Swoon
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"Hi," I said when I saw Laura walking up the stairs as I was walking down. She was the pretty woman who started working down the hall from me a few weeks ago. We'd talked briefly a couple of times in passing, and she seemed nice. I smiled at the woman walking next to her, who I didn't know.

Laura just gazed at me for three or four steps until we passed, then seemed to shake herself from a daze.

"Hi," she replied.

I just assumed she had something on her mind that was distracting her. But as she got to the top of the stairs and went through the doors to the next floor, I heard the woman with her speaking in a slightly too-loud confidential voice.

"What? Laura? What?" the woman repeated. "Oh, I get it ... you like him!" Then the doors banged shut, and I didn't hear another word--just a faint hint of what sounded like giggling.

  
 
It took walking down another two full flights of stairs for my thick skull to absorb what had just happened. When the realization hit, I immediately shook it off. "Nah," I grunted, shaking my head. "Couldn't be."

But it was. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had done something that doesn't happen very often--or at least I don't notice it very often. It's something that for years I didn't think I had the ability to do, or would ever have the ability to do. I'd seen other men do it, both on TV and live and in person, but I just assumed some men had "it" (whatever "it" was), and I didn't.

Here's what happened in that stairway ... I made a woman swoon.

Yes. You read that correctly.

Swoon.

I know because I'm much more used to being the swoon-er rather than the swoon-ee. I've swooned more times than I can remember or count. My first swoon was probably the day my young and pretty first-grade teacher walked into the room. But even back then, I knew enough to keep the swoon symptoms hidden so I didn't scare anyone away. I can recognize the symptoms and understand that if those symptoms manifest themselves in any way, then it's no longer "appreciation" or "admiration" or "affection." It's a swoon. When the symptoms break through the defenses in the form of a vacant stare, an absent-minded non-reply to a greeting, even giggling--then there's no other appropriate diagnosis.

Swoon.

In photos of myself as a child, I was what most of my friends today charitably categorize as "cute." Because children are somewhat less than charitable, most of my classmates back then thought I was "homely" and often used that very word itself to describe me right to my homely face. Throughout my childhood, I just assumed they were correct. My eyes were buggy behind thick-framed glasses worn from age six. My adam's apple was oversized, my hair a tangle, my voice a croak. I was also a farm kid, so I always had a little dirt under my fingernails no matter how hard I scrubbed. And while I could talk to the cows and chickens for days, I found that my rural social skills were a bit limited when connecting with my much more sophisticated small-town classmates.

As I aged, some changes took place. The rest of my body grew to catch up with my adam's apple. We got a TV at home, so I had some models for social skills besides the farm animals. My grades were good even when my study habits were bad. Sports gave my gangly body an outlet that I enjoyed more than shoveling cow manure. And I guess I did get a little better looking as the years crawled by. If I stack all twelve of my school pictures from young to old and thrum their edges like a deck of cards, I can see slight improvement.

But my classmates didn't. When you're labeled "homely" that early, it sticks. I became well-liked enough to be elected class treasurer every year (maybe not "liked" exactly, maybe the only one who could do the math). The girls were happy to be my friend because I would help with their homework or carry boxes for their cookie sales or give them advice about what the guys thought of them. I was their buddy. I was "nice," a label I liked much more than "homely."

But I wasn't boyfriend material. I never had a date. Honest, not one, all through high school. (For the record, I refuse to count being recruited to go to our junior prom with the twenty-three-year-old exchange student from Bolivia as a "date.") Once, in junior high, a beautiful new girl moved to town and made me swoon so much I nearly fell over when she walked by. On her third day at out school, she told me she "liked" me--you know, as in "like-like," the junior high school equivalent of love. But that night, some of her new school friends counseled her that I was homely, so the next day she just wanted to be friends. A week later, she asked me if I thought the pitcher on the baseball team "liked" her. I never swooned in her direction again.

Things changed when I went to the same college as one of my older sisters. New worlds of knowledge and scholarship and community opened up to me--but I didn't notice because some of my sister's friends told her that they thought I was "cute." I hadn't exactly emerged from my cocoon as a beautiful butterfly. It was just that no one in college knew that I had once been a homely caterpillar--except my sister, and she was kind enough not to tell. So I spent much of my four years of higher education making up for the dates I'd missed during high school. In between, I sometimes went to classes.

I've spent my adult life secure in the knowledge that I'm presentable enough to look at. I keep myself clean and fit and nicely trimmed. I still have the glasses, but I've learned to wear them like accessories. My hair still gives me fits, but between the blow dryer and a little gel and some distinguished gray, it's not so bad. My lopsided smile is now balanced a bit with a goatee. I know which weight machines make my muscles look bigger and which sweaters make my stomach look smaller. My confidence is certainly better now that it was when I was in high school. Overall, I guess I'm not a bad package.

But someone to swoon over? I still find that hard to believe. And would I ever want a swoon to be the basis of a relationship? I don't think so. But I do think I'll use Laura's stairway more often. To be on the safe side, however, I'm going to carry my old school pictures with me just in case I need to set the record straight.

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