Monday, August 27, 2007

First Love

Who would want to go to a 50 year class reunion?
by Charlie Leck

My high school class of 1958 will celebrate
the 50th anniversary of our graduations
next year and, of course, a big reunion party
is in the works. The organizers have
successfully tracked me down, captured my
address and formally warned me that they
will harass me for the next 8 months, trying
to convince me to attend.
This essay is the second in a series of four about
what a dunce I was in school days and why
I would never have the courage to show my
face at any class reunion. Another series of
four will follow in two or three weeks.

Love consumed me the first time when I was 9 or 10 years old. I didn’t say I fell in love, mind you. I was totally consumed by love. It overwhelmed me and it made me dim-witted. Instead of doing my math homework assignments in the evening, as I should have, I sat in my room thinking of her, my first dear love. At baseball practice, standing out at the third base position, I would take a line drive in the thigh because I wasn’t paying attention. I was thinking of her and how beautiful she was and what a perfectly wonderful smile she had.

It was unrequited love, believe me. She thought I was a jerk and she was certainly correct about that. She never looked at me and she didn’t even nod a ‘good morning’ or ‘thank you’ when I allowed her to go first in the lunch line. I’m not saying I blamed her. I didn’t. Even now, I don’t.

Had I kept this love to myself everything would have been fine. The world would never have discovered what a fool I was – how completely I had allowed ‘love’ to conquer my ‘sense and sensibilities.’

I’m not saying it was her fault, but had she not left our little, northern New Jersey township to go to Georgia every winter, none of my foolishness would ever have been discovered. Her family took her out of school around Christmas time every year and they went to Plantationville, in southern Georgia. They stayed there until springtime arrived and thoroughly settled over all of New Jersey.

It was in the fourth grade, I think, that I somehow I got hold of her Plantationville address. I must have mailed her a half dozen love letters – really mushy stuff – telling her how beautiful I thought she was, and how I could think of nothing but her, and how bleak and boring the days were without her in them. (You see, even then, I thought of myself as a writer! I’ve never stopped kidding myself.) Upon her return, it was impossible for me to look her in the eye and she, of course, was so completely embarrassed that she wouldn’t have allowed it any way.

Now, put yourself in my place. How would you feel on that day in April when she returned to the classroom in our little school? Where would you have cowered? Under which desk would you have crawled? How many consecutive days could you have feigned an illness serious enough to keep you home and in bed? Oh, my God, it was overwhelmingly awful! No human could ever have been more embarrassed. One could never feel smaller or dumber.

I sat frozen at my classroom desk, staring straight ahead, pretending to be anxious for the teacher to begin our day’s lesson. My cheeks burned with the fever of embarrassment. The palms of my hands were soaked with perspiration. My vision was blurred.

That was the year my math skills went to hell. I couldn’t deal with fractions – especially turning them upside down and dividing their denominators or whatever the heck our teacher was asking us to do. I just wanted my letters back. I wore myself out praying that, somehow, the postman had not made his appointed rounds.

In the ensuing months, however, I caught the young beauty’s mother taking peeks at me, with a silly grin on her face that told me what a little fool I was – that she had read each and every word of my barmy correspondence.

For the next nine years, until I could get out of New Jersey, I had to do everything I could – use every imaginable device and procedure to avoid allowing my eyes to collide with those of this pretty, young girl. I ruined my peripheral vision by concentrating so hard on only what was straight ahead of me. My neck and upper body became rigid; for I refused to turn casually for fear that I might encounter her full-faced.

Somehow I managed to avoid encounters for many years. It was sometime in high school that I first ‘stumbled upon’ her again. It was probably in our third year there and I came roaring down a set of stairs far too quickly, missing a final step, and nearly fell into her. She was looking intently at me, in a pleading kind of way. Her eyes tried to tell me that it was all right now – that she had forgiven me long ago for my silliness – that I could relax and limber up my neck again – that I could say hello occasionally – that I might even invite her to go have a soda.

My transgression had been too serious, however. I couldn’t ever, ever trust myself to not say again something utterly and unforgivably brainless. I gulped and turned away, graduated and got the hell out of town.

She? She went on to marry, I learned years later, and to have children. Eventually, she made her home in Plantationville – in that little southern village with the tiny post office that had handed over the remarkable love letters of a nine-year old boy.

A fifty-year reunion is coming up. How silly are reunions? Who would go to one? Who would want to remember and relive how shatteringly unremarkable he was as a child? Who would want to look one’s classmates in the eye and say hello again?

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