My first school memory was in Austin, Texas. I attended a preschool with my brother. I very much enjoyed this school. We ate peanut butter and banana sandwiches. We ate celery and peanut butter. Lot of Peter Pan peanut butter. We sang Singing in the Bathtub and pretended to wash our armpits. We took a walk to the corner store. There were butter cup flowers along the path. My teacher taught me how to hold the flower under my chin. If my chin glowed yellow, then it was conclusive, empirical proof that I liked butter. She assured me that I did. I certainly did after that day.
My crushes on girls can be traced back to this class. I was “girl crazy” from a very young age. If I’m not mistaken, you can tell if someone is girl or boy crazy if touching the back of their neck makes them ticklish. I was undeniably girl crazy. I never went through an “ick girls!” phase. I have only one recollection of the girl at that school. I was looking out of the window of the second story classroom into the playground and I saw her in her coat and dress; brown hair and ribbon. It’s hard to explain how a 3-4 year old crushes on someone. Perhaps I simply wanted to hold her hand. Or maybe it was far grander. Maybe I fantasized about marriage and “playing house”. All I know for sure is that my tummy felt funny when I saw her. We moved very soon after. It would be one of several experiences in childhood unrequited love.
We moved to Lonoke Arkansas when I was four. There, we attended Ginger Bread Pre-school. We ate chili mac for lunch. Kids got yelled at for not eating, but I didn’t have to be asked twice. I steered clear of a kid whose nose was filled to the brim with brown boogers. I joined the more daring boys on the playground clearing the slide in one broad jump from the very top.
As Christmas approached, a boy who would became my friend throughout elementary school stood before the class. He was a plump kid. Adults used the word “husky” for kids like that. Consequently, his voice was very husky as well. He recited Twas the Night Before Christmas. It was the most impressive feat from a kid my age I had ever witnessed. I cannot hear that poem without thinking of him.
My crushes continued on through kindergarten, but I lacked the courage or the skill to doing anything about them, and the few attempts that I made were sorely lacking ranging from the ineffective to the humiliating.
My parents could not afford nice clothes for us. If we got new clothes, they were from the Sears catalog. But we were very fortunate that there were two boys in our church whose father owned the nice clothing store in town. We got all of their nice hand-me-downs. It was exciting to us to wear Polo and Izod. Every kid wishes they were richer, and this helped me create the perception that we were.
On the first day of school (1st/2nd/3rd grade, I cannot remember), I chose some fresh hand-me-downs. It was a red and white satin track suit (tank top, and shorts). I was a little anxious about the satin, but I figured if the previous owner could pull them off, I certainly could. I tucked the shirt in, put on some knee-high tube socks with red racing stripes and proudly strutted to school.
No one said anything at first, but finally a kid who eventually became my friend took me aside. We were both running errands for our teachers. As we walked he said something like “Where did you get that shirt?”
I lied and said my mom bought it.
He said, “Some of the kids are saying it’s a girl’s shirt. I say wear what you want, but I thought you’d like to know.” Or some little kid version of that. I felt embarrassed for the rest of the day, and I never wore it again. I must have wondered if I just wasn’t as cool as the previous owner. At least not cool enough to make it work.
When I did finally get a girl to like me, she told me that her mother and father had forbid her to have a boyfriend. I wondered if her parents were some sort of old-fashioned pioneer people. I’m not sure why pioneer and not puritan or something, but we had a romance none-the-less. She would not let me kiss her, but she did let me hug her. That was good enough for me. It was an ephemeral affair lasting three or four recesses.
My third grade year was the most violent year of my life. I punched both my best friend and the 3rd grade held-back school bully square in the right eye. I was disappointed because I was going for an uppercut to the jaw like on tv, but I couldn’t make it happen. I never hit another person again.
Then came, the most awful, most violent thing I’ve ever done in my life. I shudder to recall it. We had a very sprawling playground. There were several creatures that could be found out in the field. There were dragonflies, bees, butterflies, and frogs. There was a disturbing trend going on with the boys. They were stomping toads to death for sport and for an initiation of sorts. I did not fancy the idea at all, but there was a pressure to participate. One day, I gathered the courage to do it. I do not wish to describe the terrible result of my action. I’m disturbed to this day by the thought of that poor toad. Perhaps this is why I feel uncomfortable with toads to this day; guilt.
The bees were of interest to me. I went through a period of catching bees in jars, and one day I decided to catch one in my hands on the playground. I’d seen an older kid do it. Naturally, I was stung. The on-duty teacher sent me to the librarian. I thought this was odd, because we had a full-time nurse on staff, but I didn’t mind. The librarian was one of my favorite people. I had spent several weeks as the library aid.
It was quiet, dark, and cool in the library, which was a calming change from the heat and noise of the children playing. My life-long love affair with books started in that room with Ivanhoe and a kid’s mystery series called Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. I showed her the sting which was already swelling. She said very little. She was a very quiet and stately woman. She pulled out a pack of cigarettes, deftly extracted one, and proceeded to open it up. She took my hand, pulled out the stinger, and rubbed tobacco on the skin. It helped. I don’t remember it bothering me much for the rest of the day.
There was one girl I was crazy about from the time I met her in first grade to the time I left Lonoke in sixth grade. She was a quiet girl. Smart. A good athlete. She lived alone with her mother. I thought she was extraordinarily pretty. I began petitioning her in second grade with the standard form; a note with a check box for like or not like. At first she declined to answer. Then she made a very ambiguous response. Perhaps checking both. Or adding a third box with friends or something. But I was persistent.
In third grade, she finally checked yes. She let me hold her hand on the playground for one day. Then it was over. She wanted to just be friends. That was the first time I heard that line, and I was grateful to at least have that. It wasn’t the last time in my life it happened to me.
In my final year in Lonoke, she had a boy/girl birthday dance party; the very first of our grade. There, I learned that she was “going with” the coolest boy in sixth grade. I watched them slow dance, and I knew it was hopeless. I would never be as good looking, athletic, or suave as he was. We moved away, and I moved on.
There were many more crushes and girl-crazy moments, and many more cases of unrequited love, but eventually I struck gold. In 10th grade I asked Jennifer Wilson to dinner and a movie. She was my first true love, and I’m crazy about her.