I blame Amanda McHugh for my school-girl fetish. I was 15 years old when Amanda came to SEED, the high school at which I spent 6 years, without managing to come away with a diploma. Though I had spent 6 years in various Catholic schools, they were co-ed and uniforms were not required. I enjoyed the sight of a girl's shapely legs as much as the next pubescent guy, but those legs were more often than not draped in long skirts or loose pants.
When I found myself in high school in Toronto, the girls mostly dressed themselves in jeans or even longer, hippy-style, skirts.
Amanda McHugh was a revelation.
Short kilt, bare legs, white blouse, knotted necktie - these things caught my eye then, and still do to this day. If the woman inside such an outfit is also slender, and has the self-confidence to eschew the obscenity of a bra, I am in clover - and probably crossing my legs.
Amanda was a year older than I was (or two, or three), a serious student, and the most beautiful woman it had yet been my pleasure to share a room's oxygen with.
For a shy and - when it came to women (or girls, if you prefer) - very insecure boy, just arrived in the big city from a northern mining town, Amanda McHugh was not only the most beautiful female to cross my path, she was also the most sophisticated and, sadly, the most unapproachable.
She had long, straight, dark hair that fanned out in fine bangs over her dark but joyous eyes. Her smiled spread to high-cheeked dimples and, despite what was to me her strangely formal style, she exuded strength, intelligence and wit.
We took no classes together that I recall and, if she was a member of a clique, it not only did not intersect with mine, I could not have said who else was a member of hers.
Still, it took me just about no time at all to find that I was in love.
In retrospect, as a man who has been seriously involved four times, with three broken hearts to show for his passion, I understand that there is a difference between unrequited love - infatuation, if you will - and the real thing.
Nevertheless, when you are 15 and have never been kissed, unrequited love feels just as meaningful as those feelings that accompany a real relationship.
I thought about Amanda. I watched Amanda from across the school's lounge. I discussed her beauty with my friend, Adam, who agreed that - yes - she was a pretty girl. And (yes again) I fantasized about Amanda. I put myself to sleep with images of my hands touching her skin, of my lips upon hers, of holding her naked body against my own.
I even fantasized about asking her out, about getting to know her.
At that time, I had never asked a girl out - and wouldn't have known (even if I'd had the money to pay for a date) what to do if I had found the courage. I was poor, yes, but mostly I was terrified. Of rejection, but even more, of being laughed at. Not just by the girl, but by my friends, who (I thought) would see weakness in affection.
Amanda spoke to me only once; and, as it turned out, I was unable to say anything to her at all.
If memory serves, I was 16 when it happened.
I had overcome my general first-year terror of being the new kid, the youngest kid in school. I had made friends of both sexes, but girls as potential lovers - not "just friends" - were still out of the question, a desire, a need, that I kept to myself (or thought I did).
I watched Amanda, but talking about her (except with Adam, who at that time shared my inability to deal with sex and sexuality) was out of the question. And talking to her was unimaginable - if fantasy and imagination are held as distinct phenomena.
Yes, I was in love with Amanda - with her physical beauty, with her apparent self-possession and intelligence.
I knew that she read the Globe and Mail and that she was cynical enough to speak up for unpopular, non-leftist positions at the school's General Meetings. I knew that she was serious about school and suspected she knew what she meant to do with her life. And I believed she would achieve whatever that was.
I also knew she felt no shame about displaying her marvelous legs, no embarrassment when her nipples showed through her cotton blouse.
(Yes, I kept watching. No matter that Debbie and Pam - both of whom I would also pine for later and, even later still, with both of whom I would share intimacy of sorts - were now among my friends, or that my group was a much less directed and motivated group than was Amanda.
(Amanda was The One: my Object of Desire, my Secret Hope.)
So secret that, one day when a bunch of us were hanging out in the Big Room, someone made a joke, suggesting that I "liked" (that hideous, grade-school taunt that still cut me deeply) Amanda, my Catholic-school-yard training made denial rise in me like Christ on Easter Sunday.
"Amanda?" I said, hating my words even as I spoke them, "You've gotta be kidding. She's a fascist!" I didn't mean it. I had no reason to think it true (hell, I read the Globe and Mail too!). But owning up to my unrequited passion was not an option for me then and, I thought, I had sufficiently covered my tracks.
But word travels fast in a small school, moving even between cliques with a terrifying speed.
The next day, the same Big Room, a slightly different cast of characters inhabiting it. Amanda burst in like a Fury and stalked toward me.
Strong, slender legs splayed wide, fists clenched at her hips, she spoke to me at last.
"How dare you call me a fascist! You don't even know me!"
As I desperately tried to respond, sputtering meaningless syllables like some spastic songbird, she turned and strode from the room, her hips swinging in rightly righteous (and o! so beautiful!) indignation.
I watched after her, saying nothing, feeling paralyzed - the fear that had prevented me from talking to her in the first place certainly wouldn't permit me to chase after her and explain the contradictory complexities beyond the insult, let alone admit that it was cowardice that directly led to it.
I watched her go, humiliated and despairing, knowing that my fantasies were now just that, forever.
Years later, for a memorial feast in honour of the late Marge Sundstrom (who had been a sort of mother figure for many of us over the years while running SEED), I wrote an elegy that included an apology of sorts to Amanda - but she didn't show up anyway.