As a general rule, 7th-grade boys are gross. They smell funny, their voices are changing, and they think they're cooler than they are. Straddling the age between kid and teenager, they're still wearing boy scout uniforms, but stuffed in their pocket is a crumpled page from a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition that they swiped from their uncle's garage. Their idea of humor is fart jokes, shooting girls with rubberbands, and stepping on the backs of our shoes to give us "flat tires." Charming.
But Ryan was different. He was my 7th-grade boyfriend in 1984. A preppy boy with green eyes and freckles, he played tennis and wore one of those braided rope bracelets. I had my eye on him in 6th grade but it wasn't until 7th that I mentioned my affinity for him to a girl at the busstop. The loudmouth promptly told everyone at the busstop, and upon reaching school that morning went directly to Ryan to tell him that I thought he was cute. Nothing is secret in 7th grade. I silently prepared to have my affections rejected.
To my surprise, that didn't happen. In fact, Ryan said hi to me in the hall. And then I started running into him more between classes. We wrote notes back and forth. He'd walk me to class, and hold my books while I went to my locker. Sometimes he'd call me in the evening. He was a really sweet boy, genuinely nice, and never once made fun of me or blew me off. He was my introduction to the Nice Guy. When I cut my hair, he told me it looked nice, which is funny because it looked like a boy's haircut to me. And he didn't care that I was 6 inches taller than him.
Best of all, on Valentine's Day he gave me a great big heart-shaped box of chocolates; so big that every other girl could see me carrying it (yesssss!). And every girl on the bus was suddenly my best friend--the ones who'd previously laughed at me when they found out I liked Ryan now wanted a piece of my prize. Sorry, suckers.
In our yearbook he signed, "Love Always, Ryan" and drew a heart around the words in red pen.
As it turns out, the last time I ever saw him was the last day of the 7th grade school year. That summer my family was out of the country for a few weeks on vacation, and when we returned I called Ryan to tell him about my trip. His phone number was disconnected. I like to think that he tried to call me before he (assumedly) moved away, but this was pre-voice mail, pre-caller ID, and my family didn't have an answering machine.
This photo was taken on that last day of school. I grabbed a friend to snap it just before Ryan got on his bus home.
I eventually married another Nice Guy. My husband is a genuinely sweet, honest, thoughtful man. It took me a while to find him, but I knew he existed out there somewhere. I knew since way back when that the Nice Guy was worth searching for. So today, on Valentine's Day, before I have a glass of wine with my lovey and cuddle on the couch, I give a quick thought to Ryan, wherever he is, and appreciate the hope he gave me about the existence of men worth holding out for.