The Holden Situation

First, I just want to say that I briefly considered titling this post Brenna Tells a Big Fat Lie. Then I decided that wouldn’t be entirely accurate, so I changed it. (Because I am trying very hard to be truthful.)

Okay, what happens is … the lie is not so much a lie as an omission.

The Holden situation happens because I am patently incapable of showing any sort of preference or desire or vulnerability. Or it happens because I’ve watched way too much MonsterVision with Joe Bob Briggs on TNT, and not enough Meg Ryan movies. Or because something is wrong with my brain. Or because I am a closet-defeatist with a minor in self-sabotage. Or because this is just the way the world works.

Really, 18-year-old Brenna spends what grown-up Brenna would consider to be an excessive amount of time trying to figure out exactly what happened and how things got so complicated so fast. How one seemingly-inconsequential moment can set off a chain-reaction of stupidity that exhibits no signs of slowing or faltering or burning itself out.

(Grown-up Brenna says: the answer is so much simpler than you’re making it. The answer is, you are a huge weenie.)

So, Holden.

The first time I ever saw Holden in a way that made me notice him, he was standing in the background, out of focus behind #4, who propped his elbows on the top of the fence, looked at me/looked away. And even in that bright, galvanizing moment, Holden was more of a vague impression than a verifiable fact.

Now though, he is kind of hard to ignore.

Holden is interesting, because he’s the kind of person you look at and think you know, and then they say something and you figure out that you don’t know them at all. At least, that’s how it was for me. I looked at him and saw certain things, the way he laughs out loud, and how he smokes all the time, how he tells dirty jokes and war-stories about how drunk he got over the weekend.

Those things seemed like everything there was to know, but he’s much better than that. He’s friendly and reminds me of how I picture Holden Caulfield, very tall and very Irish. He has smart things to say in class and never seems to care too much about what other people think. For some reason, that always impresses me.

These are decent things to think about a person. Holden is funny and charming. He’s smart and articulate and outrageously self-confident. Little Sister Yovanoff and I have PE with him. We unilaterally agree on his excellence, mostly because he’s friendly to pretty much everyone, and if any of the rough, thuggish boys start to argue or gang up on someone, Holden’s the one who intercedes and tells them to knock it off.* Sometimes when he’s captain, he picks the unpopular kids first.

In the afternoons, he and I have a ridiculously easy elective lit class together. He sits across the room from me, right up near the teacher’s desk, and even if he hasn’t actually read the books (which is always), he’ll still jump in and drum up a discussion and raise interesting points and get the sophomores talking.

See? Nice things.

In addition to having a winning personality, Holden is good-looking in a broad, appealing way that everyone can agree on. Like, you could pick a girl at random and say, “Wow, Holden is pretty good-looking, right?” And they would say, “Well, yeah.”

Except for the fence incident, I never really saw him hanging out with #4 last year, but now they’re together all the time. Holden always does most of the talking—animated, leaning in, gesturing with his hands. Then #4 will say one inaudible sentence, barely changing expression, and Holden will bust up laughing.

So, I like Holden for a lot reasons. But mostly because of how much he likes #4.

Delilah is the one who actually starts the whole mess. Also, it is all my fault, because technically, I do nothing to stop her.

It’s only been a few weeks since we met, but she’s already becoming a pretty permanent fixture, which means that so is her best and only other friend, Cobalt from my PE class.

Cobalt is loud and outrageous and unapologetically flirtatious. She delights in being shocking. She squeals and shrieks and hugs everyone and prances around the locker room in her bra, talking brazenly about various guys’ unmentionable parts.

She’s the kind of girl I never really imagined being friends with, but she and Delilah are basically inseparable, and before long, I’m not even that surprised to find us eating lunch together and walking each other to class and sometimes, on the days I don’t have soccer practice, driving them home after school.

The way the situation starts is like some really screwed-up game of Clue—in the Ceramics room, with Delilah, during my off-hour.

There’s no afternoon ceramics class, so I’m taking advantage of the empty room to work on one of my little clay people. Delilah is supposed to be in her intro-to-art class. But is not there.

Catherine broke up with [her boyfriend] last night, and Delilah was vindictive and pleased. She said all boys are stupid and she hates them. She is only 14 though. I think I thought that too at 14.I kept working on my sculpture and said that I actually kind of missed having a boyfriend.**

She smiled brightly, transformed. “I’ll find you one then!”

I shook my head, laughing a little. “Oh no, I’m afraid now.”

Delilah slapped a yellow tissue-paper rose down on the collage she was making for Cobalt. “Don’t be. I’ll find you a good one. Maybe if Cobalt doesn’t dump her boyfriend for nice Tim, you can have nice Tim instead.”

I looked up from the table. “That’s sweet, but I don’t want nice Tim. I mean, he’s nice and all, but I don’t really know him. Plus, I think he kind of already likes Cobalt.”

“I guess you’re right,” said Delilah thoughtfully. “You guys might not really be that good for each other.”

We were quiet. I kept sculpting, trying to smooth out the edges. Delilah was making a sun.

Suddenly she looked up again. “I know exactly who would be good. Holden.”


She nodded earnestly. “Just think about it, you’d be so perfect for each other! You’re both so sweet and easy-going. And you’re so nice to each other.” She was smiling now. “And he’s cute, too, you know he is. Oh, you two would look so good together. So, that’s decided. Holden is exactly what you need.”

Delilah wastes zero time advancing her new matchmaking agenda. She announces the scheme to Wit and Cobalt and Catherine and Little Sister in the car after school. The exchange sounds essentially like this:

Delilah: Hey, all you guys need to help me find a boy for Brenna to date, okay? I was thinking it should probably be Holden.
Little Sister Yovanoff: Personally, I think Holden is an excellent choice. He’s quite vivacious. And also nice.
Delilah: “Oh, I know! That’s exactly what I said! Cobalt, wouldn’t that be so perfect?
Cobalt, interrupting her wild flurry of slam-dancing to lean over the back of Delilah’s seat: What’s perfect?
Delilah: If she goes out with Holden. Wouldn’t that be so good of a pair?
Cobalt, screeching loud enough to puncture someone’s eardrum: Oh my God! They’d be perfect!
Brenna: …

Teenage-Brenna doesn’t really know how to take control of the situation or set the record straight, or even what she’s supposed to do next. No one has ever expressed such a loud, vested interest in anything she has ever done or wished for or planned on.

So she does what she’s always done, which is to hold perfectly still and wait for it to be over, too blindsided to step back and get some perspective and consider the distinct possibility that Delilah’s enthusiasm for fixing her up with Holden might actually be just another type of misdirection.

Which is not to say that Delilah’s the one who might have an actual crush on him. But kind of.

I do my best to go along with it, like it’s a game we’re playing. The Brenna-Likes-Holden game. I participate just enough to score the exact minimum number of points necessary to avoid raising suspicion. I talk to him in class sometimes, and I’ll wave to him in the halls (when he’s walking with #4), or occasionally draw his picture while he naps on the floor during our lit class, which is colloquially referred to as Sleeping Skills.

And there are times when I try to convince myself that maybe if I draw enough pictures, admire enough admirable qualities, I will start to like Holden in the way that Cobalt and Delilah and Catherine and even Little Sister think I do. The way that I’m supposed to.

Holden Asleep

I don’t draw him any more often then I draw the window blinds or the bookshelves or our teacher’s impressive collection of peace lilies and geraniums, though.

geraniums lily

I don’t draw him more often than I draw Beth or Emily or SugarRay.

I have no illusions that he’d actually be interested in dating someone like me, which makes the whole subterfuge that much easier, because I’m basically guaranteed to never have to deal with an actual consequence.

And that is how the lie, which is still not a lie, but more of an omission, comes to take on the proportions of something solid, the accepted reality of my life. Due to the simple fact that it’s much, much easier to have people believe something about me when it isn’t true, than to actually put myself in any sort of position where I might have to admit the way I feel about #4.

The thing is, I’m not embarrassed by the fact that I like him.

As far as 17-year-old boys go, #4 actually makes excellent crush material. I mean, slacking tendencies aside, he really has a lot working in his favor—he’s good-looking and truly nice and he always just seems very clean, which I appreciate. Not to mention, he is so pathologically shy that I never, ever have to actually talk to him.

Sure, he might be a little private, a little strange, and yes, he mostly only smiles that bad, fake smile that looks like he’s waiting for the bomb to drop. Sometimes, during the passing periods, I study him intently, trying to pick out the very worst things about him, to figure out how bad they are. All I can really come up with, though, is that there are times—maybe when he’s tired or anxious about something—when he seems moody or stubborn or overly sensitive. Which, in the grand scheme of things, is just so trivial. That’s the kind of flaw that’s not even really a flaw, it’s just a personality trait.

So, no. I am not embarrassed that I like him.

I’m embarrassed by the fact that I like anyone.


Okay, so. What I want to know today is, has anyone done anything remotely like this? Ever? Even a more reasonable, less weird version? Have you ever thought of yourself as an unfailingly honest person and then discovered that you’re not? Have you let people believe something about you that wasn’t true, simply because at the time, it seemed so much easier than anything else?

Also, I have to believe that someone else has done this. At least partially or sort of. At least one time.

Because otherwise, I will be forced to consider the possibility that I was not, in fact, a teenager at all, but an extraterrestrial.

*Except for this one time when some of the super-thugs were shoving around this other kind of nerdy boy in our class and one of them called him a f****t, and I looked over at Holden and waited for him to jump in and end it, but instead he just kind of winced and looked incredibly uncomfortable and didn’t say anything, which made me deeply disappointed in him. Which is outrageously unfair, because I also didn’t say anything either. So.

**This is totally true. I mean, as far as it goes. Which is to say, in a casual and mostly hypothetical way that has nothing to do with crushes or specifics or wanting someone to be my actual boyfriend. Much.

14 thoughts on “The Holden Situation

  1. When I was in grade 12, I had a crush on a boy called A, and so did my friend L, so I didn’t say anything. I am the worst at feelings, though, so I knew that all my friends would know I had a crush on SOMEONE. To compensate, I picked a boy I could, conceivably, go see one movie with, and LIED.

    • I knew that all my friends would know I had a crush on SOMEONE

      Although I spent a long time believing this exact thing—to the hilt—I eventually realized that my liking-someone face looked exactly like my isn’t-Ken-Kesey-pretty-cool? face. Meaning, that while *I* felt entirely transparent, to everyone around me, I just looked devoid of affect. Which kept me from actually having to LIE for, like, at least several more months.

  2. I’ve never pretended to like someone, but once I pretended not to like someone. It is terribly angst-y (also, everyone was twelve).
    It went like this:
    Twelve Year Old Sarah was homeschooled. There was a little homeschool group in my town, where the youngest was around seven and the oldest was fifteen, I think. Sometimes we got together and did education things together. Mostly we IMed each other when we were supposed to be doing math.
    I had three best friends, the kind that you’re pretty sure you would die for. Two of them were sisters, and one had three siblings. We were constantly together. (We still are). On Tuesdays, me, my friend and her three siblings would all go over to my friends-who-are-sisters house. One day, my friend with siblings was not there. We went to the playground. Twelve-Year-Old Sarah was not sure what to do, so she talked to Best Friend with Three Siblings brother, who was her age.
    She ended up with a huge crush. Like, crazy huge. But, of course, in that childish way, when her friends said “do you like him?” because she’d spent more than two minutes with him, she kind of smiled at the ground and folded her arms and said “no” as firmly as she could, hoping someone would say “Tell the truth.” They never did.
    Que several days of pining away.
    The next Tuesday, she was sort of hypersensitive to him, where he was, everything. And, in a succession of Tuesdays, she realized that one of her Best Friends also had a crush on him. (Not his sister, the other one). The one that had a boyfriend, that was pretty and half a foot taller and inescapably better at pretty much everything Twelve-Year-Old Sarah could think of.
    And Best Friend’s Brother liked her back.
    So, she spent a sort eternity watching them blush and make eyes at each other from across the room. When her friend wanted relationship advice, she gave it (in all of her twelve-year-old wisdom), even though she kind of felt like she was going to throw up.
    When it came down to it, they all broke up and Best Friend went on to have other relationships.
    But I pretended not to like my best friend’s brother for a good three months, because one of my other best friend’s really liked him. It was a kind of painful experience. I’m glad I had it.

    • hoping someone would say “Tell the truth.” They never did.

      You have no idea how much time I spent *praying* for exactly this to happen!

      It didn’t. Or it didn’t happen at the right time. Or it didn’t happen in the right way. (Really, anytime someone got close to it, I completely chickened out.)

      I wanted to tell the truth (at least, I think I did), but I didn’t want any of the complications that would almost certainly to come along with that. I think for a lot of people, especially when they’re teenagers, there’s this weird kind of push-pull, where there’s a part that wants very badly to be known, and another that wants to be self-protective and private. At least, that’s how it was for me—and I was caught right in the middle of that push-pull.

      I think it must be so much harder, too, when you know that what you’re feeling will potentially affect a close friend. I’ve never been in exactly your situation, but during my senior year, for a good chunk of time my bestbestbest friend really wanted to date me, and he was really good about it—careful not to be pushy or do anything to make me uncomfortable, but I still felt so bad simply because I didn’t like him back in the same way.

      It was a kind of painful experience. I’m glad I had it.

      I love this! This is 100% the way I feel about really most of high school—especially the various social concerns, which can seem epic in and of themselves, all the while without having quite the same ramifications as other things.

  3. Every once in a while, one of my friends will ask me if I LIKE anyone. I am sort of (okay, very) reserved about things like this and don’t like causing waves. Even if I do have a crush on somebody, I will invariably say that I don’t because if I admitted to it then it would be a THING and some of my friends are exactly the sort who would go try to do something about it and then it would be mortifying. It’s a bad way to be and I know it, but I’m also fourteen (fifteen in a week!) and don’t really want to deal with a relationship like that. Also, I’m not terribly socially inept–I can talk to people and make friends–but I’m not comfortable just walking up to people and starting a conversation because I never know what to talk about. Hopefully, I’ll grow out of that at least a bit. As far as letting people believe something because it’s just easier than explaining, I’ve definitely done that. I went a whole day being called Sarah (rather than Samantha) by a guy who was in charge of this community service I was doing because I really didn’t care and explaining would have been awkward. Also, I took a math class at the high school while I was in 8th grade and pretty much the whole class thought I was a Freshman at the end of the year, just because I didn’t bother to explain.

    • if I admitted to it then it would be a THING and some of my friends are exactly the sort who would go try to do something about it

      I have to admit that before the Holden situation, the possibility of this kind of thing hadn’t really occurred to me. After the Holden situation, I became petrified of it. I feel like this was an episode that should have taught me at least several lessons, but all I really learned at the time was to be very careful to never tell Delilah *anything* that I wouldn’t willingly tell every single person in school.

      I’m also fourteen (fifteen in a week!) and don’t really want to deal with a relationship like that.

      You know, even though I tend to make fun of myself over it now, I honestly don’t think this is a bad way to be. I feel like in junior high and high school especially, relationships and attractions are difficult to navigate, and there’s something to be said for tiptoeing cautiously toward something you know might hurt, rather than launching yourself at it unmindful of the outcome. Eventually, I think we all find a way to strike a balance, but it usually happens over a long (ish) period of time.

  4. “I’m embarrassed by the fact that I like anyone.”

    Oh, good Lord. That’s me. That’s *still* me, and I’m 27 years old. Is that not ridiculous?

    I’ve never actually lied about liking someone, I don’t think… I just never bothered mentioning it. Mostly because I have a tendency to get crushes on *completely* inappropriate people, and I was well aware that the crush would disappear in a few weeks, so what was the point?

    • I just never bothered mentioning it

      Definitely my preferred strategy. I could never understand how most of my friends were entirely casual and unselfconscious about their likings—like somehow it wasn’t clearly the most dangerous thing that had ever happened!

      (Fortunately, I got over it eventually. Sort of. Only because my now-husband was basically like “Hey, I’d really like it if you went out with me.” Which was a level of forwardness that—while I couldn’t really fathom it—I deeply appreciated.)

  5. As close as I come is In second grade, when I sort of pretended I liked a boy called Hans – and it went so far that he called me his girlfriend for two weeks – all because I wanted to spend more time with his best friend Kyle. My teacher even called my mom to tell her that Hans and I were “boyfriend and girlfriend” and she wanted my mom to be aware of it, and my mom was like, “Um, no, I’m pretty sure she likes Kyle, since she’s always drawing Kyle pictures of dinosaurs and making him toy dogs out of yarn.”

    So seven-year-old me broke up with Hans, because I felt guilty for misleading him, and Kyle called one of the other girls his girlfriend and I hated her bitterly as a result.

    Other than that, when I Iiked a boy (and I was boy-crazy from an early age, and OMG my young daughters are, too, and I’m torn between thinking their crushes are adorable and hating that they’re so aware of boys, and how much they want to marry them all), I did not shy away from my feelings. And since I’m a complete open book, and can’t keep anything a secret, even when I mean to very, very much, all my friends knew who I liked. Now THAT made life rough at times. How much I hated when boys knew I liked them, because my friends told them, but the boys didn’t like me back.

    • Oh, this is so fascinating to me! Sometimes I think I missed the whole elementary school “dating” phenomenon due to being homeschooled, but then I remember that as a child, I could typically be found poking through the garden, looking for beetle larvae to feed to the ant hill by the driveway, and fishing dead carp out of the lake so I could cut them up with a Junior Scientist scalpel and see what their hearts looked like, so I was probably not ideal pretend-girlfriend material, is what I’m saying.

      I hated when boys knew I liked them, because my friends told them, but the boys didn’t like me back.

      I lived in mortal fear of this, even when I was WAY old enough to know better! Seriously, this was a major motivating factor all the way up into college. I’m just SO glad that before the age of maybe fourteen, I had virtually no awareness of boys apart from the fact that they were loud, and often wanted to break or otherwise mess up whatever project I was working on. Otherwise, I probably would have been a wreck.

  6. This situation is very familiar to me.

    In middle school, I had two wonderful male best friends, A and M. And honestly, so long as we were all best friends, everything was fine. The problem was that we had some kind of weird crazy love triangle going on:

    M initially liked me, but I did not initially reciprocate.
    Then I fell hard for M, but M did not feel the same way.
    Meanwhile, A had a thing for me for…pretty much all of middle school.

    Which would make things weird sometimes, but only when Feelings were brought up. When we were playing videogames or A’s brother drove us around screaming to Violent Femmes or we were pretending to be Weezer in M’s garage, we were fine.

    This all fell apart in eighth grade, when I began actually dating people. I broke up with my first real boyfriend, and was pretty heartbroken. So my collective friend group that it would be a wonderful idea to pair me up with A.

    A was a wonderful friend and an all-around good person, and we got along swimmingly, but I never really had romantic feelings for him. I probably should have hit the breaks on this one, but peer pressure, man, peer pressure. Kids in middle school are particularly relentless.

    So I figured, fine, whatever, okay, I’ll give this a go. Maybe it’ll work out.

    But no.

    Word got out somehow that even after a week of dating, I still hadn’t kissed him. So one day, all of us are hanging out, six or seven of us, if I’m remembering correctly…and good ol’ peer pressure rears its head again. Our friend group harassed us to kiss for HOURS. It was pretty terrible. Rather than put my foot down and tell them to sod off and leave me alone, I caved.

    And that’s when I discovered, “nope, this is not going to work out.”

    This was when I learned my lesson that you should never, ever date someone because your friends think it’s a good idea, or because the other person really likes you. If you can’t return their feelings, just don’t do it. Dating A spelled the end of our friendship, which was honestly pretty sad.

    Funny thing is, the reverse ended up happening to me about a year or so later, so it’s kind of interesting to see the whole thing come full circle.

    I think that learning to be honest about your feelings is a trial-and-error process, especially as a teen. You’re having to learn how to navigate a whole mess of things–where you fit in socially, how to interact with others, what’s socially acceptable and what isn’t…it’s hard enough to maintain friendships in middle and high school. Dating is…ugh, it’s even more turbulent and difficult to navigate.

    • So I figured, fine, whatever, okay, I’ll give this a go. Maybe it’ll work out.

      And that’s when I discovered, “nope, this is not going to work out.”

      I just have to say, you learned this one WAY before I did! This is a lesson that actually (embarrassingly) dogged me all the way through freshman year in college before I finally got it through my head.

      I think part of it was just that it was so rare for me to actually be interested in someone that I’d always wind up talking myself into giving people a “chance,” because I was working on this theory (learned from movies, most likely) that I would get to know them better and then be magically won over. Which I am not saying doesn’t happen to other people—it just never happened to me. Not even once, not even a little.

      I think that learning to be honest about your feelings is a trial-and-error process, especially as a teen.

      So true! And to further complicate things, I always feel like everyone starts out with these different levels of natural ability, so for some people, learning to deal with and communicate feelings is pretty intuitive, and for others (well, mostly me), it’s a rigorous task that takes a lot of focus and hard work and backtracking in order to get right.

      These days, I’m really lucky that my guy will just ask me direct questions that I can give direct answers to, and if it turns out that I don’t know the answer to something—well, then it’s time to sit down and work it out some scratch paper!

  7. I have done many things remotely like this, and honestly I would not be surprised if I had done exactly this, though the scenario did not arise. Hell, I would protest for weeks against attempts to set me up with someone I WAS interested in. Pretty much everything about this situation rings cringingly, unfortunately true. So, no, you were definitely not alone.

    • Because I’m inexplicably driven to quantify everything, I keep trying to think of a name for this kind of behavior, or for the kind of girl (person) who feels compelled to engage in it. I mean, I want an official classification, and a definition, and probably some sort of survey or scientific study. Because it really seems like once a thing is known, it just becomes way less of a Thing.

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