She Was Only Eighteen, Only Eighteen

Iris Leona Marie Cross

© Copyright 2020 by Iris Leona Marie Cross

Photo of a shirt label.

For a brief period in my life, raging hormones had clouded my moral judgment causing professional boundaries to become blurred. As I recall this episode, I am left to wonder how far the pendulum of intoxicating desire would have swung, were it not for the sobering effect and timely intervention of that bombshell letter? 

She was only eighteen, only eighteen
In the mid1970s, Dr Hook and the Medicine Show’s chart-topper “Only Sixteen” told of a boy’s crush on a girl who, like him, was only sixteen. At the time, a teenage girl in Trinidad had a crush of her own except:

She was only eighteen, only eighteen
 And she desired him so
 He had no clue he was her crush
So she had to let him know.”
I was that eighteen-year-old girl and my crush was my thirty-nine-year-old, married-with-children boss. Such was my predicament when, after leaving high school, I got a job as a laboratory assistant at a medical laboratory headed by an irresistibly handsome, US-trained PhD biochemist who was more than twice my age, and with whom I was besotted.
In my eyes, there wasn’t a man who measured up to him in looks or intelligence  ̶  not that I had met many men outside my family circle, given my age and sheltered upbringing. He was about five feet eleven inches, bespectacled and always wore a crisp white lab coat with the long sleeves scrunched up to his elbows, exposing his strong, well-defined, venous forearms. The way he dragged his feet as he walked along the corridor suggested to me that his shoes were a half size too big. Under normal circumstances this would have irritated me. But these circumstances were by no means normal because I was smitten with him. The sound of his shuffling footsteps in the distance triggered heart palpitations, in anticipation that he was on his way to say a few words to me. His voice (with a slight American twang) was soothing; his chuckle intoxicating.
I had never felt this way about anyone – a distant second being the boy a few houses down the street whose sister was my playmate when I was younger. He was two years older than I was, and cute; but a boy. My crush was a man – a whole new ball game. The attraction was overpowering. It’s a wonder I was able to focus on laboratory work with him around. Yet I did because I wanted to excel, to be an exemplary laboratory assistant so that I could get the attention I craved, from him. Whenever he stood over me checking the results of biochemical assays that were part of my duties, my hands would shake uncontrollably, my heart beat as fast as a bullet train and my voice quiver before disappearing altogether.
Although the job paid pittance and I had limited funds to splurge on an extensive wardrobe, I was determined to dress in as eye-catching a way as possible (without being extremely outlandish or provocative) to make myself more noticeable and sexually appealing to him. I had even restricted my calorific intake to transform my roly-poly body into a slimmer version so I could attract his attention. That says it all.
He was my first and last thought every day.  At night, my fantasies were about him as I lay in bed listening to the Bees Gees hit song “You stepped into my life and I’m oh so happy” on audio cassette. The tape would be rewound and played several times before I eventually surrendered myself in the arms of Morpheus. Saturday found me daydreaming about my crush while mopping the porch and dusting the ornaments on top of the wooden cabinets in the dining room, with Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 blasting in the background. Monday morning couldn’t come soon enough for me to see my crush again.
One weekend I went to a party and ruptured my right metatarsus dancing in a pair of clogs which were fashionable footwear in those days. Though in severe pain and barely able to walk, I hobbled to work every day with my heavily-bandaged foot because being away from my crush would have been too much for me to bear.  
My unsuspecting mother must have believed I was following in her footsteps by imitating her strong work ethic. “I never missed a day of work since I started working,” she would always boast, up to the very end.  Little did she realize that carnal pleasure was the real motivation behind my job dedication rather than a strict adherence to tradition.  Somehow I had to let my crush know how I felt. I could no longer keep this overpowering attraction bottled up.  Christmas was fast approaching; an opportune time to reveal what, so far, had remained latent. 
The decision had been made. I was going to buy him a Van Heusen shirt for Christmas. Back in the day, Van Heusen was a highly-coveted brand, synonymous with male sartorial elegance. The shirt was pale yellow and grey plaid with short sleeves, size medium. I thought those colours would be a perfect match for his beautiful brown skin tone. The plan was to deliver it to his home so I could avoid the eagle eye of the lab technician who was my senior at work.
She was twenty-nine, well versed in man-woman relationships and would have figured out what was going on, much to my embarrassment. Besides, I had a sneaking suspicion she liked him too, even though she was in a long-term relationship with a firefighter. Jealousy consumed my whole being whenever my boss engaged in one-on-one conversations with her. While discussing test results or querying anomalous findings, he would sometimes whisper in her ear. She would respond with a smile or a blush. I was young, innocent and inexperienced, but not so naive that I was unable to distinguish flirtatious from non-flirtatious behaviour. I would get one up on her by landing on his doorstep with my special delivery Christmas present. My gift choice should be a dead giveaway. Who buys a personal gift (like a Van Heusen shirt) for their boss of only three months?
It was a quiet, sunny, Sunday afternoon when most families would normally be napping after a heavy Sunday lunch. Nevertheless, here was I  parked outside my crush’s front gate tooting the horn and hoping that someone would be curious enough to open the front door, or peep through the window to see who was disturbing the peace. 

 “Are you sure he lives here?” my mother asked.

I think so. This is the street and house number listed in the telephone directory,” I said, double checking the information I had written on a flimsy piece of paper. “Yes, it’s correct. That’s his car in the driveway.” 

Well, you had better get out and call at the gate,” my mother said, irritated that she had had to cut short her Sunday siesta to facilitate this excursion.
A few weeks prior to this unsolicited visit, I had passed my driving test at the first attempt.  Unfortunately, this meant nothing to my mother because as a neophyte, she neither trusted me to drive her precious Betsy by myself, nor felt safe with me at the steering wheel and she in the passenger seat. So what choice did I have but to ask, beg, plead for a lift to his address to deliver the Christmas gift?  Had my mother been privy to the intention behind my seemingly innocent visit to my boss’ home to spread Christmas cheer, there was no way she would have agreed to chauffeur me there.  
I had been employed at the medical laboratory a mere three months, so wouldn’t a Christmas card have sufficed and couldn’t the card have been given to him at work?  Furthermore, why give a man you hardly know a shirt? Why not a less personal item such as a diary, pen or mug?  It was clear that these questions never crossed her mind. She didn’t read anything more into this gift-giving gesture than that of an enthusiastic employee buying a present for her highly-respected boss. My mother had no inkling that at eighteen, her daughter was consumed with desire for a thirty-nine-year-old man who was married with children.
 “Good Afternoon; Good Afternoon!” I shouted outside his front gate. How bold was I to appear at my boss’ home, invade his privacy and encroach on his family time. Had I taken this too far? At this point, I didn’t care. With sweaty palms and a body shaking as though I had ague, I continued to clutch the Christmas gift that I was on a mission to deliver. The front door opened and out came my crush, minus his trademark spectacles but sporting a white T-shirt and royal blue running shorts. On his feet were flip flops which he dragged, in characteristic fashion, along the garden path leading to the gate.  From the way his work clothes fitted him I had imagined that his entire body (not only his forearms) would be a work of art. So imagined; so realized. Any minute my heart would burst through the pericardium and ribcage. I could feel it pounding in my ears.
My mouth was getting drier and drier and my tongue heavier and heavier with each step he took towards me. Looking in awe at this masterpiece of a male specimen, I told myself: Take a deep breath; stay calm. He greeted me with a smile, eyebrows raised, no doubt wondering how I had found his address and what had brought me to his home. I summoned up enough courage and sufficient saliva to say: “Hi, this is for you. Merry Christmas,” as I handed him the gift. 
Thank you,” he replied, taken aback by my generosity which had left him lost for words. He was speechless and so was I; his eyes firmly fixed on mine and mine on his. The eye exchange was intense and lasted a few seconds. Words were superfluous because body language did the talking. I returned to the car in a daze; my mother oblivious of the goings-on at the front gate. What would happen from now on was anybody’s guess. Ihad no idea where this brazen act would lead. I’d have to wait until after Christmas to find out. 
Excitement surged though my body like an electric current, the first work day after the Christmas break as I headed to work and slowly climbed the wooden steps leading to the laboratory. His car, a white Datsun Sunny, was already in the parking lot. I rested my handbag on the table and sat waiting for the lab technician to arrive so we could begin the biochemical assays scheduled for that day. She was late and I didn’t mind one bit. With any luck, she’d be an absentee and I could have him to myself. What an appetizing thought!
The sound of his shuffling footsteps in the distance, coming closer and closer, made me hyperventilate. I looked up and there he was in the doorway, wearing the Van Heusen shirt that I had gifted him. I froze, resembling a wax figure from Madame Tussauds. My heart was thumping.

Happy New Year,” he said as he approached me. “I’m not sure I should be doing this,” he whispered as he bent down and gently gave me a kiss, full on the lips. In his hand was a white envelope. He rested the envelope in front of me on the table. “Oh...thank you,” I muttered, still in a stupor from that unexpected and treasured kiss. Okay, so it wasn’t a French kiss; all the same it was warm, moist, electrifying and so tender.
What was this letter about? I wondered. Was it a case of “Signed, sealed delivered I’m yours” to quote Stevie Wonder’s hit song at the time? Did the intensity of the mutual gaze outside his front gate ignite a spark? My intention wasn’t to break up his marriage or become his mistress. I hadn’t given much thought to beyond the gift-giving stage. The grave repercussions of my actions had hit home. I was in a quandary. What had I done?
No sooner had he left the room, I tore open the envelope and unfolded the letter, fingers shaking.  What a crushing blow!  It wasn’t the script that I had envisioned. I let out a few deep sighs not knowing how I was going to handle this disappointment and developing crisis. The letter was no love letter and the extra money I had received in my Christmas pay package was no bonus either. I had been overpaid in error and was now expected to repay the money that I had already spent buying, among other things, an eye-catching Van Heusen shirt for my crush.
The purchase that I had made was suddenly tinged with regret. Questions raced through my mind at Olympic speed: Why had I been so profligate in my spending? Was he really worth the price paid for the shirt? Wouldn’t a Christmas card have sufficed, if anything at all?  A strong dose of reality had succeeded in killing my fantasy.
It wasn’t long before thoughts of my crush began to take a back seat. Also, he didn’t take advantage of my vulnerability after that one kiss – much respect to him. Uppermost on my mind was calculating how I was going to repay the debt, considering my paltry salary and my close-to-zero bank savings. A loan from my mother was not an option since it would have been accompanied by a stern lecture on budgeting and living within one’s means. That I could have done without.
Several months’ later, an opening at a much larger government-funded medical laboratory had allowed me to move on from my crush, not only physically but also emotionally. He became a faint memory as I adjusted to life in a different work environment with a more diverse group of co-workers. I had managed to clear my mind of him. Pity my debt couldn’t be cleared as easily. Well into my new job, I was still counting the cost of the decision I had made that Christmas when I was only eighteen. 

So why did I crush on him so fast
It never did happen again
But I was a mere girl of eighteen
I learned a lot back then.“

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