How cliché would it be? “You probably don’t remember me from high school, but I thought of your name the other day and thought I’d look you up.”
In fact, you definitely don’t remember me from high school. You’d have no reason to. I passed you in the halls once in a while. The art room was near my locker. I think you went to the Philadelphia Art Institute when you graduated, right? I have no idea how I would know that.
I do know that I learned your name from the newspaper. There was that section of The Atlantic City Press made for kid/teen-related things. Integrated with the masthead, they put a question of the week along with photos of kids who answered. You were one of them. I looked at the picture so closely I could see the halftone pattern on the paper. I forget the question and your answer, but I remember seeing your name and thinking, “This is Stacy.” From that point, it took years to convince me that Stacy is more commonly spelled with an “e.” I just assumed everyone else didn’t know the grace and creativity that came with dropping the “e,” a decision I’m sure you had little to do with in reality.
My mom would take us to get haircuts in the Superfresh shopping mall—was it called Master Cuts? Or Super Cuts? Something with “Cuts.” There’s no Superfresh or salon there anymore. The Eckerd you worked at is still there, sort of, in the form of a bigger standalone Rite Aid. It was the only good part of getting my hair cut. I’d sneak out for a minute to run down to Eckerd and buy some Skittles from you. It wasn’t easy since I had no money. If mom didn’t give me any, I just browsed a lot.
I had a bunch of hair then—it was all over the place and probably looked terrible. My mom talked me into cutting it, then I gelled it into place with what may as well have been glue. It was so immovably stiff that they would wash my hair when I went to get it cut, which added $5 to the total. I distinctly remember one week when my mom insisted I wash it beforehand and it stuck out—straight out—dry and soft. I was totally embarrassed, and I weighed the option of going to Eckerd against hiding my horrible hair. I went. You were expectedly nice and pretty.
As you gave me my change, you touched my hand. It wasn’t a creepy, sweaty-palms, horny excitement, but it would be 5 years until I would hold a girl’s hand romantically for the first time, and this was the closest I’d had. There was no better person to drop change in my hand and brush my palm with her fingertips.
I state firmly that I liked you back then because I have great taste. An arts girl with short hair, a beautiful face, bright eyes, soft lips, occasionally wore glasses, proportional and normal figure, excellent fashion sense for the time we were in. What more could a 15-year-old want?
Acceptance, probably. And friends. And to be able to navigate the halls of the high school, at least.
I did get some friends, but we met at their lockers in the mornings, which took me away from mine, near the art room. It was for the better—I think the kid in the next locker didn’t like me. Then, you graduated, went to the Art Institute, and I don’t know what happened.
S-T-A-C-Y. I typed it in and there you were. It’s silly. We don’t expect those iconic people of the past to actually be out there, breathing and living life. They’re in a museum of memories, under a glass case, frozen in time.
But who wants that for someone they imagined caring about? People change and grow. You have to want the best.
It looks like you have a daughter. She’s beautiful—in different ways than you, of course, but not entirely. She seems to have your eyes and your smile. The one picture of her painting is adorable.
Your hair has grown, but it’s still that wonderful shade sun-kissed brown, fading into blonde with hesitation. You were too creative for a one-word hair color. So I imagined.
I have no idea what you do for a living, but it must be artistic, inspiring, and fulfilling. It has to be.
Projection. That’s all it is.
In this moment, I’ve imagined a fantastic life for you, based on backgrounds in images—pixels that paint a perfect life. I don’t mind not being in it. What are crushes for, if not to show us we can assemble something else?
You should be glad.
My exes have terrible imaginary lives. One’s in an unhappy marriage and another is an alcoholic tramp in Colorado, using her ample cleavage to get free drinks and demeaning herself for a moment of missing contact comfort from her youth.
Your life is awesome: gorgeous mother-of-one doing something imaginative, productive, and helpful; living in a place with a nice back yard for your daughter to play in; and at motherly peace with a bad-girl lip piercing and shoulder tattoo.
For you, things are incredible.
Don’t tell me I’m wrong.