Recalling a long-ago obsession that helped fuel my latest book.
I called him the Italian Boy. He was an exchange student, truly Italian, at my college. It was sophomore year, and I was smitten. His too-long bangs, Mediterranean blue eyes, and the way he always accessorized with a soccer ball.
Of course, I’d never tossed a single buon giorno his way or screwed up the courage to push my tray alongside his in the dining hall. But I knew his 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 he invited me back to his room, where I sat at his desk while he proceeded to play me every single song with “Cathy” in the lyrics on his guitar. I 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 yours in person can be crushing.
Cathy Alter is a member of the Independent’s board of directors and the author, most recently, of CRUSH: Writers Reflect on Love, Longing, and the Power of Their First Celebrity Crush.