Growing up without a father can be quite perplexing at times. I know that enters into the realm of stating the obvious but, it’s none the less true.
For those of you who don’t know, or for first time readers, my father was not what you would consider to be a ‘good’ man. Rather, the direct opposite. When I was around seven, turning eight, my father was taken out of my life permanently. One day he was there, in the next, he wasn’t. At that young age, all I knew was that my father had done some bad things to us and that the police came and took him away. Like I said, my father was not a good man so, this was in fact, a good thing. Despite what you are about to read.
This did however throw our already tumultuous family further into chaos and fragmentation. As the years passed I would see one sibling or another, tossed from my home by the one and only remaining parent, my mother. She became quite ill shortly after the fiasco of my father. She was diagnosed with Cancer. She battled that Cancer from that early stage in my youth, all the way through to the culmination of high school. I guess you could say I had to grow up quickly, and that’s true but, that being said, with the absence of any stable role model, I was sort of left to my own devices to navigate the tribulations of youth and adolescence.
Specifically, as it relates to this blog post – the romance department.
For me, my infatuation with girls started at a young age. I recall being in grade 4 or 5 so, I must have only been nine or ten years old. That’s when my brain was like “Yep. Girls are neat!” There was a “neat” girl in my class by the name of Mya. I still remember her name. Not so much because of her ‘beauty’ but, more so because of what happened at that time between us. Let me explain.
As I said, I did not have much in the way of stable support to draw from when it came to things like: dealing with the schoolyard bully. Or, needing help with homework. My mom (bless her) was not exactly a scholar. She, from what I now know, dropped out of school at an early age and began giving birth to the five of us over the years. So, there I was, amidst my first real “school boy crush” having no clue what to do.
Every recess was plagued by butterflies punishing my stomach in the best way possible. A fluttering of an already hyper-child-like heart, was a staple during this newly discovered time. Sitting in class was just a torturous. I swear, back then, if you had asked nine-year-old me, if I was in love, I would likely have nodded “yes”. I know, what an idiot right. Silly boy. Well, it gets worse…
So, not knowing what to do, and having very little in the resource department to draw from, I did the only thing that I knew how to do – watch TV and examine “how it’s done”. And that’s exactly what I began to do. For days and maybe even weeks, I watched romantic comedy after romantic comedy. I watched and memorized every budding romance as it developed on the latest episodic program. I was doing everything short of taking literal penned notes. Taking mental note of all of the leading man on screen, and trying to see how I could fit that into my youthful and justifiably inexperienced repertoire.
So far, I learned that the gesture needed to be “big” and “grandiose”. Spectacular in delivery and presentation. Oh, and I needed to up my wardrobe game to something, classy yet, casual. So, at the tender age of nine, I rummaged through my closet to see what I could piece together. We did not have a lot a money growing up so, I had to make do with what I had. What came to fruition was a gloriously heinous combination that at the time, I thought was dapper and fitting of a leading man – me. I dawned a plain white t-shirt, freshly pressed with an iron (yes, I ironed my t-shirt). Overtop of that was a carefully selected sweater vest that I had seen one of the characters on TV wearing (NOTE: It looked better on them). And a clean pair of khaki trousers, complete with a rigid crease down the centre of both legs. I was good to go – or so I thought.
As stated before, we were not at all affluent, and lacked any opulence so, my ability to go out and procure flowers was deemed: Mission Impossible. So, I did the second best thing I knew I could rely on – I drew a picture. As a young person, I often spent time drawing cartoons so, I developed a cheeky little skill at it. I say cheeky because as I got older, I learned how to draw – different things – But that’s a different story all together… I digress. I got busy drawing a carefully crafted caricature, resembling myself, and what I thought Mya looked like. Within that picture, my drawn self was holding a bouquet of flowers (not bad in place of real ones right?) and asking through a crooked smile “Will you go out with me?”.
If you are wondering, yes, there were ‘tic-box’ options of her answer.
The morning of, I woke up ahead of my alarm, and ran to the bathroom so I could beat my sister from getting in there. I had work to do. I had a sink-shower, and began designing the ‘handsome Matt’ that I thought was sure to win over the affections of one, Mya (can’t remember the last name). Today was the day – I was gonna get the girl.
I began combing my hair to one side, dampening my hands and patting my head so as to combat the rogue strands that refused to comply with my plan. After taking a not-so-quick glance at my work in the mirror, I brushed my teeth and stole some of my older brother’s cologne. I’m sure he’d understand. Dawned my black rimmed glasses (yes, I wore glasses then) gave myself a smile, and exited the bathroom.
I ran back to my room and began dressing in the attire chosen the evening before:
Socks? Good to go.
Underpants? Clean and ready for action.
Ironed white t-shirt? Perfect.
Sweater vest? Yes (regrettably).
Note for Mya? Folded and ready for deployment.
Green light: GO! GO! GO!
I descended the stairs like a cat, and in one fluid motion, grabbed my backpack, and escaped through the door to catch my bus. “Let’s go Jeeves! I’m off to see about a girl” … This was of course said silently to myself – I can’t remember the bus driver’s name.
Once I was at school and in class, I sat at my desk, ignoring the work I was supposed to be doing, and practicing my lines in my head. Naively anticipating beautiful May’s words in return. I practiced all the way until the alarm bell rang, informing us it was recess! My time to shine.
I ran to my bag, and withdrew its precious contents. My hand-drawn cartoon, depicting romance at the highest level (I was nine, gimme a break!). It was complete with an envelope that I had found in my mom’s craft drawer. Written with a steady hand and skilled penmanship on the front of the envelope read simply: “Mya”. With a subtle little heart drawn at the end of the “A”. This had to work – I saw it on TV…
I can’t recall how long we were into recess but, knowing now that recess is only about 15-20 minutes, I doubt it was the “forever” it seemed to be in my young mind.
After a short and movie-esq, like pep-talk to myself, I mustered up the courage to wander over, and invade passed her group of friends, weaving through to engage with Mya. I can’t even remember what I said, but I know that it was not playing out like anything I had seen in the movies, or on TV.
I handed her my envelope and began hastily retreating to what I felt was a safe distance to wait, and watch.
I observed as her friends began to huddle around her. All eyes were on the envelope in her hands. She began to open it, and I swear as she was, there was not enough air in the outside world to fill my tiny lungs. My palms became increasingly sweaty, which made it hard to continue sitting on the top of the metal monkey climber bars.
She was now holding my drawing. Reading it. Examining our likenesses. I watcher for her reaction like a hawk searches for movement on the ground. I watched and I watched. I scanned her friends faces, looking for their approval – It never came.
What followed was a steady and progressive stream of laughter and snickering at my expense. Laughter bellowed out from the baseball diamond that were standing on. All of a sudden, I began to feel alone at the top of the world on those monkey bars, and not at all in a victorious way…
Mya’s shoulders were flown back in a fit of hysterics. Her friends soon joined in with that as well. As they rejoiced at the cost of my self-esteem, my heart began to sink. This did not happen to the guy on TV. He got the girl! What the heck did I do wrong? If you ask me now, I think it was the sweater vest (Kidding).
This all came to an abrupt end when the recess bell rang, and I watched as Mya discarded the drawn piece of failed romance onto the ground, before kicking the dirt of the baseball diamond over top of it. Crash and burn Mav…
I did not go inside right away. I waited for the herd of laughing vixens to leave their ball diamond. I then traversed over to the area where love was killed, and gazed down towards the now tattered and torn piece of paper. Covered in dirt and hanging on by threads of paper in certain spots, I picked it up, and walked over towards the garbage. With my shoulders slumped, and my stupid and awkward sweater vest, I placed the once hopeful caricature of me into the trash. I even made sure to smush it down in behind other pieces of discarded rubbish. I did not want to risk anyone else getting a chance to see this failed episode of “Romance With Matt”.
I know my sense of time is way off but, I recall even now to this day, that day at school seemed to sluggishly drag on for what felt like an eternity.
The snickering and laughing did not stop on the ball diamond, Mya and her friends continued to hurl looks towards me in my desk of solitude. Mimicking, with obvious exaggeration, my brief interaction with Mya.
Thanks romance TV – ya, really let me down here.
I continued to take cues from television over the years. It was not as though my siblings were absent by choice, they were also dealing with the painful fallout of our broken home. My mom spent many-a-day stuck inside her pill bottles and sleeping multiple days and nights away. My siblings like I said, were all figuring out their lives and turmoil as well so, TV was sort of it.
TV is where I learned how to “be a man”. I showed me how to slow dance. It informed me of world events and sharpened my lust for knowledge. It helped mold me through different stages of my early life. It was also where I humbly learned the difference between reality, and scripted perfection.
I am going to close this by informing you all that I have learned how to be a little more realistic in my approach to romance – I generally stay away from it now. Safer that way. Being stuck in the thralls of a messy divorce will evaporate any lingering naiveties about romance pretty quickly. It will also evaporate your finances just as rapidly…
I have however learned how to make a napkin rose. That seems to work a little bit better at my age.
Thanks for reading. And remember – don’t believe everything you see on TV…