And my marathon blogging continues. I'm actually sitting here very uncomfortable after having two teeth pulled. The pain hasn't hit yet, but the swelling is there, and the local anesthetic is wearing off. I've already taken oxycodone and ibuprofen, so if I fall off to sleep during this typing and things look even weirder than usual, blame the drugs. And yes, I wanted to have this surgical procedure done sooner than two days before my fucking wedding, but this was the soonest I could do it. So while my fiancee eats pizza and I can only smell it, let's go back in time to another situation featuring something I could only wish for but never have. It's the story of my 7th and 8th grade crush, the most intense feeling I've had for any woman outside of the woman I'm marrying on Saturday. Her name is Tammi Todd.
I don't usually do real names on the blog, but I do it for people who I determine are as real as it gets. We all come across many phony people in our lives, but the ones who aren't phony tend to stand out. Tammi was too shy and lacking self-confidence to be phony. Really, no one should be phony at that adolescent age of 12 and 13, but peer pressure builds around junior high and makes some kids think they have to start being something they're not. No one knows this as well as me. I had built an entire phony sexual history by the time I was 12, and I parroted it to anyone who would listen as I attempted to gain some measure of popularity.
I didn't go to the storage unit and get my diaries from back then, so I have to do this from pure memory. It's 1988, my first day of 7th grade at a new grade school, Ogden Elementary in the Gold Coast area of Chicago. The Gold Coast is what it sounds like, a section of rich and affluent folks, so this school was full of rich and affluent kids. But because there was a gifted program called International Baccalaureate at this school, there were kids bused in from all over the city to attend this program. So the grades 6th through 8th were split into regular classrooms and I.B. classrooms. Basically, if you were just a rich kid and weren't deemed "gifted," you were in a regular class, and if you passed these stringent tests to get into the I.B. program, you were in that class. I would never have been in Ogden if not for the I.B. program because I didn't reside anywhere near there. But Tammi resided there because she and her sister Traci were daughters of Thomas N. Todd, a civil rights activist whose speeches have been sampled on Public Enemy tracks. I had never heard of Thomas Todd. I just knew what I liked. And on that first day at the new school, at the end of that day, I was sitting in the lunchroom awaiting our school bus when I happened to look up at the lunchroom entrance. This light-skinned black girl was standing there looking confused and helpless. It was instant puppy love for me. I had never had my world stop upon my first sighting of a girl. Not quite like that. Oh, I can still list all of my crushes from pre-school through 6th grade, but none of them struck me like she did. There was her raw beauty, plain and simple just like I preferred, no makeup, wide light brown eyes, straight light brown hair, tall and straight posture, a tasty little amount of baby fat. But all of that was combined with this helpless look as she searched for something, maybe her bus driver or teacher or friend, that melted my heart instantly. I wanted to help her with whatever she wanted, but I was totally frozen, plus I was just a new kid in a new place and wasn't in a position to help anyone with anything. But after staring at her for what seemed like hours, I had learned one thing on my first day of school--I wanted to get into that girl's world in the worst way.
The pieces slowly fell into place over the next month as I asked kids about her. I got her name, I got her grade which was 6th grade in the regular class and not I.B., I got a sense of her personality which was she didn't seem to have much of one, I got to observe how she got special treatment because she wasn't on a school bus with other kids. She had a yellow station wagon pull up for her after school, and it dropped her off in the morning. Was it an official school bus? Was it her personal driver with an agreement to pick her up in front of the school? I never found that out, but she sat in the auditorium with all of us waiting for her ride every day after school. But while we were grouped in the auditorium by school bus number, she sat all by herself in the front row, where you had to walk by her as you entered every single day. And if you had a crush on her, this could either be glorious if she had her head down in a book and didn't notice you staring, or terrifying if your eyes met. But this torture was starting to get to me. I was shy, she was shy, she certainly had been put on notice by her classmates that I had been asking about her because she made sure to see me every day when I entered the auditorium, and I could do nothing but quickly avert my eyes. I had to do something, but I didn't have the balls to say hi. Remember, I was completely unsuccessful with girls at this stage in my life. No fooling around, no lunch date, no nothing. So I came up with a way to introduce myself and let Tammi know how I felt without stepping to her face. I wrote several of the sappiest, most sickening love letters ever written.
And I signed them "Your Secret Admirer."
And I slipped them into her locker during class when no one else could see me.
What a huge, throbbing pussy I was.
I may still be slipping her notes to this day about how I just wanted to be her friend even though I couldn't bear to reveal myself if not for one of her classmates catching me slip one of these notes into her locker. So now that Tammi was going to be informed that I was her secret admirer, as if she didn't already know that the fat guy asking about her could be the secret admirer, the next move would be on Tammi to approach me and either shut my "game" down or reciprocate the interest. But she was as bashful as I was. So we went around and around each other for days, catching each other looking and quickly turning away. One day, while at recess, we finally spoke, but I think it was only because our respective classmates dragged us towards each other. They were sick of us beating around the bush, understandably. We didn't say much of anything, but we did say something, so at least we knew what each other's voice sounded like. I fell even harder for her because her voice was so soft, and she had some sort of slight speech impediment that only made her sound British to me. She occupied my every thought.
Fate would give me an opportunity at the annual school carnival to be there for Tammi in a time of need. As I walked upstairs to the 3rd floor, my eyes came upon Tammi playing some game that required hand-eye coordination, and she was playing it hard. I could see her frustration, so I asked what was the deal, and she said she was aiming to win this plush doll, like a green frog or something like that. I wasn't a great athlete at all, but I knew I could win this game, so I played it, won, selected the doll as a prize, and promptly gave it to Tammi. Those light brown eyes lit up like constellations. "Thank you," she said in that soft voice, and she hugged me and bounded away down the steps. I was absolutely floating the rest of the night. I'm telling you, I couldn't have been higher if I had Nate Newton's marijuana stash.
But as crazy as I was about Tammi, I just could not pull the trigger on making a definitive move. We kept walking around each other throughout that school year, making googly eyes at each other, but nothing real came of it. I did present her with a rose on Valentine's Day, and she thanked me, but I had no follow-up. I stared in her direction during that year's sock hop, but I never went over and asked for a dance. I had never felt like this about a girl. I was walking around the Gold Coast on my lunch breaks, playing "Can You Stand The Rain" by New Edition on my headphones, trying to figure out how to take my fantasies about Tammi and make them a reality. And by fantasies, I don't mean sexual. I mean white picket fence and white wedding dress and red rose petals on the bed. I actually couldn't think about her sexually. Yes, you read that right. As hot as she made me every single day that I saw her, I could not even fantasize about the girl. Everyone else was a dirty, nasty potential sex story, every other girl had a role in my fantasy world, but not Tammi. She was just too pure. I mean, I tried to force sexual thoughts about her, and I just could not do it. It was so damn weird. I actually got my first sexual contact with a girl that summer while I stayed at my uncle's house. But I even told that girl about Tammi, how I felt about her, how bad I wanted her. Yep. I had a girl there literally begging me to fuck her. And I would say yes, but then I couldn't make a move with her partially because I felt like I would be cheating on Tammi even though Tammi had not given me any indication that she was interested in me. We wound up not having sex, which is good because considering I got my next sexual contact pregnant twice four years later, I'm sure I would have knocked up this girl too.
Tammi even affected how I viewed other potential conquests. I was sitting at the March 1989 science fair with my project, bored out of my mind, when someone a year older, in 8th grade, told me that there was someone who claimed to know more about pro wrestling than me. I was angry that some mere mortal would challenge my rasslin' knowledge, so I demanded to be introduced. And over to my table sauntered damn near the hottest girl I had ever seen in my life, Margaret Brown. She had short brown hair and hazel eyes that would rival Jennifer Aniston if I knew who Jennifer Aniston was back then. And her body was just killer. We chatted for the next couple of days, but it was always short chats because we were in the science fair and we had to stay very close to our respective projects, lest a judge decide to drop in. So we wound up sending wrestling quizzes back and forth to each other by messenger. And she was right there with me in wrestling knowledge, although her area of expertise clearly was Sting. Boy, Margaret had the hots for Sting something fierce. But anyway, one of our messengers was a buddy of mine, and he asked me what was going on between me and Margaret because he couldn't believe that my fat ugly ass could have anything to say to such a smoking hot babe. I told him that we were just having wrestling quizzes, nothing more. He said that was the point, why wasn't I trying to talk about something more? Why wasn't I going after this hottie? Simple, I said. I don't like her in that way. I like Tammi. He rolled his eyes and grabbed me by the shoulders and told me to look at Margaret and then look at Tammi and tell him why the hell would I pursue Tammi and not Margaret? I couldn't tell him anything that would convince him that my choice was the better one. And from the outside, the choice would have been Margaret by a mile. But my decision was based on what my gut was feeling on the inside, and Tammi was the girl that I couldn't stop daydreaming about. Tammi had my heart. It was just that simple.
So 1989 into 1990 was a stressful year because it was my last year at Ogden before I had to move on to high school. Tammi, being a year younger, would be there after I left, so even if I tried to get into a high school near the Gold Coast, I'd have to hope she enrolled there as well, and I'd have to wait a year to find out. So in that context, in a world where this girl was on a pedestal and seemed unattainable, no e-mail to keep track with her, no cell phones to have a chance privately to let her know how I felt, I thought this year would be the most important evah. I had to let this girl know how much I wanted her, shyness be damned, fear of rejection be damned. So the events that happened could probably fill up a few seasons of a TV pilot about grade-school love unrequited. We played out our version of Winnie and Kevin on The Wonder Years. And looking back, it may have put me through a shitload of moods on a daily basis, the ups and downs of a daily skirt chase, but boy, was it a hell of a lot of fun.
I'm sure I'll forget a lot of occurrences, but here's what I remember: There was a day where I was spreading lies about getting some pussy the night before, and I told some kids on the school bus that I bet the chick I was with would be a much better fuck than Tammi, and Tammi upon being told this hunted me down in the playground and confronted me about the quote. She was actually upset that I was with another woman, even though she had not given me a clue that my interest in her was something she wanted. There was another day where she decided to knock me down a notch by making fun of my boobs, and that was a rather painful day. I took it as a signal that she would never be interested in me just from a physical standpoint. Never mind that no other boys seemed to be interested in her. She just wouldn't give me the satisfaction of pretending that she was interested in me. Sometime during the winter, I decided to become a playleader, which was a fancy name for class monitor for the little kids. Tammi was a playleader too, but I wasn't doing it just to be near her. I was doing it because my grades were shitty and I thought I had a better chance to be accepted to the high school of my choice if I had some community service on my record. During this time, I saw Tammi running after kids from her class and towards kids from my class, and she slipped and crashed right in front of me. She had to be taken to the nurse's office crying and bruised up, and I was the one who grabbed her glasses off the ground and took them to her. So I got to hear another "Thank you," but it was a sobbing one, and sad to hear. There was another time where the kids from her class dragged her over to me and dared her to hug me, and she gave me a quick little hug and ran away while the kids oohed and aahed. Another time, again encouraged by the kids she was monitoring, she walked over and started kicking snow at my feet as if it were just a normal thing to do, and I kicked snow back at her, and for thirty seconds we kicked snow at each other's feet, smiling and carefree and communicating in that socially awkward way that boys and girls at that age sometimes communicate. I actually recall that as a very sweet moment. I promise you she doesn't even remember that.
There was Valentine's Day 1990, where I went out in the rain to get a couple of roses for her before class began. We were all in the auditorium because we couldn't have morning recess, so this was going to have to be done in front of the whole school. I didn't just have flowers, though. I had a small white teddy bear that I played $10 worth of Skee-Ball at Great America to win for her a few months ago. Problem was, while working up the nerve to give her this bear, it sat in my locker along with my smelly gym shorts and shoes, and when I finally gave it to her with the roses, she replied, "You're giving me the bear that's been in your smelly locker?" I guess everyone knew that it was sitting there for many weeks, and she knew it too. But she still thanked me for the flowers and the bear. There was the time where I finally worked up the nerve to ask Tammi out to lunch, which was all I could possibly ask as far as a date. It's not like my folks were going to allow me to get on public transportation and come all the way to a part of the city that I didn't know that well and take her out on a weekend, and it's not like I had the money to take her anywhere really fancy, and it's not like her parents were going to let her go somewhere with me, not when she's only 12 and hadn't been allowed to date at all. And sure enough, I convinced her to ask her parents if I could have an innocent lunch date, only for her to come back the next day and tell me that the parents considered that a date and she wasn't allowed to date yet. So much for that. There was the time Tammi convinced her nerdy friend, Shani, to ask me out on a date, as a test of my commitment to her even though we weren't together. I rejected Shani's advances for three reasons--not just because I liked Tammi, but because I didn't think Shani was attractive and I thought Shani was clearly making a move on me on behalf of Tammi. Shani thought I was a pig thanks to my rep as Dr. Pervert, and out of nowhere, she wants to see a movie with me? Come on. I was young and dumb, but I wasn't that stupid. A guidance counselor actually advised me to invite Tammi down to Tribune Tower to watch me in the Chicagoland Spelling Bee, which I thought was an incredibly geeky move, but I was desperate, so I asked. Of course, she said no.
There was the play "Annie Get Your Gun" that we produced that year, the tryouts for which I referenced in this post. That tryout wasn't the most unusual thing about the play that involved Tammi and me. During a practice, Shani pulled out a piece of Play-Doh and pressed it against my arm without warning, then announced to me that my skin and Tammi's skin can now become one while she put the Play-Doh together with a different piece. I glanced over in Tammi's direction, and she was actually watching this happen before she quickly turned away. Shani would explain to me later that she did that at Tammi's request, so Tammi may not have been attracted to me, but she did appreciate the attention from me. I was a part of her world, a small part to be sure, but as probably the first guy to express a serious desire for her, she did consider me as a part of her. As flattered as I was by the Play-Doh incident, I must say that I was also a bit weirded out. Then there was the Big Penis incident. My role in "Annie Get Your Gun" was a bit part as a train conductor, and I was using my aunt's husband's bus driver jacket as part of my uniform. But I was using old light blue pants of my own that were a couple of sizes too small. So during a dress rehearsal, I'm sitting in the gym, which doubled as sort of a lounge for the cast members, and Tammi and her friends walked by, and I was totally unaware that the position I was in pulled my already small pants closer to my body and really accentuated the boner that I was sporting for no other reason than I was 14 and popped boners at odd times. The girls pointed at me and laughed, and when I shrugged and wondered what was so funny, Tammi pointed between my legs and giggled, "Big penis!" Now, understand, this was when she and her friends were like 12. Big penises were something to laugh at, not to be in awe of. I was embarrassed. I mean, I couldn't even fantasize about the girl, so my dick was not something I was proud to show her under these circumstances. And the event actually mortified me for a few days, until I explained what happened to my dad, who gave me some perspective by telling me, "You should be very proud that she's calling you Big Penis. Better than being called Little Penis!" Ah, dad. Always choosing the high-minded side.
The main event of this whole "courtship," if you'd like to call it that, occurred at the 1990 carnival. My friends and I were planning all these major moves on girls that we liked considering it was our last shot at some kind of score. Graduation was approaching very fast. So my friend Dan and I were sitting on the stairs about an hour before the carnival would begin, just shooting the shit, plotting moves on girls, when someone said "Excuse me" and bounded down the steps and split Dan and me. It was someone in a gray skirt that came up just above the knee. She had milky skin and smooth, shiny legs that made my heart stop, not to mention a perfect little ass. Yes, Tammi had stopped the show, and I didn't even see her face. And I saw her earlier in the day, so she changed for this. Dan and I looked at each other with eyes wide and mouths agape. "This may be a big, big night!" I said with a huge smile.
And yet, I was still being a chickenshit and didn't speak to her all evening. Songs played in the gym, couples awkwardly slow-danced, and I stayed glued to a bench chatting with my uncle, who was there just to be my driver once I was ready to leave. I bounced in and out of the gym, playing games, trying to psych myself up to ask Tammi for one dance. Just one dance. But fear paralyzed me every time I even thought about it. Other classmates were even trying to pump me up to do it. But I just couldn't. The night was winding down, and my opportunity was being wasted.
So some slow song is coming to an end, and the way the DJ has spun, another slow song is coming next because he was playing the slow ones two at a time. And I'm sitting there on the bench still trying to work up the nerve...and I look up, and there's this lovely light brown girl in a gray mini skirt standing over me, and she grabs my hand and says, "Come on, you big chicken," and she leads me to the dance floor as "Girl I'm Gonna Miss You" by Milli Vanilli starts to play, and no shit, the entire gym erupts in applause at the sight of us two finally getting together after two full years of me lusting after her. I mean, even little kids who I monitored who knew how I felt about Tammi were running up and slapping me on the butt and congratulating me. My mind was spinning in my head. We smiled at each other and had a very tentative slow dance, not very close to each other, lots of distance between us, yet hand in hand, my right hand around her waist, our eyes locked together. I was in heaven. Tammi had one thing to say to me in the middle of this dance, and it was very telling of her mental state: "I still don't know why you like me." I tried to babble some stuff about her beauty and poise and whatnot, but I figured I was ruining the moment and shut it down and just kept dancing. The song ended, I thanked her, and I ran out of the gym and off of that level down to the basement lunchroom, sweating profusely and in need of a soda. My uncle and I left not long after that. Why stay? I just had my moment of glory.
The school year wound down, and I got up the nerve to ask Tammi to pose for a picture for me, and I'd still treasure that pic if I hadn't lost the camera before I could get the film developed. I asked Tammi to sign the first page of my autograph book, and she wrote: "Have a nice summer, and I think I'm going to miss you." Hey, I'll take it! Of course, I had to write another long letter telling her how I felt, except I didn't have to sign this one Secret Admirer. And I ended this letter with the words "I love you" and my phone number. Yeah, "I love you" was over the top for a girl who I never went on a date with or kissed, but it's how I felt at the time. New Edition had another song out at the time that said, "If it isn't love/Why do I feel this way/Why does she stay on my mind?" And when you hear that a few dozen times over and over, you can convince yourself that this is love that you're feeling. What the hell else could it be? Can't sleep, can't think, can't enjoy the things I usually enjoy without the thought of her popping into my head. I felt that I was justified putting "I love you" into that goodbye letter. Besides, it was my last hurrah. What were the odds that I'd ever see or hear from her again? I had left my phone number on previous notes, so it's not like she would ever call me...
So I'm chatting with "Jacob" the day after my graduation, and the phone I was using beeped indicating that I had another call, and I click over, and this soft trembling voice said "May I please speak to Andre?" And I almost fainted once I realized who that voice belonged to. It was Tammi! I told her to hold on, then I clicked back over and stammered out the sentence, "I have to call you back, Tammi is on the other line." Neither Jacob or I could believe what I just said. But when I got back to Tammi, she had to get off the phone but said she'd call back. And she did a little while later, accompanied on another line by her older sister Traci. They basically interrogated me on why I thought I loved Tammi. I got to run down the list of how I felt live over the phone, although I laid everything out in my letter, I'm sure. Traci played the role of hardcore skeptic while Tammi played the background. But I was rather cool and calm during this line of questioning. I knew how I felt, I said what I said, and I had no regrets. They let me go after maybe a half hour. Tammi then called me back by herself later that day, and that last conversation will always have to be a mystery because one of her parents caught her using the phone almost immediately and made her hang up. She never called me again.
How long was I hung up on Tammi? Well, fast forward to 1995. Now I'm a man, baby, a 19-year-old coming off a 3-year relationship with my high school sweetheart "Giselle," much more experienced with women, dating a co-worker, confident, relatively secure in myself, a whole world in front of me. It took a long time, but I was finally at a point where I didn't wonder about Tammi every day, ponder where she was or if she was dating or how she was developing as a woman. So "Ronnie" and "Drew" have mutual friends they went to high school with, and those friends have a girl crashing at their house that they knew from somewhere, and the girl is named Heidi. Now, Heidi is a unique name. I knew of only one Heidi in my life, and she was a thin blonde chick who was in the same class as Tammi at Ogden. I asked Ronnie and Dave to ask their friends if this Heidi girl's last name was Vienup, and they got back to me that why yes, it sure is! How did I know? Well, my emotions launched like a rocket. If I can meet up with Heidi, maybe she still knows Tammi, and maybe she can give me Tammi's number, and maybe I can reconnect with Tammi, and maybe now, out of that elementary school atmosphere, we can build an actual relationship and really get to know each other, and who knows, from there, she may fall for me as hard as I fell for her...my brain couldn't calculate all the possibilities fast enough. Ronnie and Drew and I went to their friends' house on a Friday night, and I was so excited that I dressed up for the occasion, as if I was going to go see Tammi herself. Alas, things didn't work out because Heidi had lost contact with Tammi, and as an aside, Heidi informed me that I wouldn't want to be around Tammi now because she'd become stuck-up and full of herself. Of course, I would have loved to meet Tammi and judge that for myself. But it wasn't meant to be.
On the eve of my first and last marriage, I felt the need to reflect back and remember how I felt about Tammi. This represents some closure. Not that I was hoping Tammi and I would meet and fall in love someday like a fairy tale, but...okay, maybe a part of me has always wished that would happen. It's an unreasonable thought because Tammi and I are certainly vastly different people than we were twenty years ago. So many things have happened to us that have shaped who we are and how we view others. But I think all of us hold on to someone from years past that represent that pure, unbridled passion that occurs when it's love at first sight. I know Jacob has his from that same time period, because we would sit on the phone for hours with the lights off talking about our respective obsessions. I bet you, dear reader, have yours as well. As much as my stomach grumbled and my heart raced and my emotions got put through the ringer on a daily basis, I wouldn't change anything about my two years with Tammi. I use her as a guiding post on how to treat my fiancee. Because of Tammi, I know that when I put my fiancee on a pedestal and worship her like Athena, I need to savor every moment. I never know when my love or obsession could go unreturned and leave me alone with nothing but hopes and dreams.