I am wary of those who identify high school as the best time of their lives. High school is, in my opinion, largely about suffering, torment, finding oneself, and hating one’s parents. At least, that’s how it was for my brother Adam and me. In high school, I found myself at the darkest depths of despair, lonely despite the boys who chased me, and filling notebook upon notebook with poetry only the most angsty of teens could possibly enjoy. My creative writing teacher, the beloved Mrs. Paul, touted me as one of the best writers in the school and made me the editor-in-chief of the school’s online literary magazine. I was nothing if not a writer.
So, I wrote. Angst poured from my pen onto the paper. I reveled in my misery, which had been diagnosed as clinical depression, along with a slew of other related disorders such as anorexia. I thought of myself as fat, ugly, boring, prudish, and on and on. I claimed that my sole redeeming quality was my writing ability. I experimented with different styles and read all I could—this poem was after e. e. cummings, this one was inspired by my favorite slam poet, Andrea Gibson, and this gem here, well, it was all my own. Perhaps I was a bit cocky in this small aspect of my life.
My favorite thing to do in high school was sleep. I was always tired, but rarely got to sleep in because on the weekends and after school, I worked part-time in a grocery store. This is truly where the madness began. Hardly anyone spoke to me at school, but most of my coworkers seemed amicable enough, particularly a certain customer service staff member named Kevin. He was tall, wiry, and his parents were from India, so he had gorgeous brown skin and sleek hair, black as an oil spill. He hardly paid any attention to me, which made him all the more appealing. Most likely, he was playing hard to get. He thought he could elude my adolescent lust for him with his cool and collected customer service attitude.
Like most seventeen-year-olds, I was incredibly shy and awkward around boys. This was complicated by the fact that I was in extreme denial of my own lesbianism. I hunkered down in the grey area of bisexuality, where I didn’t have to make up my mind between boys and girls. It was safe and comfortable there, but it didn’t do much for the abject terror I felt when a boy looked at me, or worse, touched me. The girls I met were just so much… better. They had shapely legs, perky breasts, cute rumps, and when they laughed—oh! When I could make a girl laugh—I felt like I had an instant of insight into the universe’s purpose. Somehow, I had still not clued into the fact that I was a lady-lovin’ lesbo.
So, there I was, bagging groceries in the supermarket, when my manager came up to me and handed me a t-shirt. “Here you go, Katherine,” she said. “Go change into this for our United Way fundraiser. Don’t forget to ask for donations!” I wandered into the bathroom, changed quickly, and approached the mirror. My pants hit right under my protruding belly, which gave the impression that I might be a few months pregnant, but damn if my breasts didn’t look amazing! I almost felt inappropriately sexy for work; I certainly didn’t want the older male customers flirting with me as they were wont to do, but on the other hand, Kevin was working that day. If I couldn’t capture his attention with pointless stories about my personal life, I’d do it the old-fashioned way: tits and ass.
Someone was already bagging on Kevin’s register, so I politely demanded that the other bagger should go collect carts from the parking lot, so I could have Kevin all to myself. He immediately noticed how tight my t-shirt was and said, “That shirt looks really good on you.”
I squeaked out, “Thanks,” tried to smile, and felt my face turn all shades of red. As the song goes, I could hear the bells. Thus, the Kevin obsession manifested.
For the next six months, all I thought of was Kevin. I ate, slept, and breathed Kevin. My best friend Jon was a trooper and stood by me when all I could do was send him screenshots of the (incredibly boring) texts Kevin and I exchanged and asked him to interpret them. I churned out poems about my undying love for Kevin and emailed all of them to Jon for critique. Eventually, a long-distance friendship with Jon petered out. We had met at summer camp when we were thirteen and we lived eight hours apart, so I only saw him a few times a year. I still sent him emails, long self-centered rambles about nothing, and he’d reply with a few sentences about how he was busy with school and his lifeguarding job. I was in therapy, and finally, Jon suggested I talk to my therapist about Kevin, as if I hadn’t been ranting about Kevin everywhere, even in therapy, for months on end.
Enter: Sarah K., a beautiful, half-Filipina girl, with an odd sense of humor, and an obsession with art films. She only came up to my chin and had a sprinkle of freckles across her round cheeks. I’d noticed her in my freshman year, and always wanted to be her friend, but never knew how to connect with her. She was boisterous, seemed to have a lot of very cool friends, and I didn’t think I could ever fit in with her crowd. As her sense of humor became more and more outrageous in an AP Literature course taught by a very stern teacher, finally the little, lesbian goblins in my brain began shrieking, “This is a crush! Red alert! We have a crush on our hands!”
It was chaos. I may have been a writer, but I was nothing if not hardheaded, so I stayed in that grey area of bisexuality, and became overly confident. Clearly, both Sarah K. and Kevin were lusting for me, but were too shy to approach me. Their hearts were in my clumsy hands. I had all the power.
The easier choice was Kevin. I was out to a few friends and Adam as bisexual, but they saw right through my façade. Still, I wasn’t ready to bare my sexuality to the general public or my family, so I thought if I could just maneuver Kevin’s heart into alignment with mine, all would be well, and my secret would be safe.
It took my mom to get me to snap out of it. One night after dinner, she cornered me in the vestibule and said, “You have to tell this boy how you feel before you explode. Just send him a text if that’s easier. But tell him!” For once in my life, I took the sage maternal advice that I had been given, and I sent Kevin an extremely long, heartfelt text explaining that I burned for him with a passion like no other, that we would be an unstoppable couple, that our half-Indian children would he beautiful, and that I would like to marry him at his earliest convenience. Looking back, I realize I may have come on a little too strongly.
I had done the deed. There was no taking this back. At this point, there was nothing I could do but wait for Kevin to text me back. I checked my phone every few minutes while I did my homework on a small patch of my bedroom floor that wasn’t covered in dirty clothes and art supplies, but Kevin wasn’t responding. He’s probably having sex right this minute with some girl who’s skinnier than I am. What if he’s back with his ex-girlfriend again? What does she have that I don’t? Maybe he’s just waiting until I turn eighteen to confess his amorous feelings for me. After all, he’s twenty-one… What if he tells all of our coworkers how pathetic I am? What have I done!? I thought. My anxiety was going nonstop, so finally, after penning several poems, I went to sleep, convinced that I had ruined my life by baring my soul via text.
The next morning, I awoke to a text from Kevin. My heart soared, but I was terrified to open it and undoubtedly find rejection. My curiosity got the best of me, and in true form, Kevin had let me down so politely that I didn’t even shed a tear. But perhaps hope was not entirely lost. After all, prom was just around the corner.
Picture this: the olive oil section at the supermarket, which is arguably the sexiest section of any fine retail grocery establishment, what with all its curvy bottles labeled VIRGIN, EXTRA VIRGIN, EXTRA EXTRA VIRGIN. They were, I supposed, reminiscent of my teenage body—curvy, greasy, and incredibly virginal.
And then there was Kevin in all his stringy glory, wearing Air Jordans, jeans that must have been at least four sizes too big, and a red bro tank to show off his nearly nonexistent guns. I couldn’t resist him.
I had wandered into the supermarket to get something for my mom. Kevin seemed to be a permanent fixture there, working or off the clock, as his parents owned the liquor store next door. Clearly, it was fate that I had bumped into him at just the right time. “Hey,” I said. “How’s it going?”
“I’m tired,” Kevin said, his typical response.
There was an awkward pause as I waited for him to ask me how I was doing, but he did not. Before I lost any more precious Kevin time, I blurted out, “Do you want to go to the prom with me? I mean, I know you already graduated, but it’s my senior prom, and it would mean a lot—even if we just went as friends, or we could go with a group or—”
“Uh, maybe. I kind of have this thing going with another girl, and I don’t want her to get jealous, but if that doesn’t work out, then sure… I guess I’ll see you around,” Kevin said. He reached over my head and grabbed a big bottle of olive oil (extra, extra virgin, if you really wanted to know), and darted away. He might as well have just reached straight down my throat, ripped my heart out, and eaten it. I may have been a hardheaded writer, but in that moment, I felt like I was nothing.
I scurried out of the store emptyhanded and went home to find my dad watching reruns of Star Trek, our favorite show to watch together. I crawled into his lap and, for lack of better words, completely lost my shit. As I cried, he tried to comfort me, but fathers are not always the most adept at handling the matters of the heart. Still, I found some peace in the episode of Star Trek on the screen. It was one of my favorite episodes, “Miri,” and there was Mr. Spock, the first man to ever capture my heart with his enticingly pointy ears and stoic face, holding his tricorder, working for the betterment of the universe. Mr. Spock never would have left a young, confused girl hanging, wondering if she had a date to the prom. I buried my face in my dad’s shoulder and smelled his familiar dad smell: coffee and shaving cream. My dad was (and still is) a stand-up guy. He and my mom went to the prom together and got married after they both finished graduate school. Dad never would have made a girl feel like she was his second choice.
Just as I was beginning to feel some self-righteous anger at Kevin for not seeing what a catch I was (and still am), my phone buzzed. It was Kevin, and the message read, “So what color is your prom dress?” My thumbs flew faster than the Starship Enterprise at maximum warp as I described the exact shade of purple I planned to wear to the prom. My tears dried faster than a tribble could multiply, and suddenly, I was out of Dad’s lap and on the run to the nail salon, the hairdresser, and the makeup counter in the mall. Prom was just three days away.
I had decided that no one was allowed to kiss me on prom night, as my lipstick cost more than the prom tickets, and I was not about to have my makeup smeared all over my face. Little did I know I had nothing to worry about.
Kevin picked me up from my parents’ house in his Lancer, and we listened to Fall Out Boy on the drive to our friend Kaylee’s house, where the whole crew was assembled, including Sarah K. She wore a short, white dress with a sweetheart neckline, and black, velvety pumps, and for a moment, all thoughts of Kevin vacated my brain. Photos were snapped, corsages were placed, and we were off.
I hardly remember a thing about the dance. Kevin was sufficiently attentive to me, and we danced together for a few songs. The music was, by and large, horrid, and I didn’t know most of it. Kevin rapped along to all the Kanye West and Drake tracks, and I pretended to be impressed at his vast knowledge of music I was too indie to listen to.
The highlight of the dance was when Kevin ditched me to say hi to his old buddies who hadn’t graduated yet, and I found myself with Sarah K., whose date was nowhere to be seen. The music was blaring, and I doubted she could hear me when I shouted, “You look great,” to her, but she did, and shouted back, “You do too!”
I felt like a hulking beast next to her petite self, and I wished I had longer hair to hide my face, but I hoped Sarah K. found my pixie cut charming and endearingly gay, as if it could convey feelings that my words could not. Finally, “The Wobble” was over, my classmates stopped wobbling, and “Happy” came on. “I love this song!” I cried over the bass. I grabbed Sarah K.’s hand, and she followed me onto the dancefloor.
Dancing next to Sarah K. was exhilarating. I flailed around with the sweaty mass of hormones that was my graduating class, no doubt looking like a foolish, wacky waving inflatable arm (wo)man, while Sarah K. made graceful circles around me, her dress grazing her knees, and her hair flying in all directions. We danced next to each other without touching, but when the song ended, she gently took my hand, kissed it, gazed deep into my eyes, and said, “Let’s all go to Waffle House after this.”
Waffle House proved to be much more fun than any post-prom drunken revelry I could have possibly gotten into. Kevin sat next to me and graciously paid for my waffle and decaf coffee, while having a competition with one of the other boys to see who had the thicker eyebrows. It was clearly the other boy, but Kevin was my date after all, so I sided with him.
It was three in the morning, I had to be back at the grocery store where all the magic had started in just five hours, so Kevin took me home, and that’s when I realized—the magic was gone. Kevin was just… Kevin. He’d played the part of prom date excellently, but now, I was ready to dream of other things.
Back home, prom dress off, makeup removed, feet aching from the painfully high heels I’d worn, I checked my email before going to bed. I found a message from a small online journal informing me that they’d accepted one of my poems for publication. I was thrilled. I’d never been published before. This was the reason I’d spent years toiling before a hot pencil. Which poem did they want to publish? The one about my concepts of God, or the one about street harassment? It was probably the masterful piece about the moon. You can never have too many poems about the moon.
Maybe it was all the sugar in my chocolate chip waffle, or maybe it was just because I was so tired and wired from prom, but I screeched when I saw that this particular publication had selected the poem I’d written about the movie Napoleon Dynamite, Kevin, and my iPhone on the fitful night I’d spent waiting for Kevin to text me back. Oh, how I screeched! I cackled, I chortled, a few tears may have even escaped my eyes.
I immediately texted Sarah K. to tell her the news but fell asleep before she responded. When my alarm went off at the dreadful hour of 6:30 AM the next morning, I dragged my published self out of bed, and saw that Sarah K. had answered me. “Had so much fun dancing with you last night. And dude. I have no words about the poem. Congrats! Are you going to tell Kevin? I can’t stop laughing!!”
I had no intentions of telling Kevin that my first published piece was about the agony of having a crush on him. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. In the end, I had emerged victorious. Not only was I free of my Kevin obsession, but I had risen from the ashes of teen angst poetry and made a name for myself as a Real Poet, someone with style, skill, and most importantly, pizzazz.
Somehow, dancing with Sarah K. proved more memorable than being published. Sure, the publication was something to add to my resume and college applications, but as the years have gone by, I can still picture her graceful legs and swishy dress twirling through my memory. Towards the end of the school year, after exams were over, Sarah K. would go on to be the first girl I was ever bold enough to ask out on a date. She accepted, and we ate chocolate covered strawberries together under an umbrella at an independent coffee shop. I met her family’s chocolate labs, Hershey and Swiss, and ultimately decided I was too much of a cretin to ever pursue a romantic relationship with another girl. I can’t imagine how Sarah K. must have felt when I dropped her like last year’s winter wear, but I doubt it was more than a blip on her radar with college right around the corner. She has a steady boyfriend now, is a world traveler, and I always smile whenever I see photos of her and her mother making silly faces on Instagram.
Has time been kind to Kevin? Well, he’s not the string bean he used to be, but he’s still slaving away at the supermarket—thankfully at a different location than where we used to work together—and whenever anyone asks him how he’s doing, he simply says, “I’m tired.” I’m tired too, Kevin, but if there’s one thing that gets me up in the morning, it’s knowing that I got the happy ending I deserved. I may be a hardheaded writer, but I am nothing if not a little lesbian goblin.