The summer before seventh grade I fell in love with a boy named George.
George was tall and red-headed with a prematurely deep, sultry voice. Sitting next to him in the stands of Arden All-Star Little League games stirred my first feelings of sexy. Grown-up attraction. A surge of intense excitement and energy ignited by his inadvertent (deliberate) brush of my hand, or ankle, or outer thigh. Each time he looked at me, he looked down first. He opened into a smile just as he met my gaze. It was so perfect it almost felt practiced. But I could feel it was pure. Genuine. The guy just knew how to talk to a(n almost) woman. How to be suave and gentle with just enough edge to make my 13 year old mind, and heart, race.
Baseball season ended. My summer romance faded into cool nights, early sunsets and the angst-ridden start of junior high.
But George left a powerful impression.
For more months than I care to admit, I clung to his memory. I thought about him, talked about him and described the emotions of attachment in my pre-blog era, handwritten journal.
My best friend lived in his neighborhood, and every time we picked him up, I begged my mom to drive by his house.
It was the 90s version of perusing Facebook and following him on Twitter.
My mom would pretend to protest, but reliably obliged. She knew her resistance was neither believable, nor defensible. She knew all along, I’d learned from the best.
When I was a kid, my mom had a crush on the lead anchor of the 5 o’clock news. He was a legend in my hometown. Distinguished and sophisticated, with a full head of perfectly-gelled, silver hair.
He came into our family room, every night, at the same time. He was confident and authentic, with a strong, trustworthy gaze.
My mom never missed a broadcast. Or a public appearance.
Armed with a camera and a big cup of coffee, she hit the mall to watch him host the local version of the Jerry Lewis telethon. She tracked him down promoting charity, grabbing a latte, and anywhere else she could find him in the community.
She always returned, swooning. She’d recount the racy details of brushing up against him in Boulevard coffee like a giddy thirteen year old falling in love on a Summer night.
Even now, she admits having “a hundred pictures” of big crowds of strangers featuring his tiny, blurry, dot-of-a-head in the background.
Stan Atkinson was more than my mom’s favorite celebrity. He was her dream-man. Her ideal spouse. My dad worked long hours at a demanding job. Stan was like a substitute life partner, keeping her company and retelling the days’ events while she cooked dinner and cared for her kids. He was predictably gentle and calm. Ever-present in the evening with his inviting smile and reassuring warmth.
On Wednesday night I made a rare appearance at a happy hour to support a fundraiser for the agency where I work. With sore feet, clad in a disheveled, khaki, skirt-suit, I reluctantly made my way up three wooden steps to the front entrance of a trendy bar. There, standing in the doorway, as handsome as I remembered him, was my mom’s most memorable crush.
At first, I froze. Instantly aware of my haggard appearance, I felt less-than-prepared to face such an epic encounter.
I took a mind-clearing breath, and knew what I had to do.
In the minutes that followed, I lost my nerve. But as I watched him graciously begin his exit, my courage resurfaced.
True to the stealth and skill of my ancestry, I stepped out on the patio to trap him as he was leaving. As soon as he emerged, I delivered my introduction.
I told him that I was a huge fan. That I grew up with him. That he was a fixture of my childhood memory, and my childhood life. That my mom adored him more than any other person she never knew in real life. I thanked him for who he is, and who he was, to both of us.
He grabbed my hands with the same, unforgettable sincerity that charmed my mom every evening of my childhood. He looked at me with honesty and love, squeezed his fingers into my palms and told me, “It’s good to be remembered.”
He hugged me like an old friend. We posed for a picture and when I turned to let him go, he pulled me in. He kissed my cheek, and said simply,
“that’s for mom.”
A familiar surge of excitement came over me. Less sensual than its early adolescence predecessor, but equally intense. The feeling of an unforgettable moment. The experience of creating a memory I’ll never forget. The perfect interaction with the perfect man.
In the quiet of my apartment, the high slowly wearing off, I reflected on the importance, and impact, of a good impression. That in some cases we have years and years to leave our mark on people, and others, we have only minutes.
For most of my life, I’ve devoted my social energy to managing the way other people perceived me. My highest value was to be regarded as brilliant, powerful and accomplished. At the end of my first year in law school, at the peak of my obsession with prestige and achievement, I sat next to my dad at a memorial service for a man who’d passed away in his late eighties, after a long battle with a rare and debilitating disease. I knew from our family relationship that he was a successful professional who’d amassed a considerable amount of personal wealth. But in the many and varied stories shared by his family and friends, not a single mention of what he’d done. Tearful descriptions of his laughter and embrace. Detailed accounts of the way he mentored people, rescued people, lifted them up.
I left the service committed to evaluating the legacy I was already creating. Transformed by the realization that who I am is defined by how I am, I was moved to shift the emphasis of my everyday interactions. To change focus from trying to control the way people see me, to bringing awareness to the way I am treating them. To live in the truth that memories are shaped in moments of connection, not ideas, images and projections. And that it’s good to remembered, well.