“He’s very ‘pretty’, isn’t he,” she said with a curl of her lip.
“He’s not pretty, Mom, he’s handsome,” I protested.
“Handsome is as handsome does,” was her short but pointed reply.
|A Very Handsome James Spader as the preppy jerk in Pretty in Pink|
-definitely a wolf
To my utter bewilderment at the time, the boys my mom generally favoured were the long-haired rocker types, especially if they played an instrument. I’m not sure why - perhaps she felt they held an honest disregard for convention. I had five older siblings with many types of friends, maybe all the rocker kids she knew were just really nice people. At my high school these kinds of boys were called ‘head bangers’. They usually went around with girls who sported similar rocker hairstyles ornamented with feathered roach clips and head bands. They tended to answer teachers’ questions in monosyllables and didn’t usually top the academic charts. Some were even classified as ‘stoners’, an even less desirable label in the upper echelon of my school. Though friendly with some of the head bangers, I was certainly not their type and, admittedly, they were not mine. I continued to develop crushes on the ‘wrong’ sorts of boys, often preppy jocks who usually weren’t interested in me beyond a nod in the hallway or as someone’s little sister. My preference for that certain type of boy continued until, as often happens when we begin to grow up, something came along to widen my view of the world.
I took piano lessons until I was fifteen, and in my last year I once again participated in the local music festival. My piece was very difficult and I could not get it right, no matter how hard I practiced. On the day of the festival, thirteen young pianists assembled on the front pew of the Nelson United Church. The lights were dim, except for on the stage, and at the desk of the adjudicators, making them look like pale distant ghosts owning only heads and pen-holding hands. I was extremely nervous but glad to be in the middle of the pack, not at the front. Sitting next to me was a boy I had never seen before. He had long, blonde hair, an Iron Maiden t-shirt, and jeans on – mom’s type. “This should be interesting,” I remember thinking to myself as he approached the bench when they called his name. I fully expected to hear a less than stellar performance, maybe a laboured rendition of that Leila Fletcher classic ‘My Little Birch Canoe’, or at best, a choppy interpretation of Beethoven's 'Fur Elise'. I do not remember what he played, maybe Chopin, maybe Rachmaninoff, but it was a shock to see and hear this long-haired dude blast his way through his challenging piece with such skill and confidence. I was dumbfounded, and after the thunderous applause died down, I was *gasp!* next. As I rose to go up to the stage I could hear people whispering about the long haired pianist: “Who is he?” “Where is he from?” Then I heard someone say, “He’s ___ ___ from The Valley. His family is so talented”. I was really nervous now – rattled, actually. My pre-conceived notions had just been turned upside down. How could I possibly follow Rocker Valley Boy's performance! I sat down on the bench. I started to play. I stopped after a few bars and started again. I stopped again, and started again. I screwed up so badly the adjudicators took pity on me and allowed me to get my music, even though we were supposed to have memorized our pieces. I got through my nasty piece somehow and with a limping heart and downcast eyes I returned to my seat. Mortified, and afraid to look at my mom and sister in the audience, let alone at the blonde piano star beside me, I kept my gaze downward.
Quietly, from beside me Rocker Valley Boy spoke. “Hey, that was pretty good,” he said.
“No, it wasn’t, and you know it,” I managed to whisper.
He turned to look at me. I finally looked up at him, barely meeting his eyes. “Yeah, it was,” he said, smiling encouragingly. “Don’t worry about it.”
I was immediately cheered by his friendly and generous words. I could breathe again. He wasn’t lying either, so I couldn’t accuse him of mere flattery: later, the adjudicator even praised the bits between the screw ups.
I developed a sort of admiration for Rocker Valley Boy out of appreciation for what he did for me that festival day. On rare occasions I would see him in town and feel a little flutter of the heart. There is no telling when the words of our mothers will come true.