Did you know that Jimmy Cagney never actually said, "You dirty rat?" I didn't.
I was about 14 when I discovered, quite by chance, that it was possible to hook a boy's interest by liking the same music he does, and that common interests can backfire.
John Zimmerman and I were sitting in the hall outside the principal's office at the elementary school, which means either that we had come over there from the Jr. High in order to work on some project, like a drama performance, or that this took place much earlier than I first thought and I was actually 10. Entirely possible.
John was humming a tune which I recognized as "Today's Tom Sawyer" and I started singing the lyrics to his accompaniment. He looked up with awe and wonder in his eyes, and said, nearly breathless, "You like Rush?"
One millisecond prior to his question I did not feel any particular attachment to either that band or that boy. But at that moment, the epiphany of social possibility claimed me as surely as Paul's conversion on the Damascus Road.
I said, "Yeah!"
I think I sat up straighter, which was pure instinct but in the near future would become a deliberate tweak to my curb appeal [breasts].
Looking into his shining eyes I knew that I loved Rush more than any other band, and noticed that John was suddenly covered in a shimmery golden haze of delicious cuteness despite the fluorescent lighting.
I went home and listened to more Rush lyrics until I had them memorized. I probably made my brother tape Rush songs from the radio for this purpose.
(At present I can't recall the title or lyrics of any other Rush song.)
Sadly, our love lasted only about a week. I lamented this sad fact when I told my friend Ivy this story, and she said, "Well, hell, when you're 14 that's about as long-term as you can get," which is true, even more so if you're actually 10.
The turning point in our relationship happened while we were walking home from school together. Okay, now I'm sure that I was 10, because we didn't walk that route in Jr. High. Having the same walking-to-school route was another point we had in common, and it's these little things that cement a relationship. Except that on this day, we came upon a dead rat by the side of the road. It had announced it's presence blocks away, naturally, so we had followed our noses with growing dread and anticipation. We found it.
In a moment of ignorance and distraction, I made the fatal mistake: I did not get shrieky. I did not cry, or hold my nose, or make throwing up noises.
Instead, I picked up a stick at the same moment he did, and poked at the rat.
He didn't notice right away, but at some point it registered and he looked at me. He said nothing at the time. Being a novice I did not understand the import of That Look. Within a couple of days I discovered that it meant I had crossed over the line of acceptable common interests with my beloved.
I am still in awe of the haiku-like perfection of a relationship arc that begins with Rush and ends in a dead rat.
And "Today's Tom Sawyer" still makes me smile and get a bit misty.
[Note: The Him is Mr. Literal-and-factual and is the sort of guy who memorizes liner notes. He is raining all over my memory parade. Today's Tom Sawyer was released in 1981, which doesn't coincide with my memory of chronology. So I was 16 rather than 14 or 10, still within the realm of possibility given my level of relational cluelessness. Unless the song was not Tom Sawyer. But it was definetely a Rush song. I think. I hate it when he does this.]