Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Obsessions, Part 1: Samoans

Be my Valentine?

I fell in love with my first Samoan man at age 14.

I was at EFY ("Especially For Youth") in Salt Lake City, a co-ed church camp for kids aged 14-18 with my friend Mallorie. To paint you a picture of what I was like at 14: I was a torrid combination of chubby, awkward, impressionable, cynical, and stubborn. (Yes, I just described every 14-year-old girl ever.) In addition, I wore the same outfit nearly every day: Chuck Taylor Converse (always my leopard hi-tops or navy low-tops), ill-fitting jeans, mens' T-shirts with cartoon characters or band names like "From Autumn to Ashes" on them, and little to no makeup because I didn't have a clue how to do it. I've never been boy crazy by any standard, but I thought constantly about having a boyfriend then because, well, I was a freshman in high school--what else was I supposed to think about? I didn't have the goals and priorities that I do now.

Unfortunately the whole "I'm better than you and I refuse to participate in your inane icebreaker activities and when you force me to do so I'll roll my eyes and complain to my friend the whole time" attitude, combined with the chubbiness and lack of a clue on how to present myself, did not help me in the getting-a-boyfriend department. There weren't too many boys at EFY that caught my eye, anyway. But there was one guy that befriended Mallorie and I that didn't have the "I expect you to act a certain way because we're at church camp" M.O. that was common at these types of functions. Chad would come and talk to us while we were off being cooler than everyone else, and I grew to be really comfortable around him. But this story isn't about Chad (or maybe it is, to some extent)...

If you've never been to a Mormon camp before, just know that--in addition to capri pants, chunky blonde highlights, and awkward side hugs--there is a lot of eating and dancing. "Dancing" meaning standing a foot apart with your arms touching and swaying back and forth to heavily censored R. Kelly songs. If anyone gets too cozy, a chaperone will step in and remind you, "Three Book of Mormons apart!" There were dances pretty much every other night at EFY, to encourage the boys and girls to get to know each other, and since we weren't 18 yet, there wasn't the obvious cloud of pressure to get married hanging over us. I suspect dances were probably fun for people who were not 14-Year-Old-Me. Mallorie, who was and always has been uniquely beautiful, was asked to dance almost every song, while I played it cool in the corner, acting like I didn't feel uncomfortable standing by myself.

It was the last night of EFY, and our last dance. It was a fancy one with balloons and cute little cakes to eat and punch to drink. I had on my best outfit: a black-and-white flower patterned A-line silk skirt, dress sandals with a slight heel, and a magenta top. While Mallorie was dancing, I hung out with Chad (who was going through a similar awkward 14-year-old stage) as we surveyed the crowd. "Are there any guys here you like?" he asked me.

I blushed. "Yeah," I admitted. "But he doesn't even know I exist."

"Who is it?!" Chad demanded.

"Randall," I whispered.

Everybody at EFY that year knew Randall. It was impossible not to notice him. He was muscular, with caramel-colored skin, warm eyes, a wide white smile, and cool bleached blonde hair. Besides standing out physically, he was nice to EVERYONE. Each time I passed him between classes and activities and parties, he was smiling or giving handshakes or hugs or entertaining a group of admirers. And he was Samoan, the first Samoan person I had ever met. For the talent show night, he taught the other 18-year-old boys the Haka, which I'm pretty sure is Maori for "the manliest, sexiest tribal war dance in existence." I was completely transfixed. The more time I spent at camp, the more I fell in love with Randall from afar. This was the first time of many in my high school career that I silently set my heart on a guy that was much older than me, not to mention out of my league, and ignored any other candidates that would have actually been attainable.

Chad was a good guy. Such a good guy that, as soon as I admitted my Randall crush obsession, he sprang away and said, "I'll be right back." The blood rushed out of my face as my heart stopped. I immediately feared the worst: he was going to find Randall and tell him about my crush obsession. Why would he do that to me?! As soon as Chad pointed to the wallflower 4 years younger than him, Randall would laugh and ask some fake-baked platinum-haired chick hiding her push-up bra under her scoop neck top to marry him. She would then strut around with a princess-cut engagement ring and serve chocolate fondue at her wedding reception in the church gymnasium.

But to my surprise, Chad strode around the crowd of smiley hands-off dancers, grinning, with Randall in tow. "This is my friend I was telling you about," he said, gesturing to me. Randall burst into a smile and hugged me immediately. I was paralyzed; I couldn't speak.

"Would you like to dance with me?" he asked. I nodded, stupefied. As Randall led me into the crowd, I mouthed to Chad:


Of course, Randall was an amazing dancer and he smelled just as amazing. He had an ice blue dress shirt on that mixed beautifully with his dark skin and eyes. I was literally shaking as we danced, and I hoped he didn't notice. Randall was the definition of a gentleman: polite, interested, confident, and respectful. I don't even remember what we talked about as we danced. It was an out-of-body experience. Those four minutes were the most exhilarating of my 14-year-old life. (Until a few months later when there was a chance I could meet Michael Phelps.)

Randall embraced me again after the song ended, said, "Nice to meet you," and we parted ways. I could say that we kept in touch after that, that we wrote each other and talked on the phone and when I came up to visit one spring after I reached the legal age of consent, he proposed and we had a big Samoan wedding and I had a bunch of half-Samoan babies who grew up to play for the Green Bay Packers. But that would be way too boring. I wouldn't be able to entertain you with all my uncomfortable antics if my life was that predictable.

Instead, that memory with Randall instilled in me a lifelong love of Samoans. When I find out that someone is Samoan I like them approximately 500% more. If a guy tells me he has Samoan heritage I abandon my usual aloofness and shyness and make it clear that I would follow him to his beautiful island home the minute he asked. I am head-over-heels for The Rock and his tribal tattoos, and I yelled "SAMOA!" every time Lavasier Tuinei scored during the Rose Bowl. Some might say that this fetish of mine is racist (I guess I need to go back to the 6-hour diversity training we all sat through when I worked for the University of Bleeding Heart Oregon), but I have yet to meet a Samoan that wasn't as wonderful as Randall. It's the culture, it's their attitude about life and treating others well, it's the cheekbones and the muscles and the great skin. When it comes right down to it, I just can't help but love Samoan men.

If only I didn't exist...then I'd be perfect for Manti Te'o.* ;-)

Too bad he plays for Notre Dame :-/

*At least seven of my friends said this exact same joke to me after that story broke.