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SHANE BROWN: Not-so-cool kid once had Hope

SHANE BROWN: Not-so-cool kid once had Hope

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Shane Brown, classified advertising and columnist.

Nothing makes me feel older than sitting around and letting my mind wander back to the good old days. And there's nothing like a pandemic to give you PLENTY of time for mind-wandering. When you're stuck on the same couch for the better part of a calendar year, suddenly good old days start feeling like GREAT old days.

Truth be told, I was fairly miserable for most of my youth, mostly of my own doing. I specialized in being the annoying nerdy kid, desperate to impress friends and fit in at all costs. I've grown up a heck of a lot since then, but I'm sure there's a part of me that still yearns for acceptance and hopes people think I'm cool.

Maybe we're all guilty of it. After all, is there any reason to post on Facebook other than to say, "Look at me, am I cool?" It makes me wonder. I'm a music geek through and through, but do I volunteer to DJ parties because I love music or because I love being in CONTROL of the music? This past weekend, I was wasting an afternoon practicing some DJ mixes, and I'll admit it: I cranked the music a little louder than necessary because I knew my window was open and the neighbor kids were playing outside.

Am I that desperate for acceptance that I need 8-year-olds to think I'm cool? That's kinda sad. I haven't the slightest clue what impresses 8-year-olds these days, but I'm guessing it's NOT house music or the dorky neighbor playing it louder than he should've.

A friend asked an interesting question last week: Who was my first crush? And we're not talking celebrity crushes, because I prefer to overlook the salacious era of "the Debbie Gibson years." Celebrity crushes are silly and adolescent and that's why I definitely don't own every season of Dawson's Creek or find Katie Holmes to be a goddess (cough.)

I can barely recall all my celebrity crushes -- but I certainly know who my first real world crush was.

When I was growing up, my mom had one close friend. Whenever the two of them would get together, I'd usually be forced to tag along. This wasn't a huge sacrifice for me, because my mom's friend had a daughter my age, Maria. I probably SHOULD have had a crush on Maria, but she intimidated the heck out of me. She was smarter than me, more sarcastic than me, and she was even better at video games than me. My adolescent brain couldn't process anyone that cool.

But one fateful day, our moms got together for an afternoon and I was along for the ride. But Maria had a friend from out of town visiting for the weekend. Her name was Hope. She was from Chicago. And after one afternoon together, I was positive she was my soulmate.

That afternoon was over 35 years ago, and honestly, I barely remember it. I can't recall Hope's face or a single thing we talked about. But I remember she smelled like strawberries, she laughed at my dumb jokes, and I went all wobbly when she touched my knee. And the best part? I wasn't trying to impress her. I wasn't desperate for her to think I was cool. The three of us just hung out all afternoon and had fun.

Afterwards, I asked Maria for Hope's address, and I wrote her an epic love letter, spilling the depths of my soul with romantic prose, passionate longing, and elegantly-crafted expressions of desire. Or, since I was in seventh grade, it probably consisted of "Do you like me? Check this box." She responded in kind with an equally romantic reply. (She checked "YES".) So for a few fleeting days of pre-teenery, I had myself a girlfriend.

I took her letters to school, showed my friends, and spent every waking moment pining for her. Well, for about two weeks. In the short attention span of youth, our love was not meant to be. This stallion needed to roam free. But the simple question of "who was your first crush" brought fond fuzzy memories to mind, and I suddenly had an idea.

I haven't spoken to my friend Maria in over 20 years, but it didn't stop me from messaging her out of the blue to see if she was still in touch with Hope. She wasn't -- but she DID remember her last name and the suburb she lived in., which is more than I could recall about my soulmate of yore. That was good enough for a Google search. How great would it be to find her after all these years, see if she ever had fleeting thoughts of me, and find out how her life turned out? It could make a great column.

And it would have, except my Google search immediately pulled up an obituary for someone matching her name, age, and last known location. Ouch. That's a bummer. For what it's worth, Hope has/had a VERY common last name, and it might not even be her. I sure hope this Hope isn't MY Hope. I definitely didn't want a column about good memories turning into a wistful treatise on the fragility of life.

That was absolutely enough research for me. I'm content leaving her fate a mystery. I'm not telling Maria what I found.. The only thing more awkward than "Hey, I know we haven't spoken in years, but remember your hot friend?" would be following it up with, "yeah, she might be dead." I'd rather just remember what I can about that perfect weekend and the magic of a hand accidentally brushing against my knee.

Take it from me, don't worry about fitting in or trying to look cool. Some days might seem long, but life is short. Don't waste it. I might never be the cool kid in the room, but after all these years, I'm kinda glad that I'm not. If you stop trying to fit in and start being yourself, you might just find your real passion. You might even find some Hope in this world.    



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