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How old was I in first grade? We’ll say I was six, I’m pretty sure. My brother Jesse was born that summer and we’re six years apart. Also It was 1989, so ultimately me being six, that makes sense. Because, math.
My hair was no longer white blonde. It was darker, but it still stood up every which way. My lips were perpetually chapped and I always had one hand idly down my drawers while I relaxed reading a book or sitting in front of the TV.
I went to Community Park School. My family lived in Princeton, New Jersey, where my dad had just finished his PhD. and was working as an assistant rector at an episcopal parish called All Saints. It was in first grade, at this church, when someone gave me shit about my dad for the first time. This was before we were all Catholic so we’re not talking your average “your dad touches little boys” stuff. He’s got cerebral palsy which affects the way he talks and moves. I think this kid, Kenny, called him a spaz.
Spaz? I didn’t know what that meant. I thought maybe it had something to do with pasta. But my dad’s limbs weren’t al dente, and usually when someone screams something at you in a jeering tone it is seldom related to fine Italian cuisine.
Plus, if I had any doubts, I knew from the way my best friend Elizabeth chased after Kenny hurling rocks at him, that it wasn’t good. I felt bad in the pit of my stomach. I felt that way again four years later, when, visiting Elizabeth, I spied a note on her bed that she’d written with another girl. It was all about how much she liked Kenny. “Kenny, Kenny?” I asked. “It’s just a stupid note.” I didn’t understand anything.
We used to spend hours talking about how much she wanted to murder Kenny. She talked, I listened. We rode bikes, we picked Queen Anne’s Lace. We painted our My Little Ponies with watercolors. We talked about Kenny. If anyone had heard us talking, they would have thought it was a real plan. Monster children. We sat in her dad’s walk-in closet and tried on his shoes. Her lip curled up just like Elvis when she talked about punching Kenny in the face until he fell over.
Of course, punching someone into an unconscious state and wanting to mount them for a rigorous session of dry humping are basically the same feelings, I guess.
I didn’t feel that way about Ian. He had dark hair and he was heavyset. In first grade I started keeping a journal for the first time. I chronicled chicken pox, Ian, ponies, and the crisis in Iraq. I couldn’t draw an actual star, so every time I mentioned Ian’s name I underscored it with a star of David. Looking back on those pages without the context I have, you’d just think I was a very conflicted anti-semitic little girl going out of her way to highlight the identity of one particular Jewish boy.
My friend Adam saw the diary and the stars and got mad that I had a crush on a Jewish boy who wasn’t him. “He’s not even Jewish! That’s just the only star I can draw!” That was all I had. It didn’t help. We sat in his basement and watched I’m Really Rosie together while my stomach rolled into knots and I tried to think of something to say. I guess it’s the first time I broke someone’s heart. The awkwardness was over by the next time I saw him.
I don’t remember a lot more about Ian. I remember more about Adam. I spent a lot of time at his house. His mom, Barb, and my mom were good friends. He had a scary older brother who tried to teach my mom how to skateboard. She fell down and hit her butt hard, but she just laughed. When his family moved to Boston, we went to visit them once and Adam took me to the Museum of Science and got me “free lemonade” which he made by getting a glass of water and squeezing in the free lemons and adding an insane amount of free sugar from the condiments section in the food court.
We were very different, and by that point, I was shy around him. He was very into science and music I think. I remember being surprised to find that he was a bit of a nerd. I didn’t think in those terms when I was six. Then, he was just my friend. Now, we didn’t have anything in common. I wasn’t really into anything other than books and maybe some big hits from the ’50s and ’60s.
We hadn’t seen each other in years, and things were slightly awkward. He wanted to play outside, and at first I felt so stiff and ungainly that it was like my arms were growing and growing until they hit the ground as we stood out there. Then he started humming the theme from "Peter and the Wolf" and I remembered the way his house smelled at dinner time and what the floor looked like on a late afternoon with the light leaking in.
After that, things were easier. That was back in middle school. I haven’t seen him since.
My family moved when I was in third grade. I was over Ian by then. I was over Ian by the time first grade came to a close. I saw him once after that. Weirdly, he also moved -- and to the same place. I bumped into him at a middle school dance and was bowled over by the coincidence in a way that only a person who thinks it’s cool to wear an X-Files T-shirt to a school dance would. I followed him around talking about how weird it was, how crazy.
At first he just nodded, as equally delighted. Then he started to feel ill at ease. He looked at me out of the corner of his eyes, assessing my look. He had Oakleys on the back on his head. I was wearing glasses and knock-off Doc Martens. I thought of going to visit Adam in Boston. I felt a lump in my throat.