dear mark,
i should have hated you. you stretched the truth, you were sneaky and sly, you inspired me to write some really bad poetry. you invaded my thoughts for so long and for months i could think of nothing else but you. it just wasn't fair. i wanted to hate you, but really, i adored everything about you, and it's all your fault.

i met you when i was 19, working as a retail slave at the gap. you were a stockboy. the day you started, i spotted you at the back of the store wearing a smashing pumpkins t-shirt, baggy pants and vans. you said hi, really quietly under your breath, and for some reason it made me swoon. that was the way you were, though. you always said please and thank you and hi how are you doing, like words were the most precious things in the world. it was your eyes, i think. those smiling japanese eyes that looked right through me. i'd take breaks in the stockroom with you and the guys, and we'd talk about art and fashion and rock music. i used to dread coming in to the store, but knowing you'd be there changed my whole outlook on retail. you made folding pocket tees fun.

the longer i worked there, the more i became infatuated with you. when the staff took a team-building trip to six flags magic mountain, it seemed apparent that you felt the same. we spent the whole day together -- in line, on rides, at shows. at one point, you grabbed my hand and we ran, giggling, to the rollercoaster; i felt like we were lovers in a cheesy music video. once, i caught you staring at me, and i knew -- a girl just knows when a boy is looking at her that way -- that there was hope. everyone noticed something was up, and they asked me about you the next day.

"oh, it was nothing," i replied, although later when i saw the photos taken of us, standing beside each other with glowing cheeks, i knew it wasn't nothing.

then one night, what i thought might never happen did.

we were hanging plain front khakis in the fitting room when you casually told me i should go with you and some friends to a rock show that saturday. i thought i'd have a heart attack because, one, i was so excited you asked and, two, because i couldn't go. it was my friend's birthday, and we were having a party. you asked me if this friend was a girl or a boy. this caught me offguard, but i thought maybe you were trying to figure out whether i had a boyfriend. how cute, i thought.

"girl," i answered. "my friend claudine."

when you got back from your break later that day, your mood had significantly changed. you seemed melancholy, so i asked if you were okay.

"i had a fight with my friend," you told me.

"a boy or a girl?" i asked, trying to be coy. two can play this game, i thought.

"girl," you said, which wasn't the answer i was expecting. "well ... my girlfriend," you added. "but, you know, i just call her 'my friend.'"

i think my breathing stopped for a second. you had never mentioned you had a girlfriend, people at work said you were interested in me, and just a few hours earlier you'd asked me to hang out. i was floored. i didn't know what to say.

"oh," i said, and left it at that.

i wish i could say i was angry, but i was really just sad. it wasn't like i lost you, because i never had you in the first place. it was hard to work with you for a few weeks, but it got easier. i'd hear from our friends that you two were in love, but she never came up in our conversation. sometimes i think you led me on, but maybe i led me on. it didn't really matter, anyway. when i quit the gap, i quit crushing on you, too.


Friday, January 26, 2001


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