Running with the devil

In junior high I had a crush on a girl named Lana. My first crush was in kindergarten at Booker T. Elementary in Galveston and it was on my teacher, Miss Mary Session. Between Miss Session and Lana I had one or two crushes a year, real old-fashioned crushes.

Back then crushes were awful things because except for school there was no way to see the object of your love, and if your crush wasn’t even in your class it was limited to lunch or, most agonizing of all, passing in the hall and blushing. Without texting or Facegag those infinite periods between when you’d next get to see your crush were a hell without parallel.

By the time I fell in love with Lana I was fourteen and my crushes were major, overwhelming, incapacitating things that spiked such profound intensity as to approach delirium. Crippled as I was with the triple curses of observation, granular memory, and extraterrestrial imagination, every day that I came home I would collapse in the giraffe-patterned beanbag chair in my room and comb through my memory.

Lana’s beautiful eyes. Lana’s impossibly soft skin (I had borrowed a pen from her once and felt her hand). Lana’s shimmering black hair. Lana’s stunningly sleek body. Lana’s occasional noticing of my existence (she once called me “goofball”).

We only had one phone line, of course, and there were only two phones in the house, one upstairs and one downstairs. It was impossible to even think about calling her even though I’d circled her name in blue and red and yellow and green in the Jane Long Junior High School directory, because there was no privacy. And if my brother Ian even scented that I was hot on the trail of another unrequited crush, the physical pummeling and verbal abuse would be relentless.

So I would sit in the beanbag chair and practice my conversations with Lana the Unapproachable.

“Hi, Lana, this is Seth.”

She’d be thrilled to hear from me but would pretend to be surprised. “Oh, hi Seth. What are you doing?”

“I was going to go see ‘Alien Chainsaw Murderer Zombie Atheists’ tomorrow and wanted to see if you wanted to go. I’ve heard it’s a great movie.”

“Oh wow, I’ve been dying to see that! Sure, let’s go!”

Then we’d sit in the dark movie theater and I’d inch my hand over to hers where she’d be holding it deathly still on the little divider between our two chairs and I’d put my hand over hers just when the hero smashed the brains out of the atheist zombie who was trying to chew the leg off the heroine. Her hand would be so soft and mine would NOT be drenched in sweat and we’d sit there and eventually I’d give her hand a squeeze and she’d give mine a squeeze even though I hadn’t worked out how she’d squeeze it if mine were on top of hers but that would work itself out and then on the way home we’d stop behind a tree and kiss.

It was always at that point that I’d open my eyes and utter a curse, knowing that she’d never agree to go to a movie with an urchin like me, and that if I were going to get her attention it would have to be dramatic.

In those days I rode my bicycle to school, a gray Murray, and I rode it with an orange knapsack. This was back when knapsacks were like giant billboards saying “Beat my ass I’m probably gay” and riding a bike to school was a death sentence because in Houston you always arrived lathered in stink and sweat so that your jeans and shirt looked like they’d been dunked. On the rainy days you just rode in the rain, and even though you arrived looking the same at least you didn’t smell as much.

We didn’t have iPods and the Sony Walkman was years away so I would hum my favorite songs as I pedaled. I had stolen a nice collection of records from the Eagle supermarket around the corner and my favorite latest larceny was Van Halen and my favorite song was “Running with the Devil.”

After agonizing through science class one day as my heart broke two tables away from Lana, I jumped on my bike and raced home. Ian took the bus and wasn’t there and my parents were at work. I looked up Lana’s number and dialed. Lana answered in a voice so beautiful that it froze me my tracks. “Hello?” she said.

“Hi, Lana, this is Seth. Seth from science class.”

“Oh,” she said, and giggled. “Hi.”

“Do you have a second?” I asked.

“I guess so. But Debbie is here with me so I have to go soon.”

“Listen to this,” I said and began belting out “Running with the Devil,” screaming at the top of my lungs. After I finished there was silence on the other end. An amazing silence. Then a laugh. Then two laughs, because she’d apparently shared the receiver with Debbie.

“Oh my god,” she said between laughs, “that was awful!!”

“Yes,” I said, crestfallen, “I guess it was.” She started laughing again and Debbie was in hysterics.

“Bye,” I said, and hung up, cursing my bicycle-inspired attempt at demonstrative love.

Thirty-six years later I still think about Lana and about that song; needless to say the only thing that came of it was that Lana never looked at me again and when we went to high school together she would occasionally see me and move to the other side of the hall.

A couple of days ago her name popped up on Facebag; she’s part of my high school reunion group, an event I’ve never been to. I messaged her. She messaged right back. We exchanged lives for an incredibly pleasant stroll down memory lane.

“Hey,” I wrote. “Do you remember the time I called you and sang you a song?”

The wait bubbles floated eternally in the message box.

“Yes,” she typed. “I do.”


13 thoughts on “Running with the devil”

  1. Been a while since I’ve been around to read. This was a gem, Seth. I love these childhood stories the most: the crushes, the phone, the embarassment of riding your bike to school, Van Halen. So much of my own childhood here.

  2. “limited to lunch or, most agonizing of all, passing in the hall” I would have thought you were a more creative stalker. I figured out my crushes normal schedule and hang outs and spent my afternoons slowly walking past the places he might be, hoping for a glimpse or better yet a chance meeting. I got a lot of exercise.

  3. Shoulda gone with “Ice Cream Man” or “Jamie’s Cryin'”! Rookie move. Oh what could have been!

    Thanks for the memories from the late 70’s!

    1. Of course at 14, pretty much everything was a rookie move, especially “Night Moves.”

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