The Paragon

Billy Ryder. Just saying his name silently to myself was enough to reduce me to a useless puddle of drool.

Somewhere in the middle of junior high school, I developed one of those helpless, heart-stoppingly painful crushes on a boy with whom I had never spoken.

“…perfect or excellent…” Pair? Uh… Gone (In Billy’s and My Case).

Billy Ryder. He was extremely tall, lanky, and walked with a very graceful loping stride that really got me—right there, you know?
He wore his straight dark brown hair parted on the side, and it was always falling in front of his eyes, which meant that he always had to reach up and gently push it back, or, even better, toss it back with his head.

Oh, how that got to me!
Of course, his face was cute. But the crush clincher was that he was highly intelligent and well-informed, and oh so soft-spoken. What a killer combo.

But Billy Was More Handsome Than Pretty…

Between classes was a very difficult time for me. That is when there was a chance I would have to pass my paragon.

I was terrified that he would spot me, and immediately detect the embarrassing depth of my feelings for him.
I would spot him coming, miles down the hallway, and immediately avert my eyes, hoping that this would prevent the bright red blush that always covered me when he was near.

It never worked; I’d feel the heat burning my face and even my arms. As he grew closer, I would find it hard to walk.
As soon as I knew he had passed, I would have to stop and lean against the wall and wait for the cold sweat to break out.
I hated being so out of control of my feelings and my body.
And my feelings were utterly hopeless. Me, skinny, ugly, nerdy. He, tall, beautiful, and—already with girlfriend!
Here is the worst part:

Said girlfriend used to have crying jags in the girl’s bathroom about problems in her relationship with Billy, and cry on my shoulder while I offered her sympathy! When what I really wanted to do was take her place…
This is just how pathetic this crush was:

In the summers, when our family traveled by car to Chicago, my heart would race and be broken by every Ryder Rental truck we passed.

Billy WOULD Have Been the Right Move!

The Right Move for ME!

By high school, the crush had not faded one whit. Then: The day of The Fiasco.
We Choir kids are lined up in the hallway waiting to go onstage. Boys on one side, girls on the other. I’m next to my good friend Vicky.
Billy happens to be across the hall from us, so I am doing my very best to be invisible. Then, the most horrible, most awful, most dreadful thing happens:
Billy, my paragon, the most perfect boy for me ever put on this earth, leaves his place in line, walks across that hall, straight up to me, stands directly in front of me, looks down at me from his angel-like altitude, and, smiling broadly–at me–says, “Hi!”.
And what does Ms. Suave, Ms. Always-be-prepared, Ms. Grab-your-opportunity-or-it-will-pass-you-by  do with this golden moment?
You do remember my smooth moves with Chuck “Hot Pencils” in Biology class, don’t you?

Yup. You Guessed It.

That’s right.

The first thing I do is cast a panicked look at my friend Vicky, thinking “Surely, Billy must be talking to Vicky. He can’t be saying ‘Hi’ to me.” But Vicky’s back is turned.
Once I realize this, I totally freeze. That’s right. Like a deer in the headlights.
The nightmare I always imagined would happen if Billy ever spoke to me is exactly what does happen:

I am unable to move, or say a single word.
Billy continues to stand there for some moments, looking puzzled. Then, he turns around and goes back to his place in line.
Billy was the student who organized our school’s first Earth Day, adding social consciousness and leadership strengths to his long list of attractive qualities. This rubbed in painfully the gem I had missed out on.
Someone told me years later that my paragon, Billy Ryder, had had a crush on me during those years!

I find that very hard to believe. Wouldn’t it just be so sad if it were true?
Stupid teen years.
Note: No names were changed to protect the innocent. So, Billy, or perhaps Bill or William now, if one of the readers of this blog (Shout out!) happens to be six degrees separated from you, you may finally learn of the awe you inspired! (I think I can feel your virtual cringe from here.)

Hot Pencils

Hot, Hot, HOT!!  Is There Anything Hotter?

Chuck sat next to me at a lab table in ninth-grade Science class.  He was one of the most handsome boys in the school.  He had deepset large eyes, a lovely angular elfin jaw with a cleft chin, and wavy, shiny brown hair that would feel like silk in your fingers—you just knew it.  He was a star on the football team, and, on top of that, he was kind, smart, and funny.

The Handsome Bird, Native to the Philippines. Chuck Looked Nothing Like This.

The Wrestler Known as "Handsome Johnny". Chuck and Johnny Shared Only a Species (If That)

I was a well-defined member of the nerds:  Ugly, skinny, tall, flat-chested, and considered highly intelligent.
Therefore, Chuck and I got along extremely well because there was absolutely zero sexual tension between us.  I, who was paralyzingly shy, felt no shyness whatsoever with Chuck.   I figured that I wasn’t even a girl to him:  I was just a lab partner.

Bet You Thought This Was a Guy

We had a blast that year.  Mr. Call droned on and on, managing to make my favorite subject, Biology, into the most boring topic imaginable. 

Chuck and I would pile up all our textbooks but one which we leaned against the pile, making it a ramp.   We decorated the sides of pieces of chalk and pencil stubs by writing slogans on them:  “Maserati Master”, “Rolling Racer”, etc.   Then, we rolled these nubbins sideways down the ramp, like the Hot Wheels toys, only, of course, we called our version Hot Pencils.   

Take One Ramp...(Minus Chair and Rider)

Pencil Stubs

…Add a Few Pencil Stubs, et Voila!  Teacher's Dirty Looks Forgotten!

It may sound dumb, but our races got pretty spirited—money even exchanged hands at nearby tables.  Once in a while, when my unladylike cackling got out of hand Mr. Call would ask us to tone it down, but other than that, he let us be.
Weekly, the class had a test.  After each one, Mr. Call would read each student’s score aloud.  When the year began, Chuck’s scores, like most of the other football players’, were in the 70s.  As the weeks went on, though, they began a steady rise.  Soon, he was earning high 90s marks, just like mine.

The class began to snicker and openly accuse Chuck of cheating off of me.  I am thankful Mr. Call clarified aloud that Chuck and I were getting different questions wrong. It never occurred to me that Chuck was trying to raise his grades in order to prove to me that he was intelligent—I had always known he was. 

When Chuck began to compliment me–on my clothes, my shoes, my hair—I still didn’t get what was going on.  At last, I couldn’t help but tumble:  One day, just as the bell rang for the end of class, Chuck turned to me, and, very bravely, I now realize, he reached over and gently took hold of my left hand with his right.


Like This, Only Less Attractive and Smiley-Like

I didn’t know what to do!  Here was this wonderful boy, someone I laughed easily with, someone any girl would love to have as her boyfriend, and he was asking me to be his girlfriend!  All I could think was “He’s been confused by the fun we have in class—he doesn’t know what he’s doing—he’s making a big mistake!  He’s on the football team, for crying out loud!  I won’t fit in with his friends!  Everyone will make fun of him!  He will be sorry!  He will be embarrassed!”

By © 2010 by Tomasz Sienicki [user: tsca, mail: tomasz.sienicki at] (Photograph by Tomasz Sienicki (Own work)) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Non-Hot-Pencil-Bodied Geek I Looked Like and Felt Like, Back Then (Or An Example of Terrible Hot Pencil Road Rage)

At the lab table in front of us, Chuck’s friend Michael was watching, waiting to see what would happen.  He had a ringside seat to observe as I, also ever so gently, reached over and disengaged Chuck’s hand from mine.  Then, I just stood up and walked away.

The next day, I acted as if nothing had happened.  Chuck had no choice but to act the same.  How difficult those growing up years can be!

A few years back, I tried to find Chuck in an online high school directory.  I failed.  I wanted to write to him, in case he remembered that incident, so that I could offer him a many-years belated apology for my awful, if unintentional, cruelty.  And maybe, just maybe, I wondered if Chuck was currently unattached…  (Yes, pitiful, I know, but don’t say you’ve never had one of those moments!)

Chuck, wherever you are, thank you for being so sweet and brave, and thank you for the boost your compliments gave me back then.  I wish I had been secure enough to grab the opportunity of knowing you better, but I’m glad I got to be your Hot Pencils partner.  It was a joy.


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