The autographs in my high school yearbook are amazingly legible, though mismatched, like a 25-year-old crazy quilt. Scrawlings of old friends draw me into reading each message with a wide mix of emotions. And then I turn the page and spend a moment alone with my first boyfriend.
"Remember the paddleboat, the fabulous sunsets, and the cherry blossoms at the Washington Monument. I'll always love you! Living well is the best revenge. Yours forever, Steve."
Needless to say, Steve wasn't mine forever. He was my high school sweetheart, my first love and - dare I say it? Steve was a nerd! A classic, first- string high school nerd!
Since it's far easier to recognize someone else as a nerd than it is to look in the mirror, it's probably true that I was a nerd in high school, too. But as an artistic nerd involved in the theater, I had respect; the science and math nerds didn't. No one at the time could understand what I saw in Steve. True, he was self-absorbed, moderately cute, and smart, but he knew how to make a girl feel beautiful even in a paddleboat. Not everybody can do that.
If living well is the best revenge, Steve's had his. He used to be the guy with the slide rule who took 30 years of advanced calculus and loved it. He used to be the guy looking through telescopes at the stars while I tried to get him to notice me. I used to write him romantic poetry, but he said he wasn't artistic, so he didn't write back. Somewhere along the line, when we parted company after high school, Steve glommed onto computers. It was love at first sight. I was dumped for a PC.
The real revenge of the nerds are the large fortunes being amassed by so- called techno-nerds earning megabucks. Steve is one of them. Our society respects intellects as long as we can attach a dollar value to them, so I'm proud to say I had the good taste to have a crush on him right from the start, though it never did me one bit of economic good.
These days, Steve doesn't have just a dollar value, he's got a stock portfolio. He went from virtual obscurity to virtual reality almost in an instant. I've seen his picture recently; he's improved with age.
THEY say old flames never die, and once or twice in the last year he's called my mom's house looking for me. It really would be nice to see him again. But I'm a married lady.
Funny how I remember all the times I sat by the phone waiting for Steve to please-oh-please-oh-please-call-me! when I was 16 and he didn't. He was never good at calling when he said he would. Perhaps he was waiting for the invention of e-mail; perhaps he invented it because he wasn't a "phone person."
He may have been a prototype, a practice shoot, a boyfriend with training wheels. That's what first loves usually are. Old flames sputter, but you don't forget them easily, even if they were nerds in high school. We were all nerds in high school, compared with what we are now, now that we've lived right.
But sometimes I wonder if Steve still knows how to make a woman feel beautiful in a paddleboat.