Monday, June 8, 2009

It Starts Here, with Him

As of this month, I have been graduated from high school for ten years. This means that next month the Pink Torpedoes and I get to go to a reunion, the first our class has held since we dressed in purple and gold gowns and walked across the auditorium stage.

To commemorate this event, I'm going to spend the next month telling old stories. I'm going to tell stories about school, about growing up in our little town, about growing up with one hundred other people whose business we knew since we were five. I think it's only right to take a look back before seeing everyone again.

And there's no better place to start than in second grade, with Ryan.

For the better part of my school career, Ryan was my one, my only, my love. Did he love me back? No. Not a bit. In fact, he was repulsed by me, and he eventually, when we were older, took to calling me ta punta--which he thought meant "the prostitute" in Spanish (it does not)--but that's a story we'll get to eventually.

This story is where it all started.

It was second grade. Already Ryan was king of the school. Everyone loved him. Everyone. Girls, boys, teachers. Everyone was charmed by his spiked blond hair, his icy eyes, his toothy grin. In all my yearbooks, from grade second to eight, Ryan's yearly picture is easily visible: it's the one with the giant heart drawn around it.

I was not the only girl who had the habit of so clearly showing the position of her heart. Ryan had girls hanging off him at every turn. In gym, where we were able to ogle him as much as we wanted without being shamed, we all pressed our backs against the padded walls and watched as he scaled the ropes to touch the very top rafter. There would be a murmur in the crowd of second grade girls as he reached and reached and reached and then finally got to the top like it was no big deal, like those other boys--the chubby ones, the ones with no upper-body strength--just weren't trying hard enough.

He was beautiful. He was agile. He was tough.

He was also sort of an ass.

Or maybe it was me who was the ass. It's hard to tell.

I like to think I was a shy girl in elementary and middle school, but sometimes when I really think about it, I realize I had moments of boldness that reflected a future that might find me less crippled when it came to boys.

Because my love for Ryan was such a rabid love, I had no problem sharing it with the world. I told everyone about it. I told my mother, my father, my best friends, my cousins. I drew bubbles and hearts with his name inside. I wrote stories where Ryan was the main character and--surprise!--he fell in love with a wise-cracking character named Jess. I didn't hold back. Especially from him.

I followed him around, hopelessly in love. I was always trying to be sweet to him, to give him a treat from my lunch, to help him with his work, to tell him I thought he was real nice. I wanted to be his girlfriend. But Ryan wanted the exact opposite of all that: he wanted me to leave him alone, to stop talking to him, to keep my distance, to forget that I wanted to be his girlfriend. And he had no problem telling me those things.

One day, in gym, we were standing in our usual lines--one for boys, one for girls, directly parallel--and it just so happened that Ryan and I were across from each other. I was excited. I kept looking over at him and smiling, and he kept ignoring me. But he couldn't ignore me forever, especially when someone else in line hissed, Jess LOVES Ryan!

I was half horrified, half not. I didn't like other people to be airing my business--I thought it was plenty evident on its own--but I did like that now Ryan had to think about me and my loving him while everyone was watching.

I turned fully to look at him. I smiled. I reached my hand across the divide. I wiggled my fingers at him.

He narrowed his eyes. "I WILL NEVER LOVE YOU!" he shouted. And then he grabbed my hand and licked it. He licked it from the place where palm meets wrist, all the way up to the tip of my middle finger.

At first, I didn't know what to do. Everyone was watching, and I had just been publicly humiliated. Still, he'd touched me. He'd licked me. He and I had our first real and substantial bit of physical contact ever. And it was fantastic.

So I snatched my hand back and held it to my chest, to my heart. "I'm never going to wash my hand now!" I said, loud enough so the whole line heard me.

The girls giggled and touched my back, my arms, longing to be closer to the hand that had been, for a minute, touching Ryan's mouth.

Ryan just crossed his arms and turned away so he no longer had to look at me, a girl who would go on loving him for six more years, full-on, no stopping. No way, no how. He would never have gotten rid of me that easy.

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