The Southside Stories – Chapter 2

In junior high school, I wasn’t fat or unpopular; I was a nerd but the nerd that people knew and liked. I was heavy into extracurriculars and liked being in the mix. I dated sporadically; less than more so my other female acquaintances.  The majority of the guys in my school were dirty, inappropriate, unattractive, straight up ghetto, superficial (well, boys at that age don’t believe in personality yet. You’re either hot or not), or just straight up stupid. Even at that age, regardless of looks, I couldn’t handle dumb boys. Plus, my vocabulary was expansive before I entered high school. I started at eleventh grade level English as a sophomore!

But Carlos Perez…there was something about him that made him memorable. Apart from his hotness – chiseled physique, height of six feet (I’m only average height but something about immense height was damn sexy even back then and more so now), honey skin complexion, Puerto Rican (cannot stand Dominican men especially as a Dominican woman; more on that later), hazel eyes, wavy black hair that I imagined running my fingers through, and he was in honors classes like me, but a year older.

I saw him roaming the hallways like the mayor of the school and I admired him. He was always friendly, courteous, and gentleman-like. And he was only fourteen! I was in a constant state of like with him but I kept it to myself. I wasn’t the only girl in the school pining away for his affections. Surprisingly, he never dated any of the girls in my school; I heard rumors he dated girls from Christ the King, the Catholic school in Queens that apparently had the “hottest girls.” I guess the girls in our grade (including me) weren’t attractive enough for the guys there.

My interactions with Carlos Perez were few and far in between. Since the school didn’t mix classes and grades, I mostly saw him in the yearbook club. He was the Editor in Chief while I was in charge of the culling all of the students’ pictures and providing a unique style to have illustrated the senior superlatives as well as any photos of senior events.

First conversation: “Do you want the baby pictures next to the current photos or on their own spread with their names on them?” I said.

“Their names on them works,” he said. He smiled politely. As did I. I slinked away to my station on the far corner of the room, by the doorway to duck out as soon as we were done. He always stayed late and I didn’t have the mental energy to control this immense crush that was more than me; he was a mystery, intriguing, nice, smart, and older.

Our conversations never went further than yearbook related stuff. Surprisingly, he even asked me to sign his yearbook when he graduated. I signed it, “Good luck in high school. You will go far. Yours truly, Jasmine Cruz.”

I couldn’t put down the “Keep in touch” that most people do because I barely knew him but I so did want to keep in touch with him.

After he read it, he hugged me, kissed me on the cheek and said, “Thanks. Take care.” I never saw him again. I stalked him on Facebook when the social networking site came on the scene; I learned he was married with three kids with a woman he met in college. A little part of me died but the crush never went away.

In college, I was so intensely focused on graduating (being the only person in my nuclear family to have a college degree was a lot of pressure) that I didn’t even notice men. Some guys tried; I had my share of short term relationships. My first boyfriend was in high school; it was my junior year. He was my first. I wasn’t in love but I did care about him immensely.

Even though I knew Carlos Perez was married with kids, I never forgot about him.

I was dumbfounded and forced myself to speak as we stood on the corner together, forgetting I had come from my mother’s funeral.

“Hi,” I said, hoping I wasn’t blushing hardcore.

“It’s so good to see you! What brings you back? I haven’t seen you since, what? Junior high school?”

“That’s right,” I said.

“You look great,” he said, feeling his eyes roam from bottom to my face. My body temperature raised a few degrees. And he aged so well. For a thirty year old, his physique was just as tight (I could tell on his arms as the veins flexed when he gestured while talking to me) and he was forming an adorable crow’s feet at his eyes. I couldn’t lose myself in his handsomeness right now; conversation, now.

“Um, I’m good. Well, actually, not really. I, uh, came back for my, um, mom’s funeral. She passed away uh, this past weekend.”

He hugged me again; I tried hard to keep my knees from buckling. I needed some hydration fast.

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” he said. “What happened?”

“Liver failure.”

“Cancer?”

“Alcohol.”

“Oh,” he said, his gaze to the ground. He looked at me and said, “At least she’s out of pain, right?”

“I guess so,” I said. I didn’t want to go any further into how I felt so I said, “What’s up with you?”

“I’m on my way home,” he said. “Came back to the ‘hood. You know how it is.”

“No, I don’t. Tell me. Where do you live now?”

“Well, I don’t know if you know this, but I’m divorced now. We got joint custody, the house, and the car.”

Does he know that I stalk him?

“The whole suburb thing didn’t work out for you?” I cocked my head to the side, losing myself in his hair.

“I’m a Billyburg boy; I couldn’t handle the falseness, that whole world boggled my mind. And my wife, I mean, my ex-wife was sold on that universe. Like if that’s the way it should be, as if there wasn’t a choice to live any other way. It drove me crazy. So I let her have it all. But I call my kids and see them every other weekend.”

I couldn’t believe this. Was the universe playing a trick on me? I braced myself; I wanted some comfort but I didn’t want to push myself up on him and I needed to process this. Especially tell my father about him too.

I had to ask – “How long ago was the divorce?”

“A year ago; it was amicable. We are still good friends but realized we wanted different things.”

“Oh, I see,” I said. I didn’t know what else to do with myself at this point. Here I was, talking to my only school girl crush and I wanted to run away! What was wrong with me?

“Well, listen, I was on my way to my home…mourning and all..I’d like to catch up with you some time again, if and when you’re available.”

“Oh God, I’m sorry. I was talking your ear off and you just came from a funeral. I’m sorry,” he said, gesturing madly. “Here’s my card.” He handed me a sleek looking gray business card with Carlos Perez as the header and underneath, the title, Real Estate Agent.

“My personal number and email address are on there. How long will you be in town?”

“I don’t know yet,” I said. “I could stay for as long as I want. I gotta figure it out. Can I call you tomorrow?”

“Of course,” he said, smiling, politely. I remembered the smile very well. My insides were turning into mush. I had to get out of there.

“I’ll get in contact with you,” I said, hailing a taxi cab. Distraction will help me through this. The taxi cab was quicker this time around. Thank goodness for that.

“I look forward to your call,” he said. He opened the door for me. We exchanged a quick kiss on the cheek and hug goodbye.

“It was great seeing you,” I said.

“Likewise.” Smile. I needed to get to my hotel room, stat!

“I’ll call you!” I said out the car window and waved to him.

I held his business card to my chest and then put it away in my pocket book.

How the hell was I going to pull off a civilized conversation with him on the phone? I was in junior high school all over again.

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