My first crush was for the goofy, accident-prone and handsome Captain Parmenter (actor Ken Berry), from repeats on TV of comedy series F-Troop, a show about a hapless US army outpost in the late nineteenth century, and their attempts to control the equally spineless Hekawi Indian tribe. Daydreaming in one of the endless catechism classes at convent school, I cast Parmenter in the role of Jesus on Calgary, bleeding and in pain, in the moments before the cross was erected, he helpless in his nakedness and suffering, and I gently tending his fever and wounds with gentle kisses and a damp cloth, trapped in a painfully sensual, recurring farewell. I knew nothing of sex, except that I’d been mesmerized by Ken Berry’s hairy chest in at least one episode, and he was funny and loveable, much more appealing to me as Jesus, than the insipid, lank-haired depictions I’d seen of him. I was seven. I understood little of what it all meant, except, already, that it was wrong. At around this time too, I discovered photos of naked men in the Theatre section of an Encyclopedia Brittanica Yearbook, which my parents subscribed to, and which was kept on the bookshelf in the 'good' living room, used for visitors. I would sneak in there when it was empty and, behind a big upholstered rocking chair, be shocked and eroticised by the shameless hairy frontal nudity of the male cast of ‘Hair’ and ‘Oh Calcutta’.
My first real life crushes, from eight to ten, were comparatively tame, and were for two similarly angelic-looking pranksters at my school, the type whose uniforms were always un-tucked and disheveled, and who I loved to wrestle in the playgrounds so I could furtively relish their soft skin and squirming strength, and smell their tussled hair.
Two of the great loves of my life were unrequited, and occurred before I was twenty. They were both fascinating to me, popular with their peers, but slight outsiders. The first of these was an athlete and champion footballer, good looking in a careless way, and, somewhat uncharacteristically for a jock, the class clown and a bit of a nerd. We eventually spent a lot of time alone together, playing tennis or golf, which I pretended to love, or spear fishing in freezing dark coastal waters, near his house. It was worth it for the intimacy of the friendship and the long hot showers in change rooms afterwards, the whispered confidences of sleep-overs and the school-team bus journeys away. In endless phone calls we were in each other’s thrall, me working harder to be captivating. I fed hungrily off these intimacies, the only kind allowed. I was helplessly trapped. I was proud he liked me, anxious about it and possessive. I was impatient with others who interfered. I was angry at my mother when she’d want me off the phone. I was angry, period. I had nightmares where I was outed, though it wasn’t called that then. Now fifteen, frustrated and rampantly sexual, I obsessed over every detail of him, his body, his smell, his mannerisms and his personality. My brain was my smart phone, recording everything to be played back over and over in hopeful agony later. I practiced walking like him. I loved it when people confused our voices on the phone or talked of us as inseparable friends, an item, they joked. I wanted to be like him. Every waking moment was consumed by him, how I could be near him as much and closely as possible without raising suspicion, and then how I could ever escape the interminable pain. And despite my better judgement, I dreamt of him confessing his love for me. And of our romance.