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How a Youthful Crush Can Crush You Forever 

Why it's still so painful all these years later.

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High school yearbook image with a hand drawn heart and scratches on top of face
Alvaro Dominguez
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It’s hard to believe that an adolescent crush can still hurt all these years later. But it does.

When I entered middle school in the seventh grade, I was terrified. While I had friends, boobs and a brand-new loose-leaf binder, I still felt ill equipped to handle the dangerous hallways of Ditmas Junior High School. It was the ’80s and my hometown of Brooklyn had gone downhill. Many families chose to send their kids elsewhere. But mine figured, nah, it’s just up the block; she’ll do fine.

I met my friends on the corner, and we walked together to the gated schoolyard. Most of the kids wore tight-fitting clothes and spoke loudly. My friends and I, the honors program students, stood quietly in a corner, waiting to enter the building. My palms were always sweaty. It was probably on the second or third day that I saw him — Damian.  I looked twice to make sure he was real. Those green eyes the color of lily pads, piercing through his black feathered hair — I had to stop on the stairwell to catch my breath; as the saying goes, he literally took it away.

He was talking loudly and smiling with his friends, and I thought, Maybe middle school isn’t so bad, after all. And that was that. My entire seventh grade was spent trying to get a glimpse of Brooklyn’s version of James Dean. Even when I had a boyfriend, even when he had a girlfriend, I just liked the way I felt when I was around him.

Crushes get a bad rap, I think. Sure, they drop you on your head when you least expect them to, but that ride up, that adrenaline they give you every day, that is worth something! I started wearing makeup and better clothes. I stopped being so afraid to go to school. I got his attention. I wasn’t subtle, and he noticed. This, while, in matching denim jackets, he walked arm in arm with a cool girlfriend as I just waited patiently in my Ralph Lauren sweater and pink oxford shirt.

One day, I thought, he will be mine.

Starting high school, I lost my adolescent paunch and caught glimpses of Damian in the hallway, sullen and seductive as ever, always surrounded by girls. It was a rainy spring day when the phone rang. I had my own line and picked up the cream-colored receiver.

“Is Elana there?” I heard in a low voice. “This is she,” I said, wondering who was calling.

He claimed to be Damian, but I knew better, I was used to prank calls and cruelty. There wasn’t a soul from my past who didn’t know about my Damian obsession.

“OK if you are Damian, then…”  I began, then asked him everything I knew about him, his parents’ names, you know, stalker stuff. Each one he got right. It was indeed him! The next day I was sitting in English class, doodling my name in big letters, when I saw those laser eyes as he stood in front of the class. He was holding a wooden pass to get him out of class and pointing to it.  I got a pass, too. And then, I met the cutest guy in the world in the hallway. The next few weeks were a blur of joy. He came to my house; I went to his. Lots of kissing, hickeys even, but no real dates. Just hanging out, listening to music. Unforgettable.

Ironically, it was me who ended it. He wasn’t a one-woman man, and he had so many other love interests. I wanted more. They say big crushes can break you, push you down until you crumble. But this one did the opposite.

Damian was gentle and soulful and made me feel like I was worthy of love. I never did before. I was confident now, and it spread like wildfire in igniting my best self.  It was as if his light and beauty were transferred to me.

Soon he was no longer in my school or in my thoughts. We reconnected decades later on Facebook. He was married, liked my writing and wanted to meet for lunch and discuss it. For a minute I was brought back to that teenager by the phone in disbelief that he wanted me in his world. But I was older now and not sure I was ready to see him again.

Then the unthinkable happened. He passed away, a few weeks shy of his 53rd birthday. How could he no longer be here? COVID-19 takes its toll in ways we can’t fathom. It was as if those four years of obsession were ripped out of me, and I am lost and wobbly without them. Who would I be if the green-eyed light of Damian never entered my universe?

He was supposed to be there forever, and a part of him always will be. The part that made this pudgy girl feel beautiful, the part that made me realize that I was worthy, the part that listens to Led Zeppelin with a careful ear.

He was the first good-looking guy to truly take notice of me, and somehow that brief romance and huge crush changed me forever. Now, decades later, I am truly crushed.

Elana Rabinowitz is a freelance writer and ESL teacher. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Woman's Day and many other publications. Samples of her work can be found at https://elanarabinowitz.weebly.com/Twitter @ElanaRabinowitz.

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