Last week I attended a session of the Natural Born Storytellers. This is a night run by a friend of mine, where people get up and tell stories from their lives, based around the theme for that meeting. It’s funny, poignant, and sometimes crude, in equal measure. The theme for the evening this time was Failed Attempts. I didn’t tell a story that evening, but one did spring to mind and, as I feel my stories are better told (or at least I am better at telling them) through the written word, I had the idea to tell mine here.
This story is about a girl. Her name was Sarah, as you’ve probably already guessed, and she was beautiful. That was all I really knew about her, but, with the surely of youth, I was certain I was in love. Let me set the scene.
The year was 1997, and I was obsessed with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, which I had seen recently. My head was full of ideas of love and romance, and I was desperate to be in love, if not actually kill myself in some kind of modern-day tragedy. I was in the early-to-mid stages of college in New Zealand, which, if you don’t know, runs from roughly age thirteen to age eighteen. I also had the joy of going to an all-boys Catholic school, which, on top of natural shyness, tells you all you need to know about my (in)ability to negotiate relationships with the fairer sex, a fact I lament to this day.
The scene was set relatively easily. With three girls’ schools and one mixed school in the area, my school mates and I weren’t lacking in choice of girls to idolise. My friends and I would usually walk down to the mall after school, to hang out for an hour or so before heading home. This is where I first saw her.
She was beautiful, of course. Long blonde hair, pretty eyes. All the usual ingredients. Sarah lived in the same suburb as me, a cosy little hamlet known as Naenae, which in Maori means mosquito, owing to the previously-swampy nature of the place. So, I’d see her when I rode the bus home. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t some kind of teenage stalker; I didn’t follow her home or anything like that, but maybe I did once or twice deliberately catch the same bus as she did.
Then, for a long time, nothing happened. I’d see her on the bus, my heart would race, and that was it. For the longest time I couldn’t even approach the thought of speaking to her. A friend of mine knew a friend of hers, and I did send her a fairly cringe worthy note from a secret admirer, full of poetry and admiration, but that was as far as it went.
Months passed. I sweated, I imagined, I thought of what the hell I could say, running it over in my head a hundred times. Then, the day came. Now, Sarah lived further on the bus route then I did, so when I boarded the bus that day, I had to ask for the extra section on my ticket. I recall the driver joking that I couldn’t be bothered to walk the extra distance home, and as he spoke, suddenly in my head everyone on the bus knew my plan. This did not help with my nervousness.
I took a seat near the back, and I waited. The bus journey took about twenty minutes, I suppose, but that day it felt much longer. Ok, so it was longer, what with the extra section and all, but it felt like hours longer. The bus pulled over at a stop, and she got off. So did I.
The next part is strange, like some kind of waking dream, and to this day I still have trouble believing that nervous boy had the courage to do what he did. Sarah crossed the road, and so did I. I walked up to her, and I asked her out. I can’t recall the exact words; I’m sure they started with ‘I was wondering’, and ended with ‘go out sometime,’ and perhaps that’s all there was to it.
Sarah, bless her, let me down easy. She told me she’d just got back together with her boyfriend. I thanked her, and walked away. Whether there was a boyfriend or not, I don’t know, but I’ll always be grateful for the way she handled her reply.
I walked home. I felt an odd sense of lightness, of freedom. On the way home, I met my friend in the park behind his house. When he saw me, I told him I’d finally done it. He thought she’d said yes, I seemed so elated, but really, I think it was just the exhilaration from actually having made myself do something which I found so phenomenally scary. I was high and low at the same time. It’s not a feeling I’ve ever had again; at least, not with the same intensity.
And that was that. Well, except for a few years later, when I was working in a supermarket bakery, looking particularly unglamorous in my apron and hat. I must have been home from University for the holidays, working my summer job. I was packing bread, when I saw someone approach the counter. Sarah. I could tell from the look on her face, she knew who I was. She ordered something, cream buns maybe, and I ducked behind the counter and bagged them up, heart beating a little faster. I stood up again and gave the package to her. She smiled, and thanked me, and I smiled back.
That’s it, that’s the end of the story. Whatever happened to Sarah after that, I don’t know. Perhaps I don’t want to know. I like to keep her in my mind as the sweet girl that she was, and also as a reminder to myself that, although things didn’t turn out the way I wanted, I can be the type of man who talks to beautiful girls, the kind of man who takes risks. After all, the riskier the road, the greater the profit. And finally, wherever she is, I hope Sarah is happy.