I don’t know when girls start to notice boys but I started my career of boy crushing early. Some say daddy is a girl’s first love but not with me. It was Mr. Rogers. I woke up to that man almost every morning and loved him with a sexless passion that defines a little girl’s first romance with a television character. Once, Lynn and Lynette were talking in the living room about the boys they liked. Eager to get in on the conversation with the girls 12 and 14 years older, I chimed in, “but what about Fred?”
“Yeah, Fred Rogers. He’s on TV.” I sighed dreamily.
They’ve never held that story against me so maybe they don’t remember the giggles and teasing. They’re nicer than I am. I’d tease me mercilessly.
You may already have guessed this but Fred and I didn’t work out. I remember the shock when I saw Mrs. Rogers (Sara Joanne Byrd) the first time. “That must be his mother,” I thought. Surely that old pudgy woman couldn’t be my man’s wife. Imagine my dismay. I wrote a few stories about Fred and me living happily ever after once it was discovered that Mrs. Rogers was actually an axe-murdering neo-Nazi who hated children but my heart wasn’t really in it. With his sad, gentle smile, he let me go. I knew he understood.
There were others, of course. Steve, Jerry, Bob, Alan. Carl was the bespectacled, carrot-haired 14-year-old brother of a girl I knew. Pages of my diary were dedicated to my undying love. Then he gave me a wet willy poolside. Love doesn’t extend to sharing germs. I bid you good day, sir. I said GOOD DAY.
Enter Lynn’s boyfriend, Rod. Thanks to Lynn’s immensely active social life, I was exposed to a parade of young men boasting the fashionable hairstyles and stone-washed jeans of the 80s. They were cute, fun even, but Rod was the first who noticed me. Lynn would be finishing up a call with some other beau in her bedroom when Rod would ring the doorbell. I’d pinch my cheeks, fluff my hair, and slather my lips with Vaseline before flinging the door wide. I was trying for Rita Hayworth or Farrah Fawcett but I probably looked like a female Screech. I’ll pause for a moment while you visualize that.
Rod would enter, pick me up in a big hug, and swing me around. “How’s my girl?” I stammered and blushed, but with him around I was always just fine. I remember once he watched TV on the black Naugahyde sofa-bed couch in the living room, Lynn on one side curled up wearing white short shorts sandwiched between him and the sofa arm. I was sprawled on the left, feathered mullet splayed across his lap and his arm resting on my paisley covered stomach, holding the clicker. Lynn be damned, I knew I had the better end of the deal. What does a young man love more than the clicker? And it was the clicker arm that I had…plus more leg room.
Here’s the deal: It didn’t matter that Rod was a good 15 years older and I was only 8. He was just biding his time with Lynn until I grew up. I knew it, he knew it. Lynn didn’t.
“Tonight Rod’s coming over to take me out. I want you to leave us alone,” Lynn commanded while adding another layer to her Aqua Net helmet.
“Whatever. He always likes it when I’m around.”
“Don’t be a brat. He’s just being nice.”
“Then how come he always brings me something when he visits?”
“He thinks you’re a cute kid. He doesn’t know how annoying you are.”
I rolled my eyes high enough that they brushed my bangs.
Lynn shook the curling iron at me. “Look, I’ll tell Mom you’ve been in my makeup again if you don’t leave us alone.”
“Whatever. He’ll ask for me tonight. You’ll see.”
How many times throughout sibling history has this scene been repeated? Only a quadgooglezillion.
Rod arrived later that evening, long strawberry blond wavy hair fighting with his collar to cover his manly shoulders. His crooked teeth were front and center in his blazing white smile that threatened to eclipse the Phoenix sunshine with its brilliance. He walked through our home, towering commandingly over the insignificance that was my brother and little sisters. Okay, maybe I exaggerate. A little. The important thing is he gave me a hug. “How’s my girl?”
I giggled. “Is that for me?” reaching for the little box in his hand.
“Naw, that’s for your sister today. Where is she?”
Enter Lynn, looking cheap and brash and pretty, with her poofy hair and florescent Cyndi Lauper clothes. She made a beeline to the box in Rod’s hand. “For me?” she twittered. It was a corsage, white ribbons, baby’s breath, and purple irises. It was, indeed, for her. Not for me.
Now, I don’t know why at 8 years old I thought a bunch of steak knives and nail polish would fix my man problem. But I’m a woman of action and women of action need to do something, even if it’s not quite…normal.
Here’s what I know about the rest of the night. Lynn and Rod came back to my home where Lynn whisked him into her love nest, walls painted dark blue, carpet to match, and accented with lava lamps. I suspect Rod lowered his head to kiss Lynn, several inches lower. No doubt her arms were linked around his neck for leverage – after all, she’s only five feet and he was St. Christopher in height. Lynn would’ve closed the door and Rod would’ve nudged her against the waterbed until the padded frame hit the backs of her knees. As she fell to the water mattress, no doubt he fell with her, lips locked and hands wandering.
There are a lot of sensations we excuse while in the throes of passion: pinching, compression, temperature shifts, strange bulges, and, yes, moisture. I wonder how long it took before realizing they were not feeling the juices of their shared love but instead the spray of multiple waterbed mattress leaks. In my imagining, they kissed on the waterbed mattress while birds sang metal power ballads into their burnt out eardrums and geysers of water sprinkled over them, a la Clair de Lune in Ocean’s Eleven. Lynn pushed Rod off her, screaming “what the fuck?” as the water caused her Aqua Net encrusted hair to resemble the sticky melt of burned tire rubber.
What she saw next depended on where she looked first. If she turned on the lights and looked across to her black lacquered vanity, she would’ve seen “I HATE YOU” and “ROD IS MINE!” written in Wet ‘n’ Wild blue or pink sparkly nail polish. The horizontal blinds had “YOU ARE A TERRIBLE SISTER” written in permanent marker across many of the slats. Had she looked on the walls, she would’ve seen crayon pictures I had thoughtfully drawn of her and Rod. Rod looked handsome with a carefully drawn bowtie and smile. In her crayon picture, she was either headless or looked like a dragon. I liked variation.
As she stormed out of the room to tattle to our parents, she might’ve considered stopping in our shared bathroom – but she didn’t. If she had, Lynn probably would’ve slipped on the Paul Mitchell hair products I poured on the laminated floor. A visit to the closet would’ve revealed to her that I had carefully scissor shredded her tunics in a way that was actually quite fashionable in 1985 although still probably not appreciated.
Mother and Dad were watching Nightline when she stormed in and whined her whiniest, wielding the steak knife I’d left behind as a final threat. Mother and Dad were unmoved. They were probably watching something about postal employees on rampages or Prince Andrew getting married. When she continued to rant, Mother fixed her eyes on Lynn and said, softly, “why are you complaining to us about your sister? Aren’t you the one with a man in your room?”
I don’t know how long Rod dated my sister. It seems like months, which would make him a contender for Future Mr. Ex-Brother-in-Law but it was probably only weeks and their liaison ended not long after I redecorated her room. The breakup had nothing to do with me but more because Lynn had moved on to another man – and forgot to tell Rod about the change in the program. Recently I found a Christmas card he sent my parents years after he and Lynn broke up. He wrote on the outside flap, “Merry Christmas, Jennifer! I miss you!”
That was all I needed to remind me of this story…and to confirm that he always did like me best.