I called him The Italian Boy. He was an exchange student, truly Italian, at the college where I went. It was sophomore year and I smitten. Too-long bangs, Mediterranean blue eyes, always accessorized with a soccer ball. Of course I had never tossed a single Buon giorno his way or screwed up the courage to push my tray along next to his in the dining hall. But I knew his class schedule by heart and would often race to stand outside of his building and then follow behind at a good 30 paces as he made his way to his next class.
“Did you see Italian Boy today?” was my roommate’s usual greeting.
I grew up in a Waspy suburb of Connecticut and anyone who spoke with an accent—Italian or otherwise—was beyond exotic to me. I once dated a guy who took me to dinner at an old-school Neapolitan joint in Hartford and asked the waitress what Mary-nary was. It took her a while to figure out he was confused about the marinara sauce topping his spaghetti.
Italian Boy wouldn’t have those troubles. He was perfect.
Until I met him. It turns out Paolo was eyeing me as well. He asked me on a date to see The Graduate, playing on campus, and had the nerve not to like it (did it get lost in translation?) Then invited me back to his room where I sat at his desk and he played every single song with “Cathy” in the lyrics on his guitar. I had never realized how many songs contained my name. The night was endless.
I avoided him the rest of the year and he ended up scrawling a totally bonkers note on my door that ended with, “You, you, never again.” I have a photo of it somewhere. It’s a reminder that a crush is always better from a distance. Because meeting them in person sometimes can be crushing.
– Cathy Alter
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