartic about them, and something equally healing about writing one’s own down, getting it out, putting it in hard, visible words so as to give it perspective.

For me, September 11, 2001, began with me waking up in a bad mood because I’d had a nightmare. I often have vivid dreams, but in retrospect this dream is one I will never forget: I was a passenger in a white pick-up truck, but I couldn’t see the face of the driver, only his right arm, which was dark–I thought Latino, maybe, but it could as easily have been Middle Eastern. I didn’t want to be in the truck, but there was no getting out. We were on a highway, moving quickly even though there were many cars, all going in one direction. All the big, green highway signs (you know the ones, at least in the US, that hang over the highways and mark exits and such) read: Death and Destruction Ahead. And in the distance was a cityscape, dark clouds swirling over the tall buildings.

My alarm went off and I stomped through my morning routine, my cat following me around and mewing his sympathy for my irritation–at least, that’s what I thought at the time, but maybe he was just clued in to something bigger and deeper in the cosmos. Animals are funny that way. I eventually left our apartment building, and the day was beautiful, bright and cool, so I chose to walk to work. That walk took me across Boston Common and the Public Gardens to where I was a production assistant at Houghton Mifflin on the corner of Berkley and Boylston Streets.

It was my habit to arrive at work a bit early, somewhere around 8:30 or so. On the other side of my cubicle wall sat the department admin, and I could hear her and a few other voices chirping about the Internet, web sites too slow or not loading or some such. I ignored it. Not a minute later my desk phone rang, and my husband told me without preamble, “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.”

“That’s stupid,” I said. I was picturing a little Cessna, and some amateur would-be pilot making a ridiculous and grave error.

My husband seemed to follow my line of thinking. He said, “No, like, a plane.”

Admittedly, I had very little grasp of the geography involved. We’d been to Manhattan a few times, had walked past the Towers at least once, and of course they were featured in any film that had New York as its established location. But other than that, I was a bit at sea about the whole thing.

I tried to go online, but like the admin and her crew, I couldn’t get any news sites to load.

And then my husband said, “Oh my God, another one.”

He worked in finance, you see, and so the open space of his workplace was dotted with televisions.

At this point the girl who worked in the cube next to me was in hysterics. In lieu of any actual, factual information getting through, rumors were flying. The Sears Tower had been hit, the Space Needle in Seattle, Los Angeles was under attack. I grabbed my co-worker, marched over to our boss’ office, and informed her in no uncertain terms that we were leaving. I told my co-worker to call her boyfriend to come get her and felt very lucky I lived within walking distance of my office.

Our boss then went to the corner conference room to tell the department head what was going on. “Can this wait until after the meeting?” he asked. “The country is under attack!” my boss told him. I didn’t wait to see how it played out; I ushered my fearful co-worker back down to the lobby to wait for her boyfriend. Once I’d seen her safely into his car, I started the walk home.

My husband called on my cell to tell me they’d evacuated his building (he’d had to walk down 38 flights of stairs) and that he was going home (he was also within walking distance) and I should go home, too. I told him I was already on my way. The walk down Boylston and then cutting through the Common was very different from the one I’d taken that morning, and as I crossed the lawns I saw so many college students lounging on the grass, reading and dozing, and I thought: They don’t have any idea.

I stopped at the corner convenience store to pick up a few things, just in case they ended up closing early. Just in case we ended up stuck in our apartment for a few days.

My husband was already there when I arrived, television on, and we watched it all unfold, the same images over and over, the media striving to give information when so little was yet known.

At some point I was able to get through on the phone to my parents. You see, September 11 is my father’s birthday.

I’m in New York today, though I’ll soon be on a train back to Boston. But there is a strange gravity in being a visitor this morning. And even still a mixture of sentiment and resilience–for in Times Square as I was leaving, there were yet people out and about, enjoying themselves, off to Fashion Week events, even as farther south many were gathered to remember. And I’ve been past the site a few times now (though not during this visit), and it is remarkable for its vacuum, even as we’ve all adjusted our sight and become used to a New York with many tall buildings but without Towers.