Technically, Nan Mixon and I are still together.
Even though each of us is married now—with kids. She lives in New Mexico. I live in South Carolina...
She and I have been “going together” since the fall of 1983. We never actually broke up. Or maybe we never actually got together. It’s been 32 years after all. Eighth grade fades.
Besides, do painfully introverted thirteen year olds ever really get together? Do they ever really break-up?
Nan was a good-natured but reluctant cheerleader for my middle school football team, the Dolphins. One night after a game in early October, the cheerleaders were asking players for their jerseys to wear to school the next day. Somehow Nan got mine. Somebody asked me for it, but it couldn’t have been her. She was too shy. And me, I handed my jersey off no questions asked. Too shy to say no.
The next day, there she was in Mrs. Moore’s homeroom: Nan Mixon was wearing my number 64.
So there’s this kid, Devon Davis. He rode my bus. Big kid. Well, fat. Big and fat. Black kid. Not that it mattered...I grew up in a very integrated neighborhood in northwest Columbia. All of us...black kids, white kids, fat kids...we were all reliably middle class. Parents had decent jobs, most of us made good grades. It was pretty charming, all things considered. Though I do remember that everyone, every last one of us was nervous around Devon Davis. He never quite fit.
Devon was a good kid, I think. But being that big...oversized for his age...not really the best-looking guy, you know? Plus, he didn’t say much. There were a lot of loud, show-offy kids in my neighborhood. Even shy kids like me could hold court on Star Wars or Myrtle Beach or Dale Murphy. But not Devon. He just kind of sat there...or stood. Scowling. Like he was mad. At you. Devon hung out with us, I guess, but it was always clear...you didn’t want to mess with him.
Devon wasn’t a bully or anything, but he did seem preoccupied a lot. Like he was thinking about stuff. Stuff we didn’t know about. Stuff we didn’t want to know about. Nobody ever saw or heard of Devon’s parents. The rumor was he lived with his dad. No mom to speak of. Which must be an unusual situation for a kid. No mom might make a boy sad. Might even make him mean. Not that anyone knew exactly what he was...sad or mean. Just that he was a force to be reckoned with. Or...not reckoned with.
All of which made it really weird when he approached me at lunch that day:
“Yo. Chris. Do you like Nan?”
I was stunned. I had no idea that Devon Davis even knew my name. I don’t think I’d ever heard him speak! And here he was...talking to me. About Nan Mixon?
“Yo, do you like Nan Mixon? She’s wearing your jersey.”
Devon spoke very deliberately, in a rhythm. Almost musically. And he started nearly every sentence with yo! His voice was small. Like a kid’s. Too small for his body. It was so strange. Plus, how in the world did he know it was my jersey Nan was wearing?
“I don’t know, Devon” was the best I could muster.
He laughed. Another first. One of those teasing bus cackles you’d hear on the way to school in the morning. “Yo. She like you.”
“Do you want to go with her?”
DO-YOU-WANT-TO-GO-WITH-HER. The words came out of his mouth like a machine gun round. I’d never had a girlfriend. Not even close. And suddenly—was it my sports prowess?—suddenly, Devon Davis made everything seem possible.
“Yo. You need to ask her to go with you.”
Devon’s eyes were grave. Wise. And, oddly enough, kind. This wasn’t a set-up. He wasn’t mocking me. He believed in me. More than I believed in myself. And maybe...more than he believed in himself.
“Do you want me to ask her for you?”
I looked around. My best friend Jeff Taylor was recapping last night’s Magnum P.I. with Michael Wynn and Gabe Scott a few seats away. Was this really happening to me? Back to Devon. “Yeah.”
Devon was—I’d never seen that look on anyone’s face before—he was so, so happy. Pleased with himself. Like a fireman who’d just rescued a kitten from a burning house handing it off with a wink to a scared little girl. “No more tears sweetie. Patches is a-okay. Eight lives left.”
Devon walked off. I sat there, locked in. My lunchbox seemed so quaint now, so 7th grade. NFL helmets? Give me a break.
Pretty soon, Devon was back. He had this cocky grin on his face: “Yo. She said okay. She will go with you.”
Later that day, I saw Nan at the lockers between classes. She kinda smiles and asked, “Did Devon talk to you?"
“Yeah,” I answered. She lit up. You guys! I became a man in that moment. Yes. Yes Nan Mixon. I am your boyfriend. We are A Couple.
And the next several months were...I don’t know. School life turned into a Hall & Oates music montage. It was so great.
We both loved Hall & Oates. “Say It Isn’t So” had just come on the radio and it became our song:
We were perfect together. But it wasn’t just us. Devon Davis was a part of this...this miracle of love. He’d made it all happen. And he checked in on us all the time. Wanted to make sure things were going okay.
“Yo. Are you going to the dance with Nan?”
“Yo. You ever seen her on the weekends?”
“Once at the mall. Turns out her dad knows my mom...from some church thing.”
“Yo. Do you call her?”
“Yo. Do you make out with Nan Mixon?”
“At the dance. Yeah.”
“She a good kisser?”
“We both have braces. It’s...complicated.”
“Yo. Are you in love with her?"
“I guess so. She’s my girlfriend.”
It was the last day of school before the Christmas break. There were parties in every class all day long. Nan and I were pretty much inseparable. I gave her a cassette of the ambitiously titled Hall & Oates greatest hits record, Rock ‘n Soul, Part 1. I think she gave me cologne. One of those old-timey, man-scents from the drug store: Canoe, English Leather, Brut.
We were a story, you know? Tabloid headliners at our school. Popular girls checked in with Nan...how’s it going with Chris, that sort of thing. Guys teased me like I was Danny Zuko.
It was kinda like we were popular. Which was new for both of us. And, all things considered, I think we handled it pretty well. Didn’t let it go to our heads. Love didn’t change us. It just made us...I don’t know...cooler, more adult versions of our previous selves.
Over the holiday break, Nan and I traded a couple of phone calls...didn’t really hang out. And heading back to school, the first day, I remember...on the bus, feeling a little anxious. Devon was sitting behind me.
“Yo. You glad to see Nan today?”
“Are you still going with her?”
What? Was I still going with her? Why’d he ask that? Of course I was still going with her. Did Devon Davis know something I didn’t? How could he? He’d been home from school for two weeks, too. Give me a break. I just looked at him like he was an idiot. And honestly, I think it kinda hurt his feelings.
I saw Nan in homeroom, but...this is weird...somehow we got turned around. Never quite saw each other, you know? The morning P.A. announcements started and I was seated behind her, to the left. We just kinda missed each other’s eyes. Then, when the bell rang for first period, she was talking to a friend...and Kevin Wingard came up and asked if I’d seen D.C. Cab over the break. We’d gone to see A Christmas Story with my cousins in Chattanooga. He said I should’ve seen D.C. Cab. Mr. T was in it and was hilarious. I looked up and just like that, Nan was gone.
It went on like that. All day. We kept missing each other. Or...were we avoiding each other? I couldn’t tell anymore. I was so...so scared. I don’t know how to do relationships! I’m just a kid. And this girl... She’s not even looking at me! My mind kept going back to our last phone conversation.
We’d talked about the Hall & Oates tape. How much she loved it. My kiss was on her list—I swear she said that. Or did she? Had I just imagined it? Was my girlfriend a Maneater?
The next day, more of the same, but worse. It was obvious. We were avoiding each other. And people were noticing. How could they not? We were middle school celebrities.
Jeff Taylor...who seemed oblivious to romantic things like Nan Mixon and Hall & Oates and the crippling fear of losing a girl and not knowing why...he asked me at lunch:
“Don’t you have a girlfriend?”
“I don’t know anymore.”
“Did you break up with her?”
“Did she break up with you?"
“Then...you do have a girlfriend, Chris.”
“I don’t know, man. It doesn’t feel like it.”
Wednesday, in math class, Nan and I finally made eye contact. I looked up and caught her looking at me. She looked away fast.
I couldn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now. We just couldn’t speak to each other. There was so much to say, but...there were no words.
Wicked things can happen. You see 'em goin' down in war. But when you play in a quiet way, that bites it even more. Say it...say it isn’t so.
Devon Davis came up to me after lunch the next day during an outdoor break time. It was January. Freezing. Kids were outside and clumped in packs, smoke coming from their mouths. Even the athletic guys’ daily football free-for-all was shut down for the day. Too cold.
Devon had the look of a surgeon come to tell you your grandmother didn’t make it.
“Yo. Nan wants to break up with you."
Oh God. Devon just looked at me...pleadingly. Could I save this? She was breaking up with the both of us. And he knew it.
“Why?” I stammered.
He shrugged. If I was going to play innocent in all this, there was no way we were going to get her back.
I threw my hands. Nearby, some kid pulled a Blow Pop out of his mouth. Steam curled off the top.
And it was in that moment that I saw...it was grief. Devon Davis broke. Maybe it reminded him of when his parents split. Or maybe this was the closest he’d ever come to believing in True Love. Maybe he worried that he’d never get a chance to ask a girl to go with a guy again. But I swear to you. He cried. Not big, blubbery, girl tears. He was too Devon Davis for that. But he did cry. Like grizzled G.I.s cry when the sarge takes one in the gut.
“I’m sorry, D.”
He shook his head, turned, and went to break me up with Nan Mixon.
Don't need someone to lean on....but if I'm faced with being replaced, I want you even more. Oh baby say it isn’t so...
“She said okay.” Devon barely made eye contact with me as he relayed the information on the bus that afternoon. No yo. And that was that.
Devon, Nan and I didn’t really ever speak again after eighth grade, though we did graduate from high school on the same day in 1988. Once in a while, during high school, we’d pass each other in the halls, exchanged a sideways glance every now and then. We were people with a secret. And nobody wanted to give it away.
My senior year... I remember talking to Nan. I was dating a girl who was her second or third cousin or something...
“Dana’s mom is my dad’s cousin. We see each other at family reunions sometimes.”
“Her parents were talking about you.” Then low: “My mom told them about us.”
And it was January of 1984 all over again. My throat went dry, my hands went numb. I just looked at her... There was so much I wanted to say to her, so many things I wanted to ask. What happened to us? Why couldn’t we speak to each other that week after Christmas break?
Did Devon Davis cry when he broke up with you that day?
But nothing came. Nan was dating Jeff Taylor by then. Yeah. That Jeff Taylor. My so-called best friend from eighth grade. He married her a few years later.
As for Devon, well... Devon Davis after high school? Not a clue. No idea what happened to him, or where he is now.
He had slimmed down during high school, traded football for track. And, I never knew this, but...I cracked open my high school yearbook a few days ago. Devon had been in the National Art Society and president of the high school art club.
Yo. You’re finally making sense to me, D.
There’s no finding him, of course. But I like to speculate. I imagine Devon Davis, going off to college, studying studio art and graphic design. He’s good at it, too. I can see him meeting some girl he’s crazy about. Finally working up the nerve to ask her out. She says yes. They date, get married, have a bunch of kids. And he goes on to design some great logo. Something we all see all the time. Like, on a pack of gum or the label on your shirt or on some billboard you pass everyday coming home from work.
Something about it...captures you, moves you. Deep within the lines and forms and colors of that mark you can hear a sweet-voiced “Yo. Who jersey you wearing? Yo. Want me to ask Chris to go with you? Yo...”
“He said yes.”
You were always the shy, quiet type. Never had a boyfriend. Until now—until that scowling fat kid came up to you at lunch and made you an offer.
Written and performed for "Truth Is... Stupid Cupid: Tales of Crazy, Stupid Love or Lack Thereof" at Gala Desserts, Charleston SC USA, 16 February 2016.