From age five to somewhere around my junior year of college, I was defined by my crushes.
I always had a crush. My crush was always my biggest secret. I thought about my crush every night as I was falling asleep. My crushes dominated my diary, my disappointments, and my hopes for the future.
In elementary school, I crushed on your standard prepubescent cute boys–nice, cute, mildly popular kids in my classes at school. I had one crush for first and half of second grade, another crush from second through fourth grade, and a couple of different crushes in fifth grade. I was very loyal, and leaned towards the clean-cut, all-American type. My last crush in fifth grade was a boy with a great smile from my Sunday School class.
Then came sixth grade. In sixth grade, I had two major crushes. One was a freckled, blond, baseball-playing, joke-cracking kid. And the other one was a huge nerd.
I called him DOTE, a nickname with a complex background that I am too embarrassed to explain here. He was obsessed with video games, before that was cool. He wore too-short pants, paced constantly, and had glasses that were honest to goodness taped together. He was the smartest kid in sixth grade, except for me. He was also the least popular kid in sixth grade, except for me. The mean kids liked to shove us into each other or write me fake notes supposedly from him. Everyone, even the nice kids, teased us, saying we should go out. So in public, I shunned him. But in private, I was in love.
DOTE taught me the words “demented” and “aphasia,” and made up a fake language he used while pretending to be aphasic. (Note: Yes, I now realize this is offensive to people actually dealing with this condition.) He carried a huge camouflage binder full of messy papers covered in his cramped handwriting. He lived on our block, and sometimes my brother and I would go over to his house after school. He had all the video games. He had countless Star Trek tapes taped from TV.
And when people teased him, he fought back. Usually verbally, but one day someone knocked DOTE’s binder out of his hands and DOTE attacked him, kicking and scratching at the other guy’s face. I think they both got suspended. But I admired DOTE for standing up for himself, something I could never seem to do when people made fun of my long nose or called me a suck-up. God, I loved him.
After that, I didn’t get crushes on the milk-fed nice boys anymore. I got crushes on the weird boys, the boys who played Magic: The Gathering, the boys who asked the teacher why we had to learn algebra–really, what was it good for?–the boys who had 103 averages and bad wardrobes. They were usually reasonably cute, but no one would ever call them cool. What attracted me was their passion.
Alas, it was never directed towards me. In college, I had a crush on a guy who reminded me a lot of DOTE. He was a math nerd. He played the clarinet, and he knew about classical music and theology and the Reichstag. We were friends, and for two years I hoped we’d be something more. But sophomore year he started dating someone else–a small, pale, quiet girl who skittered around campus like she was afraid. I watched them fall deeply, publicly in love–on my small college campus, it was not unusual for me to turn a corner and come upon them together, kissing deeply, or him on his knees making some passionate declaration. By graduation, they were engaged. And though I’d dated a few people, I was no closer to falling in love–really in love–then I ever had been.
R was the first nerd boy I ever dated. R was a computer nerd. In high school–back in the early nineties–he had run a file-sharing website. He burned me Smashing Pumpkins CDs and introduced me to Peaches. He knew what I meant when I talked about the categorical imperative. The first Christmas we were dating, he asked me for the book The Eternal Braid: Godel, Escher, and Bach.
And R wanted to hear about my nerdy things, too. When I started collecting The Baby-Sitters Club, he thought that was cool. When he found out I wanted to write a biography about my favorite author, he thought that was cool. When I wanted to stay up all night to watch the sun rise over the lake, when I wanted to kiss at the top of a Ferris wheel just because it was a romantic cliche, he did those things with me.
He stalked me on livejournal and wrote a computer program calculating how many days we’d been together.
The program’s still running.