Author’s note: these memories are extremely old. I’ve done my best to convey the emotional truth of this story, but I’m sure some of these details are not perfectly accurate. Names and other details have been changed.
In the summer of 1981, my friend Jenny, who lived next door, had a friend from Northern California visit for a couple of weeks.
Her name was Candice, and she went by Candi. She was my first — and biggest — childhood crush. That summer, the Stars On 45 medley was blowing up, and whenever it came on my transistor radio, I’d sing “sugar, ah, honey honey, you are my candy girl” from the deepest well of my little first crush having heart. Listen, do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell? Maybe she would be my candy girl, whatever that meant (holding hands, I was pretty sure). I could sing it right in front of her and she didn’t even know! Delightfully devilish, young Wil.
We were playing in the sprinklers in Jenny’s front yard, when her mom called them in for lunch before they went to the zoo. (The kids next door got to eat all the stuff I wanted: Frosted Flakes, Kool-Aid, Ding Dongs, Otter Pops, everything that was marketed to kids that I wasn’t allowed to have because something something sugar. Here’s some carob. It’s exactly like chocolate, except it’s waxy and flavorless and all kids hate it. Enjoy!) I went home to get something for myself and figure out the rest of my afternoon, until they got back.
So with blades of grass stuck to my feet and legs, my hair smashed down by sweat and water, and this fluttering in my stomach that was new to me, I ran out of the summer heat and into my house. The swamp cooler was doing its best to cool the house down, which left a lot to be desired, if I’m being honest. The kitchen was to my right. The living room was in front of me, and the hallway to our bedrooms and the bathroom was on my left. My dad was in the kitchen sitting at the table with his back to me. He was on the phone with the long cord, and didn’t notice me come in.
It only took a few seconds for me to figure out that he was talking to my uncle, who I thought was the coolest dude on the planet. I inhaled, preparing to ask my dad if I could say hi to him, when I heard that Dad was talking about me.
He was telling my uncle that I had my first crush. And he was making fun of me about it. Behind my back. He was laughing about how I didn’t think anyone knew. He said something about how I was picking my clothes out for the first time, choosing them carefully, brushing my hair, and singing this song over and over. To a normal parent, it would probably be adorable and sweet, but to my dad was a point of shameful weakness to be mocked. He was having a big laugh at my expense, and he was laughing with my favorite uncle.
I was humiliated, embarrassed, and deeply hurt. I felt betrayed. I was instantly aware of my bare chest, wet swimming trunks, skinny legs and arms. I was overwhelmed by shame. I was stupid. I’d been embarrassing myself all summer long in front of everyone, and like the idiot my dad knew I was, I didn’t think anyone knew.