I‘m a big fan of what you might call “schoolboy flirting.” You know, a game of footsies at the library table, stray hands under the lunch table, or an exchange of whispers over a slow dance at prom.
But I guess it's best to start from the beginning.
In 6th grade, I went out with a girl named Shanna, who had a locker right below me. She was an outgoing blonde who was a little out of my league (at least in 6th grade), and I was a fairly shy blonde who played center field for the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoons (I once made a diving catch, but that's neither here nor there). Shanna and I saw each other at our lockers every day of course, but I was bad at making small talk.
One day, Shanna handed me a note… IN PERSON. It was all folded up in that girly way where it takes longer to unravel the note than it does to read it. The bell for the next class was imminent.
“Here,” she said.
I could have sworn my heart was going to jump out of my scrawny chest and hit her in the face, splattering blood all over her mother's makeup. I couldn't think how I would ever be able to clean up the mess and let the incident blow over.
Instead, the only thing that came out of me was, “Oh, ummm….. ok.” And then we parted ways for 6th period.
I sat down in that 6th period class, or as I like to call it, “the time the world shrank to two people,” and pondered whether to throw the note away, run out of the school, and move to Sioux Falls, South Dakota in order to avoid seeing her ever again. Then I remembered I had piano practice that afternoon and my mom would kill me if I missed it.
I couldn't imagine what Shanna would have to say to me, but judging from her gentle note-passing approach, and the fact that I had never dropped a book on her head or done anything to really impact her life, I assumed it could only be some sort of secret divulgence.
Slowly, I unfolded the note, awe-inspired by the angle of every crease. “Do you think she planned out how to fold this ahead of time, or is it just a random power girls have to leave just enough paper to tuck the note into itself and close perfectly?” I wasn't good at answering my own questions.
Finally, I reached the core. I felt around for money like an 18-year-old opening a birthday card from his father. Okay no, I didn't do that.
I read the letter. It was approximately two paragraphs long and I don't remember exactly what it said. I do remember it started with “Court-” and ended with “[heart], Shanna.” In the middle, she basically exposed our awkward “like-tension” around the locker and casually asked me if I wanted to go out with her. As I recall, the tone of her letter could be paraphrased like this:
I wonder why you don't talk to me more. You are pretty quiet. I like you. I will allow you to go out with me if you want. But if you don't want to, no big deal. I just thought I'd bring up the option.
I look forward to going out with you in the future.
The Girl in Charge
After taking the bathroom pass three times that period to vomit up the nervousness of the quickly-approaching “next locker encounter,” I decided I had no choice but to go out with her. Who was I to turn down a blooming hottie?
The bell rang. Slowly, I made my way to my locker. Suddenly, it wasn't just a place to get books for the next class, it was a giddy, nervous, emotional bubble. Our lockers may as well have been one entity.
I got to our locker first and took my time gathering and replacing a few books, not wanting to miss her and prolong the encounter overnight. She still wasn't there. “Maybe she'll never come back,” I thought. “That's it. That's perfect. I know she likes me, and that's enough for me. No awkward hello's, first kiss bumbles, or after-dinner conversations about English homework. Just me and this note, proving everything to all my friends!”
“Oh… hey Shanna.”
“Did you read my note?”
“Yeah ummm, I did. Uhh, sounds good to me.” My voice was cracking on impact with the air.
“So you wanna go out?”
“Yeah… definitely.” I had no idea what I was saying. Definitely?! Where the fuck did you get these kind of balls, Sullivan?!
“Ok cool, well, I guess I'll see you after 7th period.”
I had never gone out with anyone before. Save for an even more awkward love note given to me in 3rd grade, I had never even heard a girl acknowledge these type of feelings for me before. (See how I used the word acknowledge, as if a lot of girls DID have feelings for me, but never expressed them? Yeah, that's just my ego kicking in for a ninth inning save here.) “What the hell do people do when they go out? Where would we ever have alone time? Should we go to the bathroom and make out as soon as 7th period is over and then dump each other?” I was lost.
But the answer was simple: I had to write her back.
And so it was, that my first girlfriend became a penpal, interrupted only by awkward “we should probably be expressing like for each other” conversations in between periods during school.
Eventually, she wrote me saying I didn't talk enough, and she wanted to stop going out (I don't think it was called breaking up back then). Besides, she really liked my best friend. Oh, and by the way, could I try to see if he liked her back?
Oh, that two-timing little…. Had she just used me to get closer to my best friend? Had our relationship meant NOTHING?!?! WHAT ABOUT ALL THAT INK I SPILLED FOR YOU, BABY!!! DON'T YOU KNOW PAPER COSTS $2 AT THE SUPPLY STORE?!
So that's the story of me and my first girlfriend. Sad? Well, true at least.
Ten years later, my mom and I took our cat in to the vet in my hometown. The vet assistant came out and I recognized her immediately. It was Lisa, my girlfriend from 11th grade. No, stupid! That wouldn't make sense for the story. It was Shanna, duh.
She led us back to a room without a hesitation in her eye. I knew it. She didn't recognize me. Like I said, THAT LITTLE TWO-TIMING…. But I couldn't help feeling nostalgic. I had to say something to her, right? I mean, there's no pride to be lost over a 6th grade relationship anyway. (Is there?)
I asked her if she remembered me. Right in front of my mom. Her eyes squinted with faint familiarity. But she obviously needed help. I told her my name and that we used to know each other in middle school. “OHH,” she said, followed by some irrelevant proof she wasn't lying.
I studied her reaction for any sign she had taken the bait. Would she know “what I was really talking about?”
“Yeeeah,” she said carefully, as if still processing her childhood.
Then it came: a slow, twinkly-eyed smile of understanding that grew conspicuously larger and slyer over a period of 10 seconds. For those 10 seconds, we must have shared 25 notes worth of unspoken thoughts.
It was an unusual moment. Both of us were actually able to look back and acknowledge our silly schoolboy/schoolgirl flirtation openly, knowing we had obviously grown into different and uncompatible people. But still, it felt really good… in that forever young sort of way (not that I'm really old enough to use that term yet).
And then it made me think, which encounters today will I reflect on in 10 years?
Well, whoever they're of, I hope I won't be telling you about our awkward first dates at her locker after 6th period.