Thanksgiving is not just turkey time. There’s Black Friday shopping. There's falling asleep on the couch in front of bad TV reruns. There’s watching the Detroit Lions playing (and usually losing) against any other team in the NFL. But for some, Thanksgiving is a great escape.
Thanksgiving 1985 should have been a blast for me. I was an 8th grader in an era —if you believe John Hughes movies like The Breakfast Club —when teenagers reigned a new Renaissance. We were the center of existence. Everything we did was important and the world was captivated by our interpersonal relationships and fried hair. Perhaps, in the spirit of that film genre’s romantic losers, I saw fit to make my Thanksgiving one to remember.
One problem I had as a boy growing up in 1980s America was that I was always falling in love. It wasn’t very becoming of the age of Pepsi Free, greed, and glamor.
You see, there was this one girl I’ll call Charlize. Her name wasn’t really Charlize. No one’s name was Charlize back then, but I can’t tell you her real name.
Anyhow, I decided that I loved her in 7th grade, and by 8th grade my 13-year old’s charm, well-timed wit, and silly Yoda impersonations had worn thin. She was interested in other boys; ones taller, stronger and less weird. Plus, I had lost my grip on her attention since Charlize was no longer in any of my classes. How better to win back that attention with a love letter?
First off, let me tell you that love letters are serious business. If you’re going to send a love letter, boy, you’d better bring it. Otherwise your message could get lost among the paper folds and weight of postage stamps. Why mince words as an 8th grader with so much of the usual?:
I really, really like you. I have a ridiculous crush on you.
Do you like me? Check:
Boring stuff. For being the revolution at the center of the Universe, we were unoriginal when it came to writing, mimicking the mimeograph documents we’d been handed by teacher’s aides all our lives.
If I passed her a note that read like a comment card from Perkins Restaurant, there were two risks. The first is that I’d never hear back, as she’d get busy with pre-Algebra and not respond. The second risk-at-hand was it might get passed around. At best, my love letter would get stuffed in the bowels of a desk in a wad of Big League Chew. Worse yet, maybe everybody would read it and find me out.
But I had a better idea. I would just drop it by her house in the mailbox. I wasn’t from a big city and we all knew where everyone else lived where we grew up. And so I wrote Charlize a letter telling her I loved her. And that I would do anything to be her boyfriend. The mailbox was a safe place for a heart, I thought.
The weekend passed. She must have got the letter. I wasn’t there but I heard a couple versions off the aftermath.
By one account, she stood up on a chair in the lunchroom and read it aloud to a crowd just minutes before the bell rang for homeroom. By another account, Charlize, disgusted with my sappy prose, had passed the letter around 1st period class, and then let some of the boys read it in 2nd and 3rd. And for seven periods, on it went, my love letter passed around. The word got out that I not only was weak enough to fall for a girl, but that I was a really bad writer too.
I’d learn one lesson at least. Eventually I’d shake of that “bad writer” reputation.
But by 3rd period, probably 10:15 A.M. on the grown-up clock, each passing in the hall between classes made me a bigger object of ridicule. In 2013 we like to think that 24-hour TV, email and social media, are what make a message viral. But nothing was more viral than an 8th grade hallway between classes, when you’re the guy who just spilled your guts to a girl you can't have, and everyone is talking about it. Unfortunately I had to endure it Monday, Tuesday and all day Wednesday.
By Thursday, I got one chance to shake off the humiliation of getting kicked in the guts by love, and that was sports. On November 21, 1985, just two days before the Thanksgiving week off, and three days into my public humiliation, I got to attend my first ever NHL game. Thanks to my sports nut orthodontist my dad and I watched the Philadelphia Flyers pummel the Hartford Whalers at home. All the old Broad Street toughs– Peter Zezel, Dave Brown, and even goalie Ron Hextall—whipped the Whalers 3-0, as I sat in the fourth row behind the glass, hearing fans curse and cheer. With cuts and bruises on my heart, I fell in love again –conveniently– with hockey and the bullies in orange & black. It would be a while before I could be affected like that again.
The heart should be removed by surgery only, never ever by inclination.
Back to school the next day it was more ridicule, but less than Thursday. For a brief respite, I optioned a hall pass and unnecessary bathroom break.
“Haha! You like Charlize!” said Jake and another kid in the hall that I recognized only by his red hockey helmet. I always liked Jake, and if the rest of the jerks at Keith Valley Middle School got to laugh at my expense, then the kids in Special Ed. probably deserved just the same levity. Still, I still wanted to escape my celebrity, and feared being lampooned over love into my college years.
Instead I tried to talk up the Flyers, sporting the new orange top I got at the Spectrum the night before. It worked for a little while in deflecting the last jabs of humiliation.
Like all the grownups I knew awaiting the short holiday to flee strained relationships or a boring office, Thanksgiving represented an escape hatch. And when the school bell rang, I was really, really thankful that Thanksgiving's escape hatch opened.
Andy Frye writes about sports, life, and crushes for ESPN and Derby Life, and really was once the laughing stock of November 1985.