It doesn’t matter what her last name is, as I could never spell it as a kid and I certainly don’t remember how to spell it now. One of those weird long Russian-sounding names. I could probably dig through my closet and find one of my grade school yearbooks and figure out the spelling and look her up on Facebook, though I’m certain she’s married with a new last name, but… wouldn’t that be creepy? I don’t know. Maybe? Definitely if I reached out, that would be creepy. I’m not doing that.
We met in Kindergarten, and the last time I saw her was – ironically – about 2 weeks before I graduated High School.
I can’t give you a definitive answer as to why I had such an immediate and long-lasting attraction to Shaleen. As I mentioned in my story about another childhood crush, Jamie, I don’t recall ever having an aversion to girls.
Shaleen was kind of tall for her age, not towering but taller than I was (I was a g’damn runt until almost Junior year in high school). She had long, blonde hair. Something about the 80s made everyone (male & female alike) with blonde hair the height of beauty. Google Image “80s fashion” and you’ll find a lot of blonde, and blonde streaks, and over-bleached tips. She was sweet, and polite, and maybe even funny – or at least, it felt like we made jokes that made us both laugh. She wasn’t a nerd, or shunned, but she wasn’t Mrs Popular either. Kinda middle of the road. Which is just a slight bit higher up than I was. We were at the same school from Kindergarten through 3rd grade, so I hadn’t (yet) completely been ostracized for being “weird”.
She smelled nice. I remember that. I couldn’t recognize that scent out of 1000 scents today, but I remembered it then. Whatever she wore, or whatever combination of bathing and hair products and whatever else young girls wear, was potent enough that I could literally smell her walking towards me. I tend to associate scents with people, and associate the sensation of that scent with their attitude. The nicest smelling people tend to also be the nicest people. I wonder how I smell to others, and I wonder how many times I’ve mis-associated good/bad scents with good/bad people. But Shaleen’s scent was the first girl smell I ever fell in… well, not love, but fell into some kind of attraction towards.
I knew very little about Shaleen, despite trying to engage her in whatever passed for attempts at conversation at my young age. But I do remember towards the end of the 3rd grade, New Kids on the Block were HUGE amongst the girls in my grade. Shaleen especially, she had made several overt remarks in class and in conversations about them. I also knew that we were moving soon, and that I would probably have to move schools because I was going from a casual walk from home to school and back to a 5-mile drive to my new house. Armed with literally only this knowledge, I saw some fan magazine for NKOTB at the grocery store and asked my mom to buy it for me. My mom, being weirdly open-minded about everything, didn’t even bat an eye and just tossed it in the cart. “Finally!“, I thought, “I have something I can present to Shaleen to show her I’m into her!“. The next day at school, I walked past her desk and said “hey, I saw this and thought you’d love it”. She lit up, said thanks, and then looked at me strangely, wondering — in all likelihood — what the fuck this was all about.
I think about how weird that is, in retrospect. Kids don’t buy shit. Kids ask their parents to buy shit. I asked my mom to buy a gift for a girl I had a crush on, who didn’t know I had a crush on her, and presented it to her as a gift, despite having zero interest in the thing I was giving her. Oh to crawl into her head in that moment and hear the internal dialogue. Actually, no, I’d probably have a crippling realization that I’m relatively insane. So, scratch that. But if you ever get the opportunity to do that, can you give me the cliff notes?
My plan worked, though. At lunch, she struck up a convo with me and had questions. “Why did you buy this?”, “Was this for me?”, “Do you also love NKOTB?”. I told her what was basically the truth1 sure, I left out “I did this because I have a crush on you and wanted this to give me an opportunity to talk to you” would be the ...continue : I was at the grocery store, saw it on a shelf, thought “Shaleen might like that” and asked my mom to get it. She was flattered, if confused. It didn’t go much further than that.
Somehow that brief interaction has set a course in my life. I study people, learn what they like, what excites them, and I keep an eye out for things I can bring to them or say to them to excite them again. I like buying or making random little gifts for people I’m diggin’ on, and I fucking love giving presents. Where I’m a hypocritical asshole is that I can’t seem to accept gifts with much decorum, as I treat almost every gift the same way so as to not give up a poker face of whether or not I love it (I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings if I don’t like a gift). I’m sure that’s a few hours of therapy I need to deal with some day.
Fast forward a few years, and I was in 6th grade and my mom wanted me to start going to church again. “They have a kids program!” she urged, as if I should be making more Christian churchgoing friends. I went to the group and who was there but my ol’ crush Shaleen. It was probably a month or two before I found an opportunity to just walk and talk to her. One of the first things she brought up was “do you remember buying me that NKOTB magazine?” – yes, Shaleen, of course I remember. I probably laughed it off at the time, as NKOTB was still too lame for me. But, again, it helped nudge the conversation.
Over the years, I’d see her at various always-wholesome functions. Times when I decided to do some church stuff, even at a different church, somehow there’d always be an event with other churches and I’d see her there. As late as Freshman year, I saw her at some youth group function for various Phoenix churches and all I said was “New Kids, am I right?” and she’d laugh and say “OHHHHhhhh yeah! haha!”, as NKOTB faded into embarrassing territory with most everything else from the 80s2the first year or two of the 90s still counts as “The 80s” in my mind.
In my Senior year of high school, half a world away — mentally — from all those places I’d seen her, events I’d have gone to, churches I’d have attended, I heard her name on a loudspeaker. It was part of some announcement about our Senior Class photo, like “if your last name starts with _____, get in ______ line, and the person handing you your Senior Class photo will be _____”. This was such an incredibly weird fucking coincidence. Shaleen went to my high school? And was, like, some kind of valedictorian3 full disclosure, I still have no idea what a Valedictorian is, and was in charge of handing me my Senior Class photo?
I waited in the line. I could see her. She had grown into the beautiful woman I’d always seen her as (and a body to match). When I got up to the front, looking like this I’ll remind you …
…I smiled and said “Hey Shaleen. Long Time”. She handed me the class photo and nodded. I have no idea if she remembered me, and I doubt she even gave a shit.
Goddamn you, NKOTB.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↩||sure, I left out “I did this because I have a crush on you and wanted this to give me an opportunity to talk to you” would be the complete truth, but who in the fuck tells the whole truth outside of court?|
|2.||↩||the first year or two of the 90s still counts as “The 80s” in my mind|
|3.||↩||full disclosure, I still have no idea what a Valedictorian is|