In the 6th grade, I was passionately in love with a boy named Andrew Wright. My love for him had begun to blossom tentatively in the fifth grade, but the sensation that exploded in sixth grade was real love, no more kid’s stuff, and I could sense the difference like night and day. I didn’t love Andrew Wright because he was cute, or because he had a nice way about him and was really funny and would crack jokes in Sunday School, or because he thought I was a good person to have on his baseball team. I loved him because he was the epitome of all that was good and right in the world.
I am older now, and I understand more about life, and I have had disappointments and heartache, but the ability to love someone unconditionally and completely, to see in that person evidence of the possibility of kindness and goodness, has not been battered out of me yet. I hope. It is a naive part of me, perhaps, but I persist in believing it is the best part, all evidence to the contrary.
We grew up in the same neighborhood, and had been hanging around since we were little kids. We went to the same church and had made our first communions together. We were on the same school bus, we would play tag or baseball in the summer twilights or the two of us would take turns re-enacting Carlton Fisk’s famous homer from 1975, as our mothers called us impatiently in to dinner, we would sneak into the backyard of the house diagonally across the street from mine and pick the raspberries that grew there, running away at the slightest movement from inside.
It was all very unrequited. We were eleven years old. Half of the fun was just being in love with someone. Nothing ever had to be done about it.
That winter in 6th grade, Andrew and I spent all of our time after school, and on weekends, skating on the frozen pond in the woods near our houses. He would steal my hat, and I would chase him to get it back. We would wrestle for it, sometimes rolling around on the ice, I would get it back, and then he would chase me. It was a private thing we did. We didn’t reference it when we were in school. We didn’t say to each other, “Let’s keep this a secret.”I guess when you’re a kid you understand these things. We had become very close, in an unspoken way, in an outdoor way. Our true milieu was on the ice, the grey wintry woods around us, chasing each other on skates, laughing, bantering, freezing cold, and the bare trees towering above.
In February of that year, sixth grade, there was a big Valentine’s Day ceremony in our class. In grade school, the custom was to buy Valentine’s Day cards in bulk, the ones with cartoons and silly rubber-stamp sentiments (2 good 2 be 4 forgotten). Each kid was called up by name, all the cards passed out, with everyone hovering over their pile, pre-pubescent misers, reading the messages, fluttering with sixth grade romantic feelings and alarming hormone surges. Of course, once I settled down with my pile, I started searching for Andrew’s card immediately, trying to play it cool in case anyone looked over at me, womanly wiles already kicking in. You know, no biggie, whatever, just lookin’ at my Valentines, not looking for one in particular, heck no!
By the time I got to the bottom of the pile, my heart had turned to something very small and very heavy. He hadn’t given me a card. There was no card from Andrew Wright in my pile. How could he? How could he … how could he have not written me a card? After all that we had shared? After the frozen pond?
It was my first taste of that particular brand of dread, something that I perceive now as adult in nature. As in: My feelings are not reciprocated. How could that be? What will I do now?
It was an entirely new sensation, startling to me in its relentless awfulness.
I thought I might have to get up and leave the classroom, which was abuzz with conversation and laughter and gossip, everybody wandering from desk to desk. I had a pile of cards in front of me, but not one from the boy I loved. I needed to get away and just be really really sad for a minute, maybe even cry, away from my classmates. Nobody must see my grief. Andrew must never ever know how much I had hoped for a Valentine from him.
But then, suddenly, Andrew Wright, on his way somewhere else, walked by my desk and, without stopping or saying a word, dropped what looked like a tiny spitball in front of me. He kept going, didn’t look back. Nobody looking on would have perceived what had happened. It was a sly gesture, meant to appear invisible, a camouflage.
Disbelieving, I opened up the spitball.
It was not a store-bought card. It was not a rubber-stamp Hallmark that he had signed his name to. It was not generic. It was not, in short, like the card I had given to him. (Even then, the intensity of my emotions was such that I felt the need to hide it, to protect people from it, even the boy I loved. It would be “too much”, right?)
What he dropped on my desk was a tiny piece of white construction paper that he had clearly ripped off the corner of a larger sheet, and he had written his own message on it in smudgy #2 pencil:
Youre a good kid and a good story writer.
Even though I was a little kid, I knew what had just happened and the enormity of it:
– He couldn’t have just given me a cutesy Hallmark Valentine. It wouldn’t have been right. In his young boy’s heart, he knew we were closer than that.
– He needed to express how he felt about me privately. It would have been a disaster if other kids in the class had seen that message. Our frozen-pond twilights were in that card.
– In the note, he didn’t talk about how cute I was, or how he liked my freckles, or any other “part” of me. He talked about my qualities and my talents, and how he liked those. We are on the cusp of young adulthood here, still little kids, but with adolescence breathing down our necks. In the years to come, much of the attraction of another human being would be pheromonal, and chemistry-driven, based on the overwhelming desire to roll around on a couch in a clutchy-grabby way with that person. All awesome stuff, but Andrew’s note pre-dates those desires. He probably wouldn’t have written such a note a mere year later, when we were in 7th grade. But here? He likes me because I am a “good kid”, and he likes me because I am a “good story writer.” I did not realize at the time what a gift that would be, to have someone perceive ME, in that way. Or, let’s say, I didn’t realize how much I would yearn for such a note in years to come. Yes, I want someone to want to kiss me and all that, but I also want them to like me for how “good” I am, and my TALENTS.
– A generic flirty note would not have been right either, he knew that, so he made the bold move to go personal. He addressed me. Directly.
The note from Andrew, written before I wore a bra or knew about things like cramps or heartbreak, written during the bleak tail-end of the 1970s, is still the most romantic I have ever received.