1987. Seventh grade. My hair is still recovering from that awful boy cut my mom made me have the previous year. My body hates me – the pimples are getting worse. Popularity eludes me.
New neighbors move in. Jason is the older brother and the target of this year’s unrequited crush. He’s tall and lanky. His blonde hair melts into the daylight.
My dad talks to him all the time. I hide behind part of the garage and make googly eyes at Jason.
I hear my dad blurt out: Oh yeah, Rhana doesn’t like boys. She’s only in the seventh grade.
In my mind, lightning strikes me between the eyes and I become a local legend. Unfortunately, in real life, my dad laughs and Jason sees me hiding in the garage and he laughs, too. I storm inside and vow that I’m sending my dad to the nursing home as soon as possible.
While all my neighborhood friends ride their 10-speeds up and down the hill and stay out until ten at night, I’m stuck raking up the moss in my dad’s beloved grass, doing my homework and watering my mom’s bazillion roses with a bucket of water and an old margarine container.
You have to do it by hand, Rhan, or you’ll kill my roses, my mom says. To this day, I imagine doing donuts in my parents’ front yard and uprooting all those roses.
For whatever reason, I end up watering those roses whenever Jason is fixing his bike or washing his mom’s car. Sometimes, he waves and smiles at me, but like an idiot in love, I giggle and then look quickly away.
I watch him sometimes from my bedroom window. The Smiths play in the background and my mind is in turmoil and wonder if he even thinks about me, the girl with the crooked teeth and the snort laugh.
I’m in utter agony.
To make things worse, I have fierce competition, M. She’s a close family friend and she knows Jason because they go to the same high school. M is everything I’m not and standing next to her makes me feel like ALF. Her perfect brown hair falls into her eyes and she always laughs as she brushes it away. Everytime I see her, she has some new Esprit outfit and I convince myself she sold her soul to Beelzebub to get these clothes.
Whenever she comes over, she drags me along with her while she talks with Jason. It’s disheartening to listen to their conversations about music and movies and I realize I have nothing in common with them.
I mope for a whole year, singing the lyrics to this song. My dad mutters to my mom in Filipino, I think she has mono. My mom replies, I think she’s just gassy.
I channel Morrissey and barely get through my loneliness.
M comes by one day and puts a Madonna tape in my tape player and ruins the mood. Madonna and The Smiths together? What sacrilege! I’m about to tell her to take her stupid tape out when the doorbell rings. We both run to the door. Jason stands there and I swear the sun looks like angel wings behind him.
Hey, he says.
Hi. I try to look at his eyes, but I stare at this one freckle on his nose. This is it! This is the moment I’ve been waiting for – where he asks me over and we talk about life, the future, what’s gonna happen on the next episode of Family Ties.
Um, how are you? He smiles and I suddenly I feel like I can run a marathon.
(clears my throat) Oh, I’m fine. You know. No big deal. What the hell? Why am I talking like that?
Is your dad home?
Your dad. Is he home? I have a question for him.
I stare at him. All I can do is nod and walk away from the door. In the background I hear M talking to Jason.
Do you like The Smiths? I hear the lilt in her voice and I want to vomit.
Oh yeah – they’re totally awesome, he says agreeably.
Can I come over and we can listen to the tape together?
I try to blink the tears away. My mouth swivels from left to right and I want to scream. I stopped liking Jason that day and would later plot M’s disastrous prom night, a la Carrie.