The first time I saw Becky Dearborn, I was very intrigued by her. She wore a school uniform, which consisted of a long, muted-in-color tartan or plaid skirt, knee-high stockings, shiny black shoes, and a clean white blouse. She wore an accompanying tie which sometimes varied in color during later times I would see her. Her hair was close-cropped and done up in a bob style, and to top things off she wore a black choker around her neck. She reminded me of Natalie Portman as Mathilda in the movie Leon: The Professional.

I’d been swimming at the local pool with my best friend Tom when his girlfriend Sarah showed up. Sarah was gorgeous – with long, curly blonde hair and what I thought at the time was a very voluptuous body. I never noticed girls like that back when I lived in Lewiston, Maine. Not having ever had much of a real girlfriend due to my social awkwardness, I eyed the two of them from afar and watched them kiss after he brought himself out of the pool. He was lean, muscular, and a far cry from my own skinny, malnourished body. Tom and I were a lot different, and I assumed the only reason he ever hung out with me was because he and I were both outcasts – me because of my outsider status and poverty-stricken background, and he because of his strange personality quirks (he wore a jester hat around town). We both connected through our love of heavy metal music and thrash metal music. He and our mutual friend Chris had bought me the White Zombie album for my birthday the previous fall.

As I began to grow self-conscious watching Tom and Sarah kiss, I averted my eyes. That’s when I noticed Becky standing outside the pool area, behind the fence. Just the right amount of freckles dotted the bridge of her nose. My heart quickened as I scanned her figure, my hungry teen eyes noticing the outline of her body behind the fabric of her blouse and skirt. I had lots of hormones flowing through me, and no outlet for them.

As I stared, her eyes flicked my way, her slender fingers curling around the chain links on the fence between us. Self-consciously, I dived into the pool, trying to make a quick, expert-looking dive, almost as if I hadn’t seen her at all. I’m sure it was far less graceful than I’d hoped, but as I sank to the bottom of the pool, the image of Becky’s eyes remained with me. Her eyes were gorgeous, green, almost blue. I reminded myself that she’d never be interested in a skinny guy like me, though. Especially not someone as poor as I was. I stayed at the bottom for a long time, until I felt like my lungs were going to burst open.

When I finally emerged, Tom was diving back into the pool and the girls were gone. I waited for him to come back to the surface.

“Who was that girl?” I said, still huffing for air.

“Sarah’s friend,” Tom said, wiping water from his face. He spit into the water, away from us. “Her name’s Becky.”

I was silent, digesting this nugget of information, nodding my head, trying to look indifferent, wiping the leftover water from my own face.

“Why?” He finally asked.

I reddened, looked away.

“Ohhhhh…..” he said, smiling. “I get it. Well, she doesn’t have a boyfriend.” He raised his eyebrows and grinned, winking.

I submerged myself again, trying to hide the scarlet rushing through my face.

Over the next couple of weeks, Tom arranged his hangouts with me and coordinated them so that his girlfriend, Sarah, would be there – and also so she could bring her friend Becky along. It worked out for him because he got to hang out with me as well as Sarah, but he was also entertained by my interest in Becky because he’d never seen me pine over a girl before. With increasing frequency, the four of us hung out during any available moment.

One lazy afternoon during a hangout at the park – I got to know Becky a bit better. She told me she didn’t consider herself extremely religious, but her parents were devout – almost extreme – and they rarely let her outside, especially after her curfew – and they especially didn’t like boys around. Especially poor boys with bad families. Long after Tom, Sarah, and Becky had left the playground, I sat in silence and thought. I had to make a move. I was still ignorant about such things, but even I could see the signs. They were all there.

One day soon after, I found myself working up the courage to ask Becky out. I was shaking all over. I’d told Tom about it and he was ecstatic, telling Sarah, who obviously told Becky. And so it was known what my intentions were, and when I planned to do it. This information did not help me in my endeavors. Everyone knew, everyone was ready, everyone except for me.

They were at Sarah’s, and Tom walked with me to her trailer on the outskirts of the park, trying to offer support. My first wingman ever. My legs were wobbly and my heart thumped in my throat. The two girls were in the window at the forefront of the trailer, Sarah’s parents gone for the day. As we approached, I looked at the sky, at the ground, at anything – trying to appear nonchalant. But Becky was staring at me, Sarah was staring at me – two women, two pretty young women – and here I was goofy as ever. Thin. Unkempt. Ridiculous. I felt like I wanted to be sucked into the vacuum of space, away from the situation.

I made small talk and stared up at Becky through the screen window as Tom jumped off and back onto a gardening area over and over again with impatience. My throat tightened every time I thought about uttering the words to Becky. She and Sarah occasionally glanced back and forth at each other, smiling. They knew I was scared shitless. But it was now or never.

“Becky,” I said, clearing the air.

Silence. She looked down at me. “Yes?”

There was more long, uncomfortable, excruciating silence as I battle with myself to find words.

“Will you go out with me?”

As the question tumbled awkwardly from my lips, I regretted it immediately. A hot rush of embarrassment flowed through my chest and into my face and limbs. I quivered involuntarily. She would obviously say “no” – and then she and Sarah would laugh at me, at my attempt to be with someone pretty when I was so unattractive and lame.

“Yes,” she said. “Took you long enough.” She beamed at me through the screen of the window.

Tom punched me in the arm. “Congratulations, man!”

From then on, Becky and I had solo visits with each other, which happened mostly at her trailer. No boys were allowed so I would have to talk to her in hushed tones from beneath her window, and I thought of myself as Romeo from Romeo and Juliette. The moonlight would be shining down on me and my bike and we’d whisper to each other about life, about our dreams, but it all just felt temporary. Occasionally I would have to hide as her father or mother knocked on her door, listening to their conversations, secretly knowing I would most likely never pursue much more with her.

Eventually, because I was still awkward and didn’t “move in for the kill” – Becky broke up with me. It was a few weeks into our relationship, and because I was so socially awkward and because I had lingering problems from being molested as a child, I never made any “moves” on her aside from hugging. I had no context for what was acceptable and when to do certain things in a normal relationship. I sure didn’t want to make her feel the way I had felt when I was involuntarily touched, and so I just basically never touched her. I was devastated.

Months after we broke up and time had passed, I would be riding my bike through the neighborhood and would sometimes spy a boy underneath her window. Another Romeo, maybe even a Lothario. But Becky and I, we would make eye contact, she would look away, I would carry on. It was like we’d never met.

Even though that first foray into dating for me ended in disaster, it was actually a win for me. Not only had I overcome my anxiety in a big way by asking her out (though I still had much work ahead of me in that department), but I had also managed to get a pretty girl to say “yes” to me and not just make fun of me for my looks as had sometimes happened in the past. It was the beginning of my long journey to accept who I am today. For that, I am grateful to Becky, and to my very, very awkward teenager self.

Without that awkward first step into the world of dating, into the world full of complexities involving the opposite sex, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t have learned certain lessons, I wouldn’t be married to the wonderful and beautiful woman I now have the luck of being able to call my wife. Becky and I were never meant to be, but we were probably meant to be for that short period of time in the mid-1990’s, and that summer when I started my long journey of self-discovery. I look back on that time with some embarrassment, yes – but also with the knowledge that even me back then could work up the courage to go for something or someone I really wanted. That’s what’s really important, and it’s something I try never to forget about myself.