I was awkward at 17 but JB, a busboy in the restaurant where I worked, had me beat. A greasy-haired oddball with a loud, weird voice, a serious case of acne and too-short knit pants, JB stood out.
My older sister got pregnant in high school and apparently the remedy for that is to confine the younger sister and accuse her of things like smoking and having sex. When I’d have had the opportunity, sheltered as I was, I can’t imagine.
Perhaps it seemed to JB that our mutual awkwardness made us a good match. For whatever reason, he became fixated on me.
JB would come by the hostess stand and say hello, tell me I was pretty, talk about his life, ask about mine. This was all new to me and I had no clue how to handle it. Kids are like kites, you let them go a little at a time or they’re lost when they break free. I was a lost kite.
One day JB started asking me out. I refused but he continued because I hadn’t yet learned how to be firm. He asked if I had a boyfriend. I told the truth — no — but said we could only be friends. Honesty about the boyfriend was a big mistake. If only I could go back and help my younger self, poor bewildered thing.
Every day he asked, naming various restaurants and asking if I liked that kind of food. He was pitiful, really, and that didn’t help because I knew about not fitting in. There was no attraction but I felt sorry for him and he flustered me with his weird demeanor and loud attention.
He begged. “Please, just go out with me once and I’ll leave you alone.” He was beginning to wear me down because his hanging around the hostess stand was attracting attention from the waitresses. “Oooh! JB really likes you!”
The day he broke me started out like any other. He came to the cash register and asked if I had heard a song by Atlanta Rhythm Section called “So Into You”. I had, of course. “I listen to it a lot and think of you,” he said and then crooned in his high, strange voice, “I am so into you, I can’t think of nothin’ else!”
He then informed me he’d made up a dance to go with it and had spent hours working on it. Would I like to see it? “Um, not here.” “No, it’s fine. . .” And he performed in the lobby while waitresses stopped mid-order to stare and cooks leaned out over the order window. “Gonna love you all over, over and over. . .”
Maybe, I reasoned like a hapless person in crisis, I can make a deal. I’ll go on one date, he’ll leave me alone, and this nightmare will end. I see from today’s vantage point this was not the answer but let ye who has not been sheltered and then hotly pursued by JB cast the first stone.
He didn’t have a car so he arrived to pick me up in a taxi. I’d never been in one before so that was novel. And weird. And totally fitting. We went to a new seafood place and he was beside himself with excitement. He ordered fancy drinks and appetizers. This was costing him a fortune.
I tried to be polite but knew I’d made a terrible mistake when he kept telling me he was so happy to be there with me. This was the devil I didn’t know and I should’ve stuck with the other one. I’m blocking a lot of the actual date. The human brain has ways of protecting its owner. But I got through it and hoped that was that.
When I arrived for my next shift, the place buzzed. Oh God, I realized instantly, I hadn’t sworn him to silence and he’d told everyone. The questions came like a hailstorm. “Did you go out with JB?!” “He’s saying you went out with him. Is that true?” I said no, of course not. I can only reason that, because JB was so strange, they believed me. I was like a 5-year-old who first discovers lying is a superpower and doesn’t yet understand there is always a cost.
I was a storm of emotions: shame, guilt, anger, confusion. I knew he would ask why I said we didn’t go out so I decided to pretend we hadn’t. It’s not a lie if you believe it, right? I spent hours coaching myself to insist it had never happened. “Why did you tell people we didn’t go out?” he would ask. “Because we didn’t,” I would answer. I didn’t see any other way. I was as ready as I was ever going to be.
I walked into the place two days later and, again, electricity was in the air. “Cindy! Did you hear about JB? It was crazy!” From the multiple accounts being hurled at me, I gathered people told JB of my denial and began teasing him about it. He, of course, insisted the date had happened but I’d already won the confidence vote so they mocked him relentlessly.
Nobody believed him. He was totally alone (and loud and weird) and, now, very upset. The cooks were the worst, laughing and telling him to give up and buy a sex doll because he’d never get a girlfriend.
When he could take no more, he ran up to the order window and pushed all the plates of food back into the kitchen, ruining all the condiments on the line as well as the 10 dinners waiting for pickup. “Fuck you!” he screamed, “Fuck you all! Fuck your mommas and your daddies and your brothers and your sisters! FUCK YOU!” Spittle and tears were flying. I broke JB. He was fired on the spot.
I listened to this story and concentrated on maintaining my facial expression, reminding myself to keep my own counsel on this situation. Forever. This, I solemnly swore, is the secret I would take to my grave.
Several months later I met Eric. A cook at the restaurant, now home from college, he smiled and I was in love. We’d gone out only a few times when he brought up a crazy story he heard about JB and me. “I knew him, you know,” the man of my dreams informed me, “He went to my high school.” I froze.
He proceeded to tell me a story of JB picking a fight with a football player who was in a leg cast. The jock chased JB around the cafeteria, hobbling on crutches and hitting him with the cast. JB lost the battle miserably, along with any shred of dignity he might once have possessed.
Again, JB’s weirdness saved me. I didn’t even have to deny the date because the question was never asked. Sins of omission are pretty darn close to dishonesty, I know, but please give me this technicality because I like believing I’ve never lied to my life partner.
I’ve been married to Eric for many years and I don’t keep secrets for three reasons:
1. I was raised Catholic so I’m racked with guilt.
2. I don’t have the greatest memory and have discovered that lying requires a lot of energy.
3. I still feel bad about poor JB.
I never told the truth about JB because I promised myself to remember it all another way. My husband is learning the facts at the same time you are, dear reader, and I guess it’s kind of a relief.