Why you should care

Because some first crushes are more agonizing than others.

A. Chris Gajilan is an award-winning journalist, television producer and writer. Her work has appeared on CNN, the Oprah Winfrey Show and in Time magazine.

My first crush. The furtive glances, the sweaty palms, the daydreams — they were all there, in the late ’80s in Queens, New York.

I ran straight home from class clutching a crumpled note from Christina, the prettiest girl in school. I went to my room, shut the door and carefully unfolded it. In big, bubbly cursive on three-punch-holed paper, the letter started, “Dear Craig.” She wrote about how much she looked forward to my letters, the way I made her laugh, how great it would be if I could take her to her school dance. The note’s ending was the best part, “Love, Christina XOXO.”

I was ecstatic. My pre-adolescent brain was popping with glee! I wanted to shout from the rooftops that I had made the hottest girl in sixth grade fall for me, but I knew I couldn’t tell a soul.

There was no Craig. The guy Christina had fallen madly in love with was actually me — a tomboyish girl with a big crush and an even bigger imagination. Long before MTV made catfishing famous or pop culture put “reality” in air quotes, I had lured this girl into a relationship by making up a completely fictionalized persona.

The stronger my feelings for her became, the meaner I was to her face.

I’d always known I was a girl who liked girls. While everyone else played Barbies, I dressed up in my dad’s suits and yelled, “Honey, I’m home!” to my imaginary wife. I was queer way before I understood what being gay really meant. “Faggot” and “dyke” were still the insults de rigueur. There was no Dan Savage telling me it would get better. I was different, and being different got you beat up.

Every day, I tried to conceal my fascination with Christina. When the sixth-grade boys would interrupt our punchball game to ogle her, I pretended to be mad, but there I was, equally entranced as she walked by. When they talked about how hot she was, I shrugged and said, “She’s not even that pretty.” If I fumbled the football anywhere near her, I played off my embarrassment by gruffly saying, “Get out of the way. Can’t you see there’s a game going?” The stronger my feelings for her became, the meaner I was to her face.

That’s when Craig Logan was born. I stole the name from the singer of an ’80s British one-hit wonder boy band. I took all the ingredients of what I thought was cool and poured them into the fictitious 15-year-old Craig. Craig liked to skateboard, play guitar, watch horror movies and smoke. He was a cross between James Dean and Lloyd Dobler.

For days, I carefully composed Craig’s first letter to Christina. One afternoon, I walked up to her, barely making eye contact: “Hey, this is from my cousin. He made me promise to give it to you.” My hand was shaking as I gave it to her. She smiled and said, “Wait. Who’s it from?” I tried to remember what I had rehearsed. “It’s from my cousin who lives on Long Island. He picked me up from school last week, saw you, and then told me to give this to you. His name is Craig Logan.” There was an awkward pause. “What’s in it?” she asked. “How would I know? I didn’t write it,” I said dismissively and scurried away.

The next day, Christina came bounding up to me in the school yard, “Here, this is for your cousin.” I grumbled, “OK.” And that was the beginning of the great love letter affair.

I’m not proud of the way I ended it. Craig just suddenly stopped writing letters and calling.

For the next few weeks, Christina and Craig exchanged heartfelt missives about their hopes, their fears, the fact that they both liked New Kids on the Block. The connection felt so real that when Christina asked to talk on the phone, I agreed. While it may sound crazy to think I could keep up the charade, it was a time before most people had caller ID or *69. So, I practiced my false baritone and we’d talk for hours. I still remember the first time I made her laugh — it was the most incredible sound I’d ever heard.

With every letter and phone call, Christina pushed harder to meet and I would deflect with lame excuses (Grounded. Sick grandmother.). I was glad when my family vacation to London bought me two weeks of respite from the mounting pressure. In a stroke of luck, I found a diamond ring on a tube platform and presented it to Christina as a gift from Craig upon my return. But instead of placating her, it made her more impatient — and then, even worse: suspicious.

I had never planned for things to get this far. When she signed that letter “Love, Christina,” I entertained the idea of coming clean. After all, hadn’t she fallen for the author of those letters, the person who charmed her on the phone? Why couldn’t she feel that way about the real me? What if I convinced an older family member to act like Craig while I fed him lines? What if Craig suddenly got sick and I comforted her? The harder I brainstormed, the more improbable the whole thing became. I was heartbroken.

I’m not proud of the way I ended it. Craig just suddenly stopped writing letters and calling. I stayed away from Christina at school. After a few days, she approached me in the yard to ask about Craig. I met her gaze and saw sadness in her eyes. “I don’t know what happened,” I said. “He’s been a real dick lately. I’m sorry.”

All I wanted to do was hug her, but instead, I just walked away.

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