Brenda was the sole reason I cleaned out the shed in our backyard when I was fourteen.
She arrived between 8th and 9th grade by way of summer school; we had both flunked a math class.
She attended a school across town, so I had never seen her before.
Her outer beauty was complex and describing it is as daunting a task as describing the statue of David. She had bleached blond colored hair that was not bleached. It was straight as a board and rested to a silky perfection on her chest. Upon first sight her eyes were so blue they took time getting used to. Her smile alone was worth your soul, a smile that was equally as angelic as it was devilish.
Kevin Wicker, who was also in the class; introduced her to me and I was eager to have him as an ally, but feared him as competition.
I had known Kevin because our fathers were hunting buddies, so we often found ourselves killing things together.
They settled next to each other in the back of the classroom. I had arrived early and chose a seat up front. This was one of my subtle ways of punishing myself. It was not in any way an effort to become a better student. This was me making sure I was as miserable and bored as possible. I was deeply regretting this decision, but felt it was too late to move, as the teacher upon entering the classroom commended me for my choice of seating.
I thought about Brenda intently that first day of class. Fever rumbled through my body like that of a near death experience, which is the only thing in life I have encountered to compare it to. I scanned the front of the room with my eyes hoping to find any reflection of her. There was none to be had.
When class dismissed, I immediately turned to find her holding hands with Kevin. She looked at me like she was hoping to sense jealousy. Kevin knew I was jealous, but looked comfortable with my discomfort, perhaps even thrilled. I deflated like a balloon. I walked along side them only for the chance to soak anything in about her.
In a teenage boys mind; sex is driving the car and love and friendship are shoved in the trunk. She however had this beautiful flaw about her. Something I felt very in tune with. She was wrapped in the most beautiful package, but I knew on the inside she felt broken. I too felt broken and knew what it looked like.
The second week of class carried a light of hope. A light I was content never seeing. Brenda walked in alone and looked me in the eyes as if she was mentally throwing herself at me. Kevin came dragging in shortly after like a wounded dog.
After class I walked out with him and he informed me she had dumped him. I found no sympathy for him, but faked it anyway.
Days following, Brenda continually let me know she was interested; days that were beginning to weigh heavy on me like being at the bottom of a dog pile.
This was my broken at its best. Truth was I did not feel worthy of her attention or of anyone’s. I was afraid to love. I was afraid I was impossible to love. I was paralyzed by what I saw as inevitable rejection. Even tracing back to early childhood I often spent time dusting for fingerprints; trying to find who was guilty for making me this way. All I ever found were my own.
Days before the last day of class; our teacher informed us the last day of class would be spent at an arcade to celebrate our passing. This was possibly my last chance to ask her out.
She seemed worried I would waste my last opportunity. She had worked hard to build any connection with me in the few opportunities she had.
I worked on my approach over and over in my mind. What I would say to her. How she would respond. The only response I could pretend was her turning me down. I worked hard to override that feeling. I pictured her coming home with me from the arcade and for a moment it felt right. That thought made me happy. I scrambled for what I would do if she were to come home with me.
The day before the last day of class, I walked out to the kitchen. My mom was sitting at the kitchen island eating lunch. I stood at the sliding glass door, staring out at our rusty old tin shed stuffed to the gills with 70’s style décor, my childhood toys and common lawn equipment. The front doors of the shed had come off their tracks. One had fallen inward and rested at a tilt against a white wicker rocking chair, with pea green padding. The other had fallen forward and rested on the overgrown grass beneath it, that I was too lazy to move to mow under. I informed my mom that I was going to clean the shed. She was thrilled I had taken initiative to do something nice for her. It was a story she told for months; a touching story of a son doing something nice for his mother without being asked. What she didn’t know was I was cleaning it out in the terribly, highly unlikely, ridiculously idiotic chance I could make out with Brenda in that shed. I worked feverishly. I purged things from my childhood like they were useless obstacles.
I spent hours out there, until I made enough room for a palette of blankets. I lied on the palette, pretending Brenda was next to me. I pretended to kiss her. I thought about how it would feel to touch her breasts. My hand felt the fleshy heat as my imagination soared.
How in the world it ever made sense to lure a girl out to a shed on a day with temperatures in the low 100’s is something I can no longer get my head around.
At the arcade, my nerves were pinging around my ribcage; my body tingled with fear. I spent my time playing video games and looking over at her to see that she and her friends were looking at me. They whispered, giggled and pushed her towards me. They all wondered when I was going to make my move and if not, they were literally pushing her to.
Kevin was there, but I had no concern for his feelings. He was of no impact and offered no assistance, watching me flail in the deep waters.
My fear emerged victorious; retaining the title like a storied champion. Her and her friends seemed as disappointed in me as I was.
I watched her leave in her mothers’ car until the car was completely out of sight. My mother picked me up after eating lunch and dropped me off at home. I sat in the shed for hours in tears. I picked up the pallet and hid it in the shed.
Thoughts and dreams of Brenda eventually morphed into countless other crushes and she faded from my mind.
Years later she started attending my high school. We would pass in the hall with little effort from either of us to say anything.
In my senior year she was in my art class. At that time I was neck deep in a marriage, a child, and a heavy crush on someone who wasn’t Brenda or my wife. I saw Brenda every day and thought, she is without question the most beautiful girl I had ever seen; a thought that ran through my mind like a fact. There was no attachment of desire. If you’d had asked me if she was the most beautiful girl I had seen, I would answer you in the same manner as if you had asked me if the sky was blue.
At my senior graduation, I can recall this memory perfectly: We were at the school in our caps and gowns. She walked up to me, looked at me with those ridiculously blue eyes and said, “Well, Robby, this is it.” She gave me a warm and sincere hug that I hoped would never end. She said, “Have a great life.” I mustered up a, “You too.” I am sure I have never recovered from that moment.
Yes, technically life now began. Now we go figure out who we are and what we are going to do to make our way in this life. It was a terrifying thought and one it seems I will chew on all my life.
To this day I hold Brenda very dear, though memories of her rarely show up. During the summer of nineteen eighty-four she taught me a lot about who I am, even though I have always hated the answer.