Christmas 1985— by K. Uffelman
by K. Uffelman
That year the only thing I wanted for Christmas was Steve Harrison.
He was all I could think about from the time I opened my eyes when my third and final alarm went off to the moment I fell asleep with my trig book spread across my lap in bed. He was impossibly gorgeous. His hair was a beautiful brown and he had three lines shaved into the side of his scalp on the right side. A single hoop in his left ear. A perfectly-worn-out army jacket and the most serious expression you’ve ever seen on a 15-year-old.
I was constantly late for my French class as I had to walk by his locker on my way there. If he wasn’t at his locker, I had to pass by several times, hoping to finally catch him. If he was there, and didn’t notice me, I also had to come up with some reason to double-back, in the hope of catching his eye. If he did see me, and nodded his head, or acknowledged me in some other way, I’d have to hide in the girls room for a few minutes after to allow my wildly beating heart to settle before heading to class. Such a trial! On the days that he wasn’t there, even after I’d made a third pass, I felt depressed and worried that maybe something had happened to him. Or maybe he was doing to another girl what I was doing to him, stalking her on the other side of the school building.
I was in love.
“Your ride is here!”
I stuffed a pack of clove cigarettes in my bag along with my oboe, pulled my pea coat on and ran up the stairs from my room in the basement, taking them two at a time. My jump boots pounding out a rhythm.
“Not so loud, Helen! You sound like a rodeo stampede!”
“Right, right, okay, I’m sorry!”
Becky was waiting for me in her mom’s K car in the driveway. She was a year older and had been driving for two months. We had been carpooling to junior orchestra for a couple of years, Becky’s mom usually dropping us off and my mom picking us up, but since Becky had gotten her license everything had changed. For starters, our moms were off the hook for making the 40 minute drive to and from Arlano Hall four times a week. But the biggest deal was that Becky now treated me like a friend, rather than the younger kid she was obliged to ride in the car with. And almost as important, we could now smoke on the way to rehearsal.
The car lighter popped out.
“Here you go, rug rat,” Becky handed the lighter to me, and I lit two clove cigarettes for us, handing her one after taking a long drag on both of them.
“Oh, he’s okay,” I said, rolling down my window and attempting to blow smoke rings.
“Have you made out with him yet, or what?”
Becky was always trying to get me to discuss my romantic exploits and was eager to talk about her own. I would sometimes make things up, so that our conversations weren’t totally one-sided, but I think she could always tell. Lately I’d been getting an earful about her new boyfriend, Evan. He was a year younger but, she assured me, very mature. He was tall and played basketball and, although he was no Steve Harrison, I had to admit he was pretty cute. Becky was a cheerleader and ran with a different crowd and had different dating prospects than me. She told me she preferred dating younger men because they were so grateful and easy to teach. I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant by that but I had an idea.
“When are you going to get some action with Mr. Harrison?”
“Yeah, right. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know I’m alive.”
“Well, maybe if you didn’t wear three sweaters at a time and those awful boots…” and then she pulled her v-neck shirt down a few inches to show off her impressive cleavage and made googly eyes at me, “You should ask him to the Christmas tolo!”
“I am definitely NOT asking him to the Christmas tolo, Becky. #1, he probably thinks school dances are dumb, because they are, and #2 he’d never go with me.”
“Stevey, baby, a ‘54 convertible, too, light blue…been an awful good girl.”
“Shut UP!” I laughed, choking on clove smoke.
“Listen, seriously now, what do you have to lose if you ask him?”
“I don’t know,” I sighed, “I can’t even talk when I’m around him. Like, I can’t even say hello. How could I possibly ask him to go to a dance with me?”
“You gotta’ get over this shyness, rug rat. You just care too much about what other people think of you. If Steve Harrison won’t go out with you he’s dumb. That’s not your fault. But how are you going to know if he’s dumb or not if you never give him a chance?”
I didn’t actually follow Becky’s logic, since Steve Harrison could also ask me out if he wanted to. It wasn’t like I was stopping him or anything. I did walk by his locker at least twice every day, and sometimes six or eight times. He had plenty of chances to flirt with me if he was interested. But she was right about me being too shy and caring too much about what other people think.
“I need to stop and pick something up, Helen. Are you going to freak out if we’re a couple of minutes late to orchestra?”
Becky pulled into the Albertson’s parking lot and we walked into the store.
“What do you need to get?” I asked.
“Oh, just some stuff.”
Becky grabbed a box of junior mints while I tried on sunglasses. Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer was blasting over the grocery store speakers.
I followed Becky back to the little pharmacy section at the back of the store, where she stood perusing the condom selection.
“Becky, what are you doing?” I looked around. What if my mom happened to be in the store? I could feel the palms of my hands starting to sweat.
“I need some condoms,” she said. So matter-of-factly. She smiled at me.
“Sure. Cool. Okay.”
Becky made a big show of reading the labels.
“Oooh. Magnums. This is what I need for Evan.”
“Okay, okay, can we go now?” I was trying to figure out what excuse I was going to use to head to the car and not have to stand with her as she made her purchase. I feigned interest in an end cap display of aspirin stacked in the shape of a Christmas tree.
“Sure. You’re going to carry these to the cashier for me.”
“I’m going to do what?” I laughed nervously.
“Come on, Helen! What do you care? You don’t even know the cashier! He doesn’t know you. Who cares what you buy?” Becky’s eyes twinkled, “You can do it!”
“Okay, okay,” I said, reaching for the box, “I’ll do it if it’ll make you happy.”
“It’s not about making me happy,” Becky said, “if you want to do that, you’ll have to carry the condoms on your head.”
“Sure, why not?”
I looked around nervously and then decided I was being ridiculou. Becky was right! I didn’t know any of these people.
I balanced the box on the top of my head and walked toward the front of the store, at first with mincing steps, but soon was strolling. Strolling and smiling. I felt suddenly free. I was 15 years old and walking through a suburban Albertson’s with a box of condoms on my head. If I could do that I could do anything!
Becky was grinning from ear-to-ear, her giant cheerleader smile egging me on. I started humming some bars from Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Snowflakes, which we were supposed to be playing at rehearsal, and making big waltz turns down the cereal aisle. Becky was laughing and clapping as I turned towards her when suddenly her eyes got very big. I turned around to see what she was looking at, and there, right in front of me, was Steve Harrison. Steve was holding hands with Jeannie Ball. Jeannie was older than us, dressed like Madonna, made out with boys in public, and had a reputation for sharp elbows on the dance floor. I was in no way her equal.
“Is this a friend of yours, Steve?” she asked, snickering.
I remembered that I had a box of condoms on my head just as they started to slide. The box fell between us on the floor.
MAGNUM LUBRICATED CONDOMS. THE GOLD STANDARD IN COMFORT AND PROTECTION.
Steve bent over, picked up the condom box, and handed it back to me.
“Thanks,” I got out, and then, making myself walk slowly, headed to the checkout stand and put them on the conveyor belt.
“I’d like to buy these condoms, please,” I heard myself saying out loud.
The pimply cashier shrugged his shoulder and said, “Is that it? That’ll be $2.49.”
“And junior mints, too,” Becky pushed the junior mints next to the condoms and handed me a five-dollar bill.
“Yes, condoms and junior mints.”
The cashier shrugged his shoulders again and rang us up.
“Need a bag?”
“Nah,” said Becky.
“You okay?” she asked when we got to the car.
“I think I am,” I said, a little shocked but smiling, “I just made a fool of myself in front of Steve Harrison and I don’t even care.”
“Um, I think you just guaranteed that he’ll say yes if you ask him to the tolo,” Becky laughed.
I thought she was out of her mind.
But she was right.