It was his Junior Year of High School and Sharon Mulvaney was all Todd could think about. I wish I could just tell her how I feel but I know she’d just reject me, he’d think to himself, and yet ever since the first day of school this year when Sharon introduced himself to him in the hallway outside of English class with that small but clever smile across her face he knew he had fallen and fallen deep. Today would be the last day of class before Christmas Break, and he’d have the perfect opportunity to express how he felt about her. Would she even notice though? For English class, Ms. Dempsey assigned everyone to write a love poem. They had been studying poetry for the last few weeks reading Ralph Waldo Emerson, Rumi, Robert Frost, and Emily Dickinson. For the final assignment of the year Ms. Dempsey thought they should write their own poem and that the theme should be love – any kind of love whether it be romantic love, love of one’s parents, love of a friend, or any expression of feeling that could be classified as love. Most other boys would play it safe and write about how much they loved their moms or their dads. Finn Kubrick wrote about how much he loved his Super Nintendo Entertainment System and everyone had a good chuckle even Ms. Dempsey. The woman may have been in her early 50s, but all those years refused to transform her into that stern rigid school teacher stereotype. She’d laugh at a good joke if a student made one but neither was she an “easy A.”
As Todd waited for his turn, he reflected on all his previous brief yet meaningful interactions with Sharon. There were the couple of times they were paired together for projects in other classes, the times they’d pass each other in the hallway and he’d nervously say “hi,” perhaps staring a bit too long as she’d walked by him with that confident stride of hers. There was that time when they almost sat together for lunch and were in close enough proximity to carry on a conversation, which mainly consisted of school and the pop-up science quiz of the day. There was just something about Sharon that he couldn’t explain that conjured all these complicated emotions inside of him. The warmth that emanated from her brown eyes transfixed him at times rendering him motionless or at the very least fumbling for the right words to say. The Van Morrison song, “Brown-Eyed Girl,” played in his head from time to time even though he hadn’t been a big Van Morrison fan nor had he particularly liked the song before he met Sharon. His feelings for Sharon, however, shed a whole new light on that song for Todd and became something of a pleasant ear worm for him. Unlike the other girls, Sharon hardly wore any makeup and she dressed quite plainly with simple small earrings that failed to dangle from her ears, which went against the current trend the other teenaged girls were happy to follow. Sharon was also very smart. She’d get A’s on practically every test and every quiz. She wasn’t shy to participate in class often shedding light on some of the books they had read for English that year. She was the only one in the class to note the sadness and longing of characters like Jay Gatsby or Boo Radley often times coming up with the wisest observations, ones that hadn’t even occurred to him as he read those very same books.
Maybe it was the way she’d sometimes look at him as if there was an unspoken understanding, as if maybe if he’d approach her at just the right time, maybe it would lead to something more. During his more rational moments, Todd would shrug off this fixation on Sharon as nothing but a delusional fantasy. Besides, what could she possibly see in a shy boy who mostly kept to himself with nothing to really set him apart from the other boys in the class? Sure, he considered himself to be smart though not as smart as her. Sure, maybe he wasn’t the worst looking boy of the lot although he was far from being the best looking boy at the same time. For all his intense emotions about her, however, Todd could not think of a way to make Sharon take notice of him until this poetry assignment came up. This would be his big opportunity. He’d write a poem about her and somehow she would know she was the subject of his desire and maybe –just maybe- she’d have those similar feelings.
She’d become his first real girlfriend since that whole mess with Cindy Stanton really didn’t count. Cindy only used Todd to make her boyfriend jealous but at least Todd had received a few kisses for all his trouble, and in the end Todd didn’t mind when the whole thing ended as he never really conjured any real feelings for Cindy. No, this would be the real thing for the first time, and what better way to begin the Christmas Break than with a new girlfriend with whom he’d be crazy in love with for the first time. It sure beat spending the Break playing Zelda until 3am every night like last year. No, this year there would be no time for video games. He’d be busy on the phone and his mom would get annoyed and ask him “how much longer?” and “can you wrap it up?” and he’d put his hand over the receiver and whisper, “just a few more minutes” but those few minutes would last yet another hour until his mother’s patience would reach a boiling point and he’d be forced to hang up. They’d see each other at least every other day, and maybe they’d even managed to be alone in his room just long enough to get to 2nd base.
Todd’s life was about to change and he could feel it in his bones as he walked up to the front of the class to recite his poem. He began by reading aloud the title first, “Love on the Sand,” which he had put a lot of thought into. One of the things Sharon spoke of during one of the previous writing assignments had been her love of the beach. It was one of the earliest writing assignments as it had to do with what students did during their summer vacations. She wrote this eloquent essay about how she and her father spent the summer by the beach in Florida, and how the warmth of the sand as it touched her feet evoked this sensation within her that was hard for her to described, but the word she associated with it most was “freedom.” Ms. Dempsey had been so impressed with Sharon’s written assignment that not only had Sharon received an A (something that would happen regularly as the year went on) Ms. Dempsey requested that Sharon read her essay aloud for the class to hear her and to listen to all the beautiful phrases and metaphors she used. From the very beginning Sharon set a high standard, one that Todd felt intimidated yet impressed by.
Todd began his poem, “There are nights I dream of you on your lovely sands . . .”
Ms. Dempsey interrupted, “Todd, what did we say about using passive verbs in poetry? You know that’s a no-no.”
The class chuckled a bit, but Todd tried not to let this distract him. It didn’t matter that there were 20 other students staring at him at the front of the room nor did it matter that Ms. Dempsey had decided to interject her tough critique just as he had barely started. Sharon was all that mattered, and he continued as if they were the only two people in the room.
“There are nights I dream of you on your lovely sands
Though to my heart their warmth emanates from your eyes
As they flitter so too does the ground on which I stand
And as you breathe so too does my passion rise
The sound of the waves soothes us as we embrace
No one sees or hears us alone as we kiss an endless kiss
With your brown eyes pleading for our past to be erased
Our love is one that could never be dismissed.
And so I stand before you now alone but not for long
For surely you must know that it is you I now desire
In my dreams we kiss firmly and so very strong
And now, my love, our passion must conspire”
Todd felt almost faint as he finished reading his words. His heart raced inside of him as he look in the direction of Sharon hoping that she would give him some sign of recognition telling him that she knew he had written this for her, perhaps she’d even be overtaken to the point where she’d leap up out of her chair, grab him in her arms, and kiss him. It may have sounded unlikely, but the way his heart and mind raced, he felt like anything was possible. Then, just as his eyes found her, he noticed her whispering to Finn Kubrick. They were both laughing quietly to each other, and this crushing sensation came across his body. Had she even noticed? Todd asked himself. How could she not respond to such a masterful poem that was obviously written about and for her?
Just then, Ms. Dempsey spoke in her wisely quiet tone, “Well, Todd. I admire the courage you took writing a romantic love poem unlike the other boys, but I think you need to work further on your writing and your understanding of poetry. You didn’t use enough metaphors and the rhythm sounded a bit flat. The final line doesn’t make sense. Still, an admirable effort.”
Stacy Choi raised her hand, and Ms. Dempsey acknowledged her, “So, in the first stanza it sounds like all you were doing was talking about your subject blinking.”
“Stacy, I’m not sure Todd appreciates that particular critique right now. Let’s try to encourage his creativity instead of shooting him down.”
Todd thought it was funny that Ms. Dempsey used the phrase “shoot him down” because that’s exactly how he felt as he watched Sharon’s warm brown eyes fix their gaze on Finn Kubrick. He noticed him passing the page that his poem was written on to her. Seriously, that poem about his Super Nintendo wasn’t even that funny. He felt small as the feeling that he didn’t matter to Sharon swept him up in an unbridled depression.
He sat back down and stared at the desk in front of him knowing that nothing would make him feel better. Then, it was Sharon’s turn to read her poem.
He forced himself to look up at her as she read the title clearly looking endearingly at Finn Kubrick, “You’re So Funny.” She began:
“You’re so funny you make me laugh
And my laughter carries me like flurrying flakes of snow
The wind scatters the leaves as the ice freezes the trees
But you know just where to find me
The days scurry and stumble past
Like fragments of fleeting music relishing in doubt
But you, my love, with your humor capture me in a frenzy
And sweep me up to the destiny of our secret whereabouts
This Christmas give me not the joys and toys of youth
Instead, give me laughter to cure my needless solitude”
Sharon looked up above her page, and smiled a heavenly smile in Finn’s direction. Everyone in the room knew who that poem was for. Even Ms. Dempsey couldn’t help but note, “ A marvelous poem possibly about a boy in this very room I imagine. Brilliant work, Sharon.”
Everyone except Todd smiled to themselves as Sharon took her seat next to Finn and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. Ms. Dempsey had to calm the class down as they all began to “Wooooo” in unison. Todd did his best to hide his disgust.
The school day ended as Christmas Break began, and Todd went home thinking to himself. I was a fool to think she’d like me. Girls . . . they always go for either jock or the funny guy. I’m neither one of those. I’m just me – boring old me. There is nothing that could be done except to look forward to another Christmas break of video games and obligatory family gatherings. Then, just before he reached Parkson Avenue as he waited for the light to change he had an epiphany of sorts. His mistake was that he fell for someone whom he desired more than she could ever desire him. What was that poem we read a few months ago about the lover and the beloved . . . . Rumi said,
“All year round the lover is mad,
Unkempt, lovesick and in disgrace.
Without love there is nothing but grief.
In love… what else matters?
What else matters? . . . Indeed. Only these are times when just about everything else matters. No one has the time or the need to contemplate the true nature of love. They just want to feel good and have a laugh with someone they like. Love? Well, does it even matter anymore even if it exists at all? The key to life if one doesn’t want to end up alone is to find someone who regards you as their beloved rather than seek out your own beloved whose fickle nature will only break your heart.
Those thoughts permeated Todd’s mind as he walked home alone and went back to his room. He’d quit seeking out love. He’d quit being the “unkempt, lovesick, and disgraced.” Who needed that anyway? Instead he’d wait for a woman who would be lovesick for him. Instead of rejecting her as had been done to him, he’d be kind to her. He’d accept her love for him, give her all that she wanted in life, and all that he could give. He’d never truly let himself get swept away in love, however, because the moment you let yourself get swept away is the moment that person controls you. Surely, Todd thought, it would be easy and simple to conform to this new away of thinking.
Many years later after Todd imagined his epiphany would remain unchallenged, he’d be swept away in his desire for another woman. Only this time his circumstances would not allow him to act. He had made a vow, and when he made that vow he thought no woman could possibly alter his view that it was better to be the subject of a woman’s love rather than find yourself as the lover of a woman who could flippantly reject you with little regard for your feelings. Better to be the beloved than to be the lover, or so he always thought. The lover always suffers in the end. The beloved are always fickle. Only Todd never realized that emotions as complex as love and desire could never quite be controlled and suppressed. No, that was hardly ever the case. Twenty years later on Christmas Eve, Todd found himself writing a love poem only it wasn’t for his wife.