I got an excited call from Susie, a high school classmate who started Zooming with our old friends. She heard from Helen, who worked on the school newspaper with us. I sometimes think about Helen during basketball season because a basketball player was the reason Helen put our close friendship to the test. Helen was fixated on a problem, which was based on her self- image, and she solicited my help. Remember, we were teenagers.
I had gone on two mediocre dates with Bob, who was a member of the varsity basketball team, while Helen obsessed over him. She asked me to stop seeing him because, in her eyes, I had the power to affect her destiny. If Bob asked for another date with me, Helen wanted me to refuse. Then she would be free to launch a Bob-focused campaign. To underscore her request, Helen divulged her true motive to Susie and me, and I agreed to support her. Bob and I weren’t an item, and I didn’t expect that we would ever become one. I admit that Susie and I thought Helen was crazy, but I was her friend.
It had nothing to do with sports; Helen cared nothing about basketball. That girl didn’t know a foul from a free throw, and the fact that Bob was a varsity team athlete was merely incidental. She didn’t even have a crush on him. No, it wasn’t a matter of the heart; rather, it was a matter of the height.
Helen, to her constant frustration, was exactly 5 feet tall. Her mother was 4-foot-10, her father 5-foot-1, and her older brother, the tall one in the family, claimed to be 5-foot-5. She was popular and brainy and she “came from money,” as my mother would say. There were lots of great guys who wanted to go out with her, yet she consistently rebuffed all suitors who weren’t at least a foot taller than she was.
Helen wasn’t thinking of herself. She was strategizing to create the genetic possibility of offspring who could reach dishes above the first shelf and whose feet would always touch the floor when they were seated. Because any boyfriend was a potential permanent mate, Helen was single-minded in her dating choices, and anyone under 6 feet tall need not apply. Bob, one of four towering brothers and sisters, was 6-foot-2. Helen needed a tall husband with heavy-duty DNA.
With me out of the Bob picture and our friendship intact, Helen devised a three-step strategy. First, she started showing up in the gym for afterschool basketball practice, where she smiled at Bob, while learning about the game. Second, for the school paper, she offered to interview and photograph the basketball players.
When she got to Bob, she asked fawning questions and took lots of pictures. Third, she had the photos enlarged and presented copies to him. He believed the intended message that Helen worshipped him, and Bob was captivated by her devotion. He became the proud recipient of teasing from teammates, who were jealous that their less devoted girlfriends seldom came to watch them practice.
Helen began to appreciate Bob’s equanimity and sense of humor, which was clearly displayed on the court, and their relationship deepened. They became an easily recognizable couple. The school paper did a two-page spread of our senior prom, and their picture showed Helen (high heels, high hairdo) gazing raptly upwards and tuxedoed (extra-long) Bob bending lovingly toward her as they danced. After graduation, Helen and Bob went to different universities, but stayed together; they married when Bob broke into sports broadcasting for a local station.
Helen heard about Susie’s high school alumni Zoom meetings and joined. Susie told her that she and I are still in touch, and when Helen shared a brief history of her happily married life with Bob, she purposely included this data: They have one daughter of “average height” (whatever that means to Helen) and two grandchildren. What about them? Susie asked. “They’re not seriously into sports, but they totally take after Bob’s family,” Helen answered meaningfully, then added, “Ask Chana if she remembers everything that happened.” You bet I do!