(ed.: I cannot find part two of this post — sob! — but I’m posting it anyway, just this part, until I either find it or, gulp, rewrite it.)
It’s fifth grade. I am 10 and live in a perpetual pink haze of shyness. If someone just looks at me, I blush. If someone just talks to me, I burn. If my teacher calls on me, I want to die. Whether I know the answer or not doesn’t matter; I’d simply prefer death, thank you. At school, I sit at a “desk grouping” across from Bosco Wasco, the large-headed object of my secret yearning. Ten-year-old Bosco is the complete opposite of 10-year-old me. He’s cool, for one thing. Confident. Wears a denim jacket to school and I feel confused liking a boy in a denim jacket. In my house, there is no denim. No jeans, certainly no jackets. Denim means rebellion and we will have none of that, please. So I feel a bit panicky, discombobbled, and sad in my certainty that my twittery crush means I am flirting recklessly with The Dark Side. The road to hell is paved with denim, you know.
The first time I laid eyes on Bosco, I noticed his crew cut, “stick-up hair,” I always called it — never to anyone else, though. I thought it meant he was a bully or had recently had head lice, but no. Bosco is polite and certainly seems clean enough. He likes to joke and whenever he smiles or laughs, which is a lot, the corners of his eyes shoot crinkles like a firecracker. He talks to everybody, including me, and none of the boys talk to me. But Bosco has a magical ease. There seems to be no one he doesn’t like, no one he’s afraid to talk to or joke with. If he murmurs a joke to me in class, I’m careful not to laugh because I was born a goody-two-shoes and don’t want to get in trouble. Instead, I lower my head, smile, and quietly blush crimson, of course. A demure pink girl in love with her big-headed denim boy.
Next to Bosco sits Judy. In whatever spare moments I have between longing glances at my big-headed boy, I’m staring hard at Judy. How I am learning anything at all in 5th grade is beyond me, since my primary academic activity is staring. The teacher writes equations on the blackboard. I stare at Bosco. The teacher has us read around the room. I stare at Judy. The teacher calls on me. I burn bright red, want to die, and try to answer the question all while simultaneously staring at Bosco and Judy, if physically possible.
Judy wears large Coke-bottle glasses and looks grown up to me. Like 17. She wears a brown crocheted bag slung across her body everywhere she goes and her clothes are beige, grey, black, brown, colors of adulthood. She’s tan, so I figure she’s been places I haven’t, like outside. Or maybe around. My undying fixation, though, is with her hair. The bulk of it is a mousy mound that moves in a single lump, which is interesting, a phenomenon even, but it’s the edges of this mound that consume me. They’re fuzzy and flyaway as if the atmosphere around her head is slightly different from the rest of earth’s. I’m mesmerized by the floaty ends and check in regularly to see what they’re doing. Sticking up. Sticking out. Frowsy strands trying to break free. We’re inside, there’s no wind anywhere, and yet, her hair waves at me. It fascinates me. I cannot get past it. It has my heart almost as much as my big-headed boy.
Many times, I wonder why I don’t have anything that interesting happening on me. I have a red pleated skirt and a white puckered blouse. I have teddy bear knee socks and a baby blue headband. I have a perpetually pink face. Maybe this is interesting to someone, but I want to be interesting like Judy. She’s got it going on. Sometimes, because I am devoid of social skills, I stare too long and Judy catches me gawking. But when she does, she always smiles a smile where her eyes spark up yet her lips turn down. I stare even harder because I don’t get how she does that.
Nobody but Bosco talks to me or Judy, and he’s too much in demand by less marginal children to really hang with us, so of course, Judy and I must become friends. It’s destiny. Kids have already paired up. Grouped up. Started their sly whispering circles and their petty grade school thuggeries.
One day on the playground, Judy walks up to me. No, that’s not it. She doesn’t walk so much as lumber. She’s tall for a girl our age. Lanky. So she lumbers up to me. Wanna play tether ball, she says. I don’t, really, because I’d rather skim the edges of the ball field, singing “I Have Confidence” to myself. I don’t like to be seen doing anything with anybody in case I do it wrong. But she stares down at me and her eyes are huge and gray behind the Coke-bottle glasses and look like eyes you really shouldn’t say no to. Besides, I am 10 and perpetually pink. I don’t know how to say no even if I want to, so I say yes and die inside.
We play tether ball. Or rather, because she’s so tall, I stand there in my knee socks and watch as the ball whizzes in hypnotic circles over my head. I raise my arms to give the appearance of effort and to make my face look like it’s red from exertion not mortification, but, really, there’s not much point on either score. I think she knows there’s not much point; she’s clearly tall enough to beat most of the boys in tether ball and I’m clearly self-conscious enough to drop dead from failure. Playing tether ball with me, the girl who just drifts around the playground or swings in the swings or occasionally plays hopscotch, can’t be the most fulfilling experience. Still, day after day, she asks me to play tether ball and day after day I say yes. As we play, she smiles at me with her turned-down smile, says encouraging things to me. “Good one” or “Nice try” and stuff like that. I think these things are strange because, frankly, I don’t do any good ones and not one of my feeble tries is nice. I wonder if she’s kidding when she says them, so I always check her face. Is she smiling? Is she gonna laugh? Should I believe her? She seems years older than I am, like a big sister, a wiser cousin. Sometimes her shoes have heels on them. Sometimes my socks have Raggedy Anns.
As time goes on, she tries talking to me a little more. What do I think of math? and What do I do after school? and What do I think of Carlyn Carnevalli? My face burns. I answer hesitantly: I hate it and I go to the park a lot and, since I am too afraid to blow it by saying I hate that Carlyn Carnevalli, she is a big fat bully, I say Well, not much. Little by little, she gently pries open my thick shell, allows me to emerge at my own slow pace. She waits for me, but I don’t know she’s waiting. She sees things about me, but I don’t know what they are.
One day, after tether ball, we lean up against the ivy-covered fence to rest. It’s hot and the ivy feels cool on my back. Out of the blue, she says I’ve kinda invented this person. I jerk my head up to look her straight in the face. I invent people too, but I don’t talk about it. Judy’s talking about it. Well, it’s not a person, really; it’s a dog. I kinda made up this dog character.
I listen and my heart is flooding over.