Those of us who have loved neither too wisely nor too well have perhaps an enhanced sensitivity to the Classic American Crush, the heart demanding an object of fixation to fill an otherwise-empty space, and the eyes alighting on just such an object at exactly the wrong time. Recounting the full list of those who have unwittingly filled this role for me would be painful for me and probably embarrassing for them, so for the moment I’ll confine myself to fictional characters.
When I was eleven, Freddy Cannon put out a bizarre little stomper called “Abigail Beecher,” a name positively redolent of Victorian gentility: you half-expected her to be teaching history in some classroom with dark-paneled walls and a blackboard so old it was actually green. Well, that much she did; but according to Freddy, she drove a Jaguar E-type, was conversant with contemporary teenage dance steps, and occasionally even surfed. Not a Van Halenesque object of lust, exactly, but someone you couldn’t possibly ignore, especially if you were an Impressionable Youth.
Officially in those days I didn’t know much about history, mostly because I was getting my romantic advice from Sam Cooke. So I spent some time in contemplation of what Art Fleming on Jeopardy! called “unreal estate,” which inevitably led me to Mrs Darrin Stephens, of whom I would write at the tender age of fifty-one:
For a squirrelly little kid like me who never imagined himself with so much as a temporary girlfriend, a “card-carrying, broom-riding, house-haunting, cauldron-stirring witch” was exactly the ticket to suburban happiness, and that doofus Durwood, or whatever his name was, simply wasn’t worthy of someone like that.
For the moment, I overlooked the likelihood of clashes with the in-laws, but who doesn’t?
Still, both Miss Beecher and Mrs Stephens were older and wiser than I, and eventually my teenage self turned to someone my own age and my own level of bewilderment: Cassandra Mortmain, narrator of Dodie Smith’s novel I Capture the Castle, who explains her situation in the opening pages of the Sixpenny Book:
[U]p to now my stories have been very stiff and self-conscious. The only time father obliged me by reading one of them, he said I combined stateliness with a desperate attempt to be funny. He told me to relax and let the words flow out of me.
Apparently Mr Mortmain had anticipated my own style by several years. And ultimately poor Cassandra is waylaid by a crush of her own, which unwinds in the most torturous of ways — except for the fact that, well, it doesn’t. Of these three women, she’s the one I’ve had the least success getting over.