In my high school, it was easy to see which musician, movie star or model my classmates were crushing on at any given time. All you had to do was look inside their lockers. The rusty, squeaky doors were papered with magazine covers, photographs and posters. During the four years in which we transitioned from freshmen to seniors, the photos changed, but the general vibe was the same. Modern pop culture ruled.
There were the visages of Johnny Depp, Christian Slater and Daniel Day-Lewis; Kyle MacLachlan, when he was on “Twin Peaks”; Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. Then there were the girl-crushes my friends had: Julia Roberts, Christy Turlington, and — of course — Winona Ryder. The locker across from mine in sophomore year featured a taped-up Seventeen cover with Winona — chin propped in hand, wearing a winsome expression. "THE GIRL WHO HAS IT ALL," blared the coverline. "FAME, FORTUNE AND JOHNNY."
My crushes — although equally intense — were a bit different. I'm reasonably certain that I was the only student who put up pictures of Anthony Perkins, Peter O’Toole and Russ Tamblyn. A black-and-white 8x10 publicity shot of Anthony Perkins graced my first high school locker. Perkins, who died in 1992, was best known for playing the murderous Norman Bates in “Psycho” and its three sequels. Starting in junior high, I wrote him several fan letters, which he graciously responded to on classy gray stationery embossed with "ANTHONY PERKINS" and signed “Tony P.” In fact, my obsession with Tony P. led me to explore Alfred Hitchcock’s entire oeuvre and helped me to eventually become a true cinephile.
It didn't hurt that I worked at a video store on holidays and weekends, which meant I could watch anything I wanted for free. After I saw “Lawrence of Arabia” for the first time, I became deeply infatuated with Peter O’Toole — with his yellow hair, icy blue eyes and mellifluous British intonations. When he published his first memoir, my mom wrote me a note so that I could get out of school early and go to a midtown bookstore where he was doing a book signing. Mr. O’Toole looked me up and down, signed my book with a confident scrawl, and asked me, “Where are you from, Luisa?” in a way that set my teenage heart aflutter.
Then there was Russ Tamblyn. On the first day of senior year, I showed up wearing form-fitting khakis and white Converse sneakers, instantly capturing the attention of my classmates, who thought I was being fresh and original. Little did they know that I was merely aping the costume Russ Tamblyn wore in “West Side Story” as Riff, the leader of the Jets, despite the fact that I'm Puerto Rican and, technically, would have been on the opposing side.
“Don’t you want to be like the Sharks?” my father wanted to know. “Those are our guys.”
But I found George Chakiris (as Bernardo) to be totally uncompelling. Russ Tamblyn turned choreography into an athletic expression of thought, feeling and action, completely changing the way I thought of dance. Muscles rippling, Riff snapped his fingers, thrust his shoulders forward, and leapt into the air with what seemed like pure joy — and stole my heart.
As a teen, I often wondered how my crushes would inform my future love life, since I had no actual love life at that time. Would my future husband be blond and blue-eyed? Would he dance up and down the streets? Or would he murder me while I took a shower?
My partner Joe and I have now been together for eight years and have two children. We may not be legally married, but I call him my husband and my soul mate. So, what — if any – qualities of my high school crushes does Joe possess? He’s a great dancer, although I’ve yet to see him strut down a city street snapping his fingers. He’s Irish like Peter O’Toole. He loves horror movies and knows even more about them than I do.
We met when, as an adult, I once again assumed the title of video store clerk and found myself working for my future husband. While I could have imagined, as a teen, marrying a dancer or an explorer or a murderer, I couldn’t have dreamed that I’d meet someone with whom I have so much in common, who gets my insanely obscure references and finds them funny and even makes his own. My soul mate: the loving partner and husband who doesn’t resemble any of my teenage crushes, but knows exactly who they are.