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A Freshman Crush
Written January 19, 2005

 

When first I went to college, I was one of those nerdish people called a "grind."  I worked hard on my studies, but my social skills were severely underdeveloped.  So it was not surprising that I reacted the way that I did when I met Nancy.

Like me, she was a freshman who dined at Oberlin's Dascomb Hall.  But she was not like me.  She was attractive, talented, personable, and outgoing.

I used my awkward first-year German to write a poem (which I kept to myself, of course).  It told of arising before dawn on a cold morning, before anyone else was up, and thinking of the one who "likes every one, not merely every task.  When she speaks, she smiles beautifully, she laughs merrily.  She creates joy."

For the purpose of warm remembrance, I made a little list of her "crimes" of affability.  One time at lunch, she and I got into some sort of discussion about everyday chemistry, and she ran up to her room to fetch some pH paper with which to settle the question.  Another time at dinner, she struck up a conversation with me.  She was enthusiastic on Wednesday, remembered on Thursday to ask me how my basketball broadcast had gone, and wished me a "happy breakfast" on Monday.  I noted that I was becoming addicted, because each smile, each pleasant bit of conversation, led to the desire for more.

I wrote in my notebook, as if I were writing to her:  "Throughout this semester, I've been observing you admiringly from a distance.  At first, of course, the reason was that you are a very pretty girl, especially when you smile; such attractive friendliness can't help but warm a frozen Oberlin heart.  But it soon became apparent that there was something more.  You are both friendly and industrious.  You are both popular and a good student.  You have high ideals, intelligence, and talent — yet you make no show of it, and you try to remain as genuinely interested in other people as you can.  You don't sacrifice scholarship for relaxation, for to you both are great fun, and you find time to do justice to both.  Enthusiastically you sail through your days, brightening the lives of those who share those days with you.  And my life, too, has been brightened — and saddened."

Why saddened?  Because she was out of my league.  "You wouldn't want me.  Not very happy; not very much fun; not even very friendly.  Serious-minded.  Introvert.  A shadow on your sunniness, a hindrance."  It would be another year before I even got up the self-confidence to start dating.

Was I in love with Nancy?  Not really.  I didn't actually know her that well.  At one point I noted,

I love her smiles,
     Not her —
The song,
     Not the singer.

But still she inspired poetry in me, like this spontaneous and undisciplined rhapsody (in blue) from April 1966.  It was perhaps prompted not only by the unusually fine spring weather but by the color of her eyes and of a velvet dress that she sometimes wore to dinner.

 

The sky, blue sky, the Oberlin sky!

Nothing constrains you today:  rise high!

     Over Peters and King, happy sky, soar free!

     A brilliant blue backdrop for every green tree

And the red tile roof of the Quad!

Why's the morning this morning so cloudless and clear?

That's easy:  it shines because Nancy is here!

Her presence would shame any cloud far away,

For what cloud would dare cloud a girl who's so gay

And so pretty whenever she smiles?

Golden!  Laughing, blue, gold and blue,

Sunlight and smiles and happiness, blue,

"Hi, Jim!"  "Good morning!"  Her gold and the blue,

Sparkling, golden, the sky's a bright blue,

     Nancy!

 

"Jim," if you're curious, has no special meaning here; the name is used generically to denote another fellow student.

About the same time, wallowing in my unrequited longings, I imagined myself as an unworthy trinket.  I filled several pages of my notebook with the following allegory in four chapters.

 

Thou Hast No Need for Me, My Love

A lovely lady well deserves
     A lovely, graceful song,
A verse that glides with flowing ease
     As flows the stream along.

But, as in Oberlin the one
     And only stream's Plum Creek,
So is my art most limited:
     With ballads must I speak.

So then, fair Nancy, listen well
     To what I have to say.
It's not a love song that I sing
     In my imperfect way,

But a sigh in th'night, a lonely sigh
     That longs for what can't be.
Take heed, dear princess, that thou might know
     How some of us hold thee.

I

In good King Anselm's realm there stood
A castle built of stone;
A goodly, worthy home it was
For Anselm's royal throne.

And high in th'southeast tower, where
The sun's rays were the best,
Was the workshop of the Jeweler,
Who a wondrous skill possessed.

From precious gems and metals rare
The jeweler fashioned rings,
Tiaras, brooches, bracelets, torques,
And other beauteous things

     So wonderful that every maid
     Who saw them gasp'd with awe.
     They all agreed the Jeweler's craft
     Was fine as e'er they saw.

     Of course, these regal works of art
     Were not for common maids;
     'Twas only those of royal blood
     Could wear these pearls and jades.

     So thus it was, from time to time,
     King Anselm's daughters fair
     Came to the Jeweler's workshop
     To choose a trinket there.

Now ev'ry jewel the Jeweler made
Was perfect, it was true;
But there were some that lacked the fire
Of Inspiration's due.

For instance, once a silver disk
He on his workbench laid
And formed from it a plain round Brooch.
Though 'twas expertly made,

It had no art; 'twas but a disk.
He almost was ashamed.
Small wonder then that in the shop
It long remained unclaimed.

     Back in a corner dark and bare
     Lay the Brooch, so lonely there,
     Inferior, and unaware
     That soon would come a princess fair —
His Nancy.

II

Her name was Anne.  The Princess Anne,
A kind and lovely girl,
King Anselm's favorite daughter and
The castle's loveliest pearl.

Not quite so beautiful as some,
Yet with a charming face
Which shone and sparkled when she smiled,
She radiated grace.

But more than that, her inner heart
Was beauty's true abode:
With happiness her heart was filled,
With kindness it o'erflowed.

     One morning came the princess to
     The Jeweler's shop to browse,
     To see if any trinket there
     Her fancy would arouse.

     The Brooch was sleeping, caring not
     That anyone was there,
     For no one cared for him, and so
     He could for no one care.

     But suddenly a sunbeam shone
     Upon him, and he woke
     And glimpsed the Princess Anne!  Forthwith
     His cold heart, smitten, broke.

"A lovelier princess never breathed!
But next to her, I'm sand.
But what?  She sees me!  And she smiles,
And takes me in her hand!"

“O little Silver Brooch, you have
A pure and simple charm.
I like you.  See, your sheen is bright,
Your visage clear and warm.”

"She smiles!  She's beautiful!  She laughs
And soft caresses me!
Now lays me down again, yet smiles.
My princess, I love thee!"

     So, in his corner dark and bare
     Ecstatically the Brooch did share
     The joy of those few moments rare
     When he was with the princess fair —
With Nancy.

III

There was a Necklace next to him,
To whom he breathed this word:
"I know no princess nice as Anne."
The Necklace quite concurred:

She speaks most kind to ev’ryone,
Including you, I see.
But surely you can't think she’s fond,
Especially, of thee?

For there are many other jewels
Far handsomer, it’s plain.
"Ah yes, but give me time and soon
Her love alone I'll gain."

     With what, plain Brooch?  Art thou so good
     She’ll running come to thee?
     "Oh no, but Anne is mild and looks
     For inner quality.

     For outer handsomeness and show
     She doesn't really care.
     Simplicity and purity
     Are what she values rare."

What?  Rare, thou say’st?  But are these rare?
No, there are many pure
And simple handsome brooches here.
Why should she thee endure?

"O strangling Necklace, speak not so!
‘What would she want of me’?!
Have I not my own merit yet,
My own, though small it be?"

Of course, my friend; a fellow good
Thou art, and shalt remain.
And Anne has seen that.  But the point
I labor to make plain

Is this:  You’re not among the best.
And surely it is clear
That from the best will Princess Anne's
Best-favored brooch appear.

     Back in the corner dark and bare,
     The Silver Brooch did hardly dare
     To think about those words.  His prayer
     Was that he'd win the princess fair —
His Nancy.

IV

He failed, of course.  He had no chance.
The Necklace spoke the truth,
For there were many finer jewels
To flatter Anne's fair youth.

The Silver Brooch could flatter not.
Though sparkle as he might,
The quality he simply lacked.
Thus hopeless was his plight.

And Anne did choose a lovelier brooch
(The Necklace said she would)
And wore this brooch her whole life long,
A life both blest and good.

     And when the Silver Brooch did chance
     To see Anne's happy face,
     He thought of how she'd smiled at him
     And of her winning grace,

     And pain obsessed him, for he'd learned
     Both how to love and care.
     Deranged with longing, all he could
     Was worship.  Thus his prayer:

     "Thou hast no need for me, my love,
     Thou hast no need for me;
     But yet, by all the stars above,
     I have great need for thee.

"Though help thee I cannot, my dear,
Though help thee I cannot,
By thee there could, if thou wert near,
Great help to me be brought.

"But that could never be, nor should.
I mustn't trouble thee,
For thou art happy, sweet, and good,
Quite happy without me.

"So then, as faintly in the night
Doth toll the distant bell,
I say to thee, in whispers light,
Goodbye; fair Anne, fare well."

     So, in his corner dark and bare
     Lay the Brooch, and perished there;
     For, having touched the princess fair,
     How could he for another care
But Nancy?

Sure enough, the real-life princess did choose another brooch.  By the time we were juniors, she was married.

But I too moved on, to meet other talented and beautiful and friendly females and to long hopelessly for them.  As I wrote:

"I like you.
I can't have you.
I can't forget you."

TBT

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