It's Just A Little Crush
Well into my twenties I associated love with crippling stomach aches. They were not butterflies; they were grasshoppers, locusts. I fell in love with my teachers, and it hurt. Physically, too. There was the time I strained my neck following the science teacher with my eyes and not my body as she walked past me down the high street before disappearing into a wine shop. The time I distractedly spooned teaspoon after teaspoon of baking soda into my food tech American-style pancake batter whilst furiously eavesdropping on another crush pour praise like honey onto the maker of an experimental peanut-butter-and-apple soup. I sorrow-ate all four fat pancakes, gave myself baking soda poisoning, and lay in bed for three days listening to the grasshoppers and locusts dance in my visibly rising belly.
Many times a day I dug crescent moon shapes into the palms of my hand with my fingernails to stem the tide of love declarations.
I lived for Drama; at the same time it made me feel so sick that I often didn’t make it to school on a Tuesday. Improvising the walk of a hardened criminal before your peers is one thing — but before Ms X, hoarse-voiced, inappropriate purple-thong wearing, literature-loving Ms X, who I once saw cry in her green car behind quails of smoke like a sad sexy dragon? You’re a man, that’s a great man’s walk, she hazarded boldly, watching my awkward criminal strut through a room made of expectant of eyes, two of them hers. I took my hands from my coat pocket mutely, went home to practice my more feminine walk, and skipped class the following week.
There is something dreamlike and surreal about high school experienced from behind the foggy filter of unrequited love. I floated down corridors, pretended I’d lost things and deliberately lost things, left trails of belongings like offerings, and waited for Charlie, here, you dropped your monkey nuts / planner / scarf / excellent poem. And then an invitation into the hallowed space of the staffroom for a biscuit, and to talk.
About what? In daydreams I never got past the part where they asked if I was okay. I would say no, and then my mind drew a blank, the film would play again.
Ms X came to my home one day to drop off a stack of books I’d lent her, and to pick up hers — or did she? Did she stand at my front door with a Sainsbury’s bag, handles straining, almost snapping? Did she pick up the cast iron knocker, and did my little brother answer the door with a purple matchbox car in his hand? If she did I stood there gaping and blushing, my house seeming very small, very cobwebby, very real. She would have said something teacherly and kind as she handed over the books, my mother perhaps invited her in for tea and she probably wisely declined, and left. Did she?
Teacher crushes are petri dishes. How else should we learn how unrequited love works? How to pine? How to lull ourselves to sleep with unrealistic daydreams? A bit like the death of a gerbil gives us our first lesson in mourning, the painful state of being in love with a teacher prepares us for dealing with adult love catastrophes, for wanting someone vastly inappropriate in secret. It might have hurt, but exquisite, secret pining was also kind of exciting. It still is.