You are a 14-year-old boy named Sam Larson. You have blonde, unkempt hair, green eyes and an affinity for graphic tee shirts from Target. You like playing football outside with your friends, video games with big guns and girls.
I am a 14-year-old girl named Agnes Enkhtamir. I have poorly dyed pink hair, brown eyes and an affinity for graphic tee shirts from the Gap. I like spending time with my mother, boy bands and you.
I’ve liked you for a while now.
But a few weeks ago, I would never have imagined you and I would be holding hands underneath cafeteria tables and slipping notes into the slits of each other’s lockers. I really didn’t think I would be able to bag you; you are funny and charming and loud and confident and popular. You are sort of intimidating sometimes. That innate confidence you’ve always had is hard to be around sometimes.
But when you laugh, it’s never at other people’s expense. You’re kind of kind. So much so that when Natalie Brown let slip 14 days ago that I wanted to know what it would be like to kiss you, I didn’t mind too much. You told me the feeling was mutual soon after.
So now we are holding hands in the backseat of your father’s car, shoulder to shoulder, on the way to the fifth date: bowling and a movie. You are sitting by the window, looking outside. I am sitting in the middle, holding your hand.
It’s silent in the car. Usually the quiet doesn’t bother me. The quiet usually doesn’t bother you either, but when your father is present, we both feel like we have to entertain him. Your palm is sweating, but I don’t mind because mine is too. We’re both uncomfortable.
Your father’s eyes have been alternating between the rearview mirror and the road since we’ve left your house; he’s observing us. I ignore him — it’s a tried and true tactic most mothers teach daughters; young girls are often approached when they’re alone. It makes them nervous. Your father was making me a little nervous. But this is silly; he’s your father.
I look up, and your father and I make eye contact. “Um, your style is very interesting, Agnes,” he says. “That sure is a cool shirt you have on.”
“Thank you, Mr. Larson.”
“Tell me, do your parents like music? Did they pick that shirt out?”
“Um. No.” I’m not quite sure what to say; I have been blessed with the brainpower needed to pick out my clothing for more than a couple of years and don’t know how to express that to him respectfully.
Your father glances at me again. Every time he does this, it sort of looks like his bespectacled eyes have separated from his body and are floating in the air.
“So you listen to Bjork?”
“Oh.” he pauses. “Well, glad to see some girls in your generation haven’t gone cuckoo over some dumb boys in a boy band.” It suddenly feels like I’m keeping a secret. “And Bjork has been kind of mainstream lately. Better to relate to younger audiences, I guess.” The way he says it is withering. He doesn’t mean to be mean or belittling; Ryan Larson would never be mean to a teenage girl. But it feels like he’s rationalizing disliking an artist he would otherwise because of my idolization of her.
Teenage girls have a very interesting power: by liking something, we can instantly make it uncool.
Mr. Larson is cool. He is pushing 40, and he still wears red beanies and Ray Bans and leather jackets. He’s been cool since before you or I was born.
Mr. Larson works for a small company based in Philadelphia that makes jingles for commercials. In his spare time, he also pens reviews of almost exclusively “under-the-radar” musicians in an online blog he started with two of his band mates. Ryan Larson’s reviews throw words like “sound duality” and “word crunch” around. Most of his reviews use so much (occasionally made up) jargon they’re unintelligible to the average reader.
Telling him that I liked boy bands like One Direction then would not have impressed him. Telling him that I liked some of the bands he liked would have embarrassed him.
I don’t blame Ryan Larson though — the instinct is to be embarrassed when teenage girls become the primary audience of a musician or a band or a movie or a television show or a video game or a comic book or any genre or artifact of pop culture. Sharing the same taste as thousands of unreasonable and sometimes rabid fangirls must be embarrassing. It means you’re no better than a teenage girl.
I realize that Sam looks like Ryan. He’s inherited his messy hair and 20/60 vision and graphic tee shirts. He holds his hand outside the car window, palm open, feeling the breeze blow against it.
Ryan turns on the radio. Sam turns to me, smiling and rolling his green eyes. The opening chords to “One Thing” play before he asks his father to turn it off.