Friday, December 28, 2007
My fifth-grade crush is on Facebook. Yesterday one of my friends became one of his friends, in that spider-silk social-networking way, and suddenly there it was in my news feed: the same string of seven letters I'd appended, experimentally, to my first name when I was ten and practicing signing my future married moniker seemed like the thing to do. On rediscovering my fifth-grade crush, I did what any reasonable, mature twenty-seven-year-old woman would do, which was to click rapidly through to his profile and spy.
There wasn't much to see. He'd attended Northwestern, which I'd learned years back through the parental grapevine. He had joined one group entitled "bring back the marshmallow." The single photograph showed him in a bar, all arms and shadow; I couldn't make out his face. A couple of months ago, coincidentally, his mother and I had crossed paths. She told me he was finishing law school. In return I told her where I am: those wooden stakes of education, marital status, and career people use to survey your life. The next time I saw her she told me her son had said "hi." I said "hi" back.
This is what passion boils down to, over time: a couple of second-hand greetings and an impulse, however misguided, to bring back the marshmallow. As a fifth-grader, my crush was leggy and awkward, with goofy glasses and a smile full of teeth. I liked him because he was smart. Not math-smart like Wilbur Chen, who wore Mickey Mouse undershirts and roasted ants with a magnifying glass. Not science-smart like Robert Holman, who liked to mix things together in his parents' basement, or music-smart like Kevin Haberman, who possessed not only swishy blond hair and a fine, strong treble voice, but the unstinting devotion of all the other fifth-grade girls. No, my crush was the kind of smart I understood: book-smart, test-smart, greedy for words.
Plus he told me he liked my skirt. In exchange I avoided him scrupulously, a strategy which succeeded in netting me, over the course of the next eight years or so, exactly zero dates with boys I actually liked.
And we're definitely talking boys. No one was mature, or wise, or anything but raw and alien and rank with the compound scent of closed-up rooms and sweat and dirtied sheets. Boys sat at the back of the bus. They swaggered through recess in packs. They pushed and shoved and rolled over each other like kittens and hadn't the slightest idea what to say to a girl, should one deign to speak to them.
They come to me in flashes, the boys I knew growing up. Not so much my fifth-grade crush or any of the other boys I snuck past in the hallways, but the everyday run-of-the-mill boys who tumbled through my days. What happened to that kid Mustapha, who was suspended for three days for bringing fake pot to school in a plastic baggie? I think about what he must have used -bay leaves? Some other kind of spice?- and how he must have packed it carefully, pressed the ziplock seal until the yellow and the blue transformed magically into green.
Or what about Sam Samini, who liked to put salt on the backs of slugs, or Joey Kurtzman, who moved from, and back to, West Virginia in the course of two short years, and who felt sorry for the white mice we had to feed to the classroom snake? Where is Robert Holman now? By the time we got to high school, Robert was rumored to be heavily into S&M. On the way out of the AP Calculus exam our Junior year, he asked me to eat lunch with him, which flummoxed me so thoroughly that I put the exam in my backpack, walked out the door with it, and got into the worst trouble of my academic career.
I suppose I could find out. I could look them all up on Facebook, or Google them (under their real names), or tap into the alarmingly extensive parental information network. But I don't want to. I know I won't find them, these boys, or that when I do, they'll be unrecognizable: bland-faced, deep-voiced, steadily smoothing themselves into men.