This is the second installment of a series I’m calling “Nerd Girl Meets…”. Two of the biggest themes in my life thus far have been the seemingly endless search for romantic companionship and the definitely endless search for great music. Love and music tend to go together in my life, for better or worse. Almost every person I’ve cared for has had a song that is forever etched in my memory, either as a defining factor of the person or a thematic element of the relationship. I want to share some of those relationships and their songs here, as a way of examining the moments that have made me, as well as a way of celebrating the soundtrack of my life. Even if it hasn’t been exactly perfect, it’s still mine.
Junior year in high school was a breakout year for me. I came into my own when I turned 16, and though I wasn’t one of the popular crowd, I was cute, geeky, and weird enough to catch peoples’ interest. There were plenty of girlfriends to pass notes and gossip with, and suddenly it wasn’t looking all that difficult to find boyfriends, either. There was one particular guy that really held my attention; always one for the bad boy, I’d singled out a dude named Henry who met all of my requirements. He had big, rough hands, spoke in innuendo, loved to make me laugh, and was just as keen as I to make out in the back hall by shop class when no one was looking. During the few months we were hanging out, I’d often sneak downstairs after my parents had gone to sleep just to call him up and talk for hours.
It wasn’t a great relationship, though, and that’s mostly because it wasn’t a relationship, at all. In the time-honored tradition of being an absolute jerk, Henry was gaming the system. I didn’t know it, of course. I didn’t even know he had other love interests, though there were rumors that he’d dated a particularly needy and possibly psychotic girl in the grade below ours, and that the breakup was dramatic and ongoing. The rumor mill was churning out all kinds of juicy gossip on Henry’s ex, including the fact that she’d threatened other girls to stay away from him in the past, and that she’d even talked about getting pregnant to force him to stay with her. At the time, I didn’t believe a word of it, but soon I started to wonder if I should.
Henry shied away from being seen with me at school. There was no explanation of why, and in my naive way, I just assumed that he wasn’t into PDA. He was cute, and I was really into him, so I just let him call the shots. We exchanged notes, snuck kisses, went on dates, and spent countless hours on the phone, but at his request, I didn’t tell anyone about him. Then, one afternoon after school, I got a phone call from the crazy ex. Surprisingly, crazy ex sounded kind of sane, and wanted to be friends. We’d never even talked before. Alarm bells (finally) started going off. I extricated myself from the phone call as soon as possible, and started reassessing my interest in this guy.
That weekend, I went out with Henry on a date. There was only one real option for a proper date within an hour radius of my hometown (for those of us with 10pm curfews, anyway) – quick dinner and a movie, 15 to 30 minutes of making out in the Walmart parking lot, then home again, home again, jiggity jig. In keeping with the tradition, we’d watched a movie, and were in the middle of making out in Henry’s truck outside of Walmart when “Closing Time” by Semisonic came on.
He was starting to get too handsy, and I wasn’t comfortable with doing anything but kissing, so I calmly disengaged. When he pulled away from me, for just a second I glimpsed anger in his eyes. He smothered it, but not before I saw that he was hiding himself from me. That was the moment that everything just clicked. I suddenly knew what was going on. Things weren’t over with his ex. He wasn’t willing to throw away his sure thing, a girl who would sleep with him, for a girl with no plans of losing her virginity. In the space of the song’s chorus, I suddenly understood everything I needed to know to get me through the shittiest parts of interacting with men for the next 15+ years. I also had a good feeling that I’d never go after another bad boy (at least on purpose).
Henry drove me home, dropped me off, and then never spoke to me again. There were no harsh words spoken, and no inklings of a breakup. He avoided me in the halls for a week or two, and I got the hint. Not long after, I heard that he and his ex were once again an item. For awhile, she kept up her weird habit of calling me up once a week to pretend that we were friends, so she could gloat about how much fun she and her boyfriend were having now that they were back together again. But it wasn’t long before those phone calls stopped, too.
I’ve never really enjoyed “Closing Time,” even though Semisonic is one of my favorite 90’s bands (in fact, “FNT” and “Secret Smile” are two of my all-time top songs). The song doesn’t give me bad memories, or make me feel bitter. Instead, it feels like flipping through the channels and suddenly running across a movie that you had to watch for a class project. Part of you recognizes that it’s a good movie, but the rest of you can only think of how this movie was once school work, and since school work is tedious, by extension the movie must be, too. The first chords make me groan internally. I’m immediately annoyed at this unfair ending. Or maybe I’m just annoyed at the 16 year old who was already going for losers in what was basically an attempt to not be the last one sitting at the bar when last call comes around. But hey, we were all there once. At least that’s what I tell myself.