Tuesday, February 14, 2012

More Than Chocolate

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.


  1. I just love this post. As I look back, there were so many nice guys that would have probably taken my hand in a minute while I was chasing after the those jerks that broke my heart. I'm so glad I found my "nice guy", eventually, too. If I teach my daughter NOTHING else, it will be to seek out those genuinely nice guys that hold your books, give you compliments, encourage you, and most importantly, celebrate you on Valentine's Day.

  2. When I think about the moment of you calling him and the phone being disconnected, I think about how truly awful that must have felt, since I think I had a few experiences like that, too. In those days with no internet/social networking, it was easy to lose someone forever - and a lot of us did. Sometimes we find our way back to people who have been really important to us, but in the cases that we don't, it seems that their purpose for being in our lives is to give us a foreshadowing of something - like finding a good person as you did - or maybe to give us hope, or to help us change our course in some way that ultimately ends up being for our good. Whatever the case, it is amazing the way someone can have such an effect on us that we think of them even after years or even decades. And it's beautiful, too.

    1. I look for him occasionally on Facebook, maybe once or twice per year when I think of him on Valentine's Day or his birthday (some days I wish I didn't remember EVERYTHING). His name wasn't that common but somehow there are still 100+ people with his name on FB. Sometimes I look at the pictures trying to see his 12-year-old face in the now-40s men. Sometimes I worry that I never find anything on him...a full name and birthdate should turn up something, right? I hope he didn't pass away young.

  3. Sometimes I try to look up something or someone online and there isn't anything to be found. Then a couple of years later, I'll try again and all kinds of info pops up. Maybe if enough time goes by some piece of info - some clue or missing link - will pop up in your online searching that will help you figure out what happened. I hope that is the case for you, and for me, too as I am also looking for someone these days - someone I never met but that I have a connection to.