bowling for katy

A short story about teenage drama.

Junior year at Goldville High School, 1987: I had a huge crush for three years running on Katy, a clarinet player who wore too much makeup. One time I tried to show her how much I liked her by giving her a frog leg. From biology class. Left in her locker on top of a book. Oh, the screaming.

Anyway, one day she sidles over to me with a twinkle in her eye, and I’m feeling lucky. She gives me a folded note and says “open it later”, and keeps walking. Of course, I open it immediately. “Our church is having an all-night bowling party Saturday. Would you like to go? ___Y ___N ___ I’m indecisive.”

YES! A church thing is almost like a date, right? An hour later I drop my answer in her clarinet case. “I guess so … are you going?” She turns around and gives me a look and a smile, as I peek over my music stand at her.

Saturday evening: I arrive at her church and scan the parking lot. I see another girl from the band, Tina, and we start talking. I told her why I was there, but she looked dubious. “I really don’t think this is a date,” she said. Moments later, Katy walked up and gave me a little punch on the chest, and we talked for a few minutes. Not a bad start, I’m thinking.

Another moment later, this sassy dude with spiky hair ambles over … and starts sucking face with Katy.

I’m stunned, and Tina is beside me trying to control spasms of laughter. After Katy pulls her tongue out of this dickhead’s tonsils, she says “hey Rob, this is my boyfriend Lee.” Clearly, this would have been good information previously, but it was now useless. Lee and I look at each other and give the typical male “whassup?” as I reluctantly shake his extended hand. Tina is now pretending to cough to cover her laughing, and I am uncomfortably stuck in an awkward situation until the chaperones tell us to get on the church bus.

Tina and I sat together, leaving Katy and Lee to swap fluids several rows back. Tina and I ended up spending the rest of the evening hanging out together, chatting in between bowling very poorly. On the bus ride back, Tina leaned over on me and went to sleep, but not before warning me not to try any “funny stuff”. I promised, and we slept for a little while. As the sun rose, I realized I had lost a potential girlfriend but gained a new friend. Not a bad night.

Of course my other friends had a good laugh, but it all worked out for the best. Years later I find out on Fakebook that Katy became an ultra-religious conservative and attended a racist bible college.


stairway to heaven

Another memory of Lisa from my senior year.

Normally I would hang out near the band room (I was such a band geek), but near the end of high school I was getting tired of that scene. I needed a change, I needed to expand my horizons a little. I was relatively happy the last half of that year, looking forward to a future away from Goldville. I had a few good friends, I was doing well in school, and I was feeling adventurous socially.

One spring day Lisa dragged me out of the band room, and we spent the majority of lunch sitting in the quad, typically the hangout of the “in crowd” and very much the social focal point. Normally I avoided this place, but on this day the grass was a little greener, the April sun warming me inside and out, and I was encouraged rather than unnerved by the sound of people laughing and chatting. I ate a thick chocolate milkshake with M&Ms, the candy freezing hard, crunching in my mouth. We joked, we watched people, we talked about whatever.

The library aide had rolled out a stereo system and big speakers, typical for springtime. Led Zeppelin IV was playing. It was the first time I had really listened to the song Stairway to Heaven. I felt every note. I was very quiet, taking it all in, seeing what I had missed out on during my self-imposed exile from the rest of the world, saving the memory like a video in my brain. Lisa looked over and asked me if I was okay – I must have drifted off into my mindscape again.

Yeah, I was good. I had my best friend, I wasn’t nervous, and I felt the music. I felt alive.

love in the friend zone

As I entered high school, in the aftermath of years of emotional abuse, I was a psychological train wreck. I put on a front for everybody, because that’s what I learned as a child: It’s nobody’s business, they don’t need to know, you can’t trust anyone other than your dysfunctional family. I became an actor, playing a role just as well as anyone in the drama class in high school. I had “friends”, but they knew nothing about my life other than what I allowed them to see. Everybody thought of me as the smart guy who had everything going my way; I felt like a fraud. I had the stress of being a teenager, the stress of portraying the overachiever I was expected to be, the stress of undiagnosed early-onset bipolar, and the stress of recovering from an abusive childhood. I was at a breaking point, and I wondered what it would be like to die, though I didn’t have any suicidal plans.

Lisa was the first person I knew I could trust with everything. We had become acquainted over a couple of years of friendly competition in middle school, but when we got to high school we became much closer and started hanging out together most of the time. Rumors flew of course, but at the time we didn’t care, we were just having fun being friends. I realized she wasn’t being superficial, and she wasn’t going to pull the football away at the last second. Even in my confused and fragile state, I understood that she was a true friend.

There was one day when something had triggered me, and I was in one of those mixed depressive states I have come to know too well. I was on the verge of tears all day, but also ready to fight with anyone who crossed my path. At some point I hid myself away in an unused corridor and cried so hard it physically hurt, the sadness and anxiety and anger just pouring out of me uncontrollably. Somehow, Lisa found me, and she sat down and cried with me. It made her sad that I was hurting so badly, and her empathy touched me deeply. No one had ever been there for me in that way before, and it was unbelievable that anyone could care for me so much.

My love for her grew from friends to something more. I was so immature emotionally, and maybe I saw her as a caregiver as well as a friend and a potential romantic partner. Eventually I got the nerve to bring up the topic, and finally I asked her what she thought of being more than friends. She gave me the “it might ruin our friendship” speech, and from anyone else it may have sounded fake, but I believed she was being genuine.

I accepted what she said, for the time being, and our friendship was fine, but I was always looking for an opportunity to convince her she was wrong. That opportunity never arrived, for various reasons. We both had relationships come and go, and we remained friends, but she was who I wanted to be with. I would have followed her anywhere if she had given me any kind of indication that she loved me in the same way I loved her. Anywhere.


Part of me still misses what we had at the time, and I have thought a lot about what a life with Lisa might have been. I used to IM her and write her manic e-mails in the pre-Fakebook days, but she eventually stopped replying (probably because my messages were bizarre and obsessive). I still dream about her, and I’ve written poems and blog posts about her. I’m friends with her on Fakebook, but we never chat or message each other; if she wanted to communicate with me, she would have by now. I could never tell her the million thoughts I have had about her, because it would be too disruptive to both our lives. It would be unfair to her to drag her into my messed-up mind.

I know that between us, I am the only one who is still obsessed with our ancient history. I’m not a perfect person, and I know hanging on to memories like this is unhealthy to me and potentially damaging to my current relationship. I know I should forget those days, but I don’t know how to let some things go. I love some of those memories, but sometimes they fuck with my brain. Maybe other people forget their memories from those days, and they are better off for it. Maybe it helps them move on.



At the end of the high school year, there was always the ritual of signing other people’s yearbooks. Mostly these were pithy little notes like “it’s been awesome knowing you” and “hope you have a great life”. Here’s what I wish I had written in one particular yearbook:

Congratulations, you lumbering dolt, for escaping high school at the bottom of the class. You’ve been a dick to me for the past 12 years, so go fuck yourself. Sincerely, Fishrobber. P.S. I made your mother squeal last night.