Forest Lake Elementary was never a place of grand importance. The principal was an Irish man who dressed as a leprechaun for St. Patrick's Day. The lunch ladies wore hair nets, and often smelled of pepper. And the teachers were beginning to wrinkle. In fact, one teacher in particular, Mrs. Smiley, had lost her smile years ago. Children renamed her "Mrs. Frowney." She remained oblivious to her disposition and the churning hate most children had for her in her second grade class.
I remember most everyone. My memory hasn't faded for a second. And very clearly I recall my first crush.
David Ryan wore sweat pants religiously. He was chubby, but not fat, blond with wavy hair that was buzzed up the sides and back, but remained longer on the top. He had sea blue eyes. His best friend was Lindsay Watson. She happened to be my friend as well, which I thought I could leverage in the future. David was good at sports, kickball and bowling in gym, to name a few. And he was excellent at jumping rope. This is probably where my affinity for him began. He was a great second grade choice.
But I learned early never to proclaim my love to a man in a computer lab. During scheduled events with the Apple 2e's, our teacher, Mrs. Anderson, would let us choose our partners. On this day, we had struggled to be compliant. She then usurped our power of choice and seated us alphabetically. "Perfect," I thought. "I can be with David." He didn't look disappointed as we sat down at the computer next to each other, ready to play Number Munchers. There were plenty of other bad choices, like Travis and Amanda--two blond kids that smelled like dirt and had a film on their skin from their parents' habit of smoking like chimneys. So I reconciled myself to the idea that David had actually liked the idea of being my partner. After all, I didn't have glasses, crooked teeth, yet, or film on my skin.
We began to play. I made myself aware that I wouldn't over compliment him or give his ego too much of a boost. He was my friend first. But as he played, pushing his score to the limit munching factors of 3, I knew I was in love. I turned to him and said, "I like you David." His reaction was priceless. Eyes widening, he shut his mouth and looked at me like I was insane.
He said, "Joy, don't say that. I'm going to tell Miss Anderson on you!"
I hadn't imagined this reaction. So I backpedaled, "I mean I like you like a friend. You know, hanging out on the playground and stuff." Giggling it off awkwardly, as any 8 year old would. But, that didn't smooth anything out. He said, "I'm telling on you! I'm telling right now." I thought he was nuts. But after a few minutes of him being ignored with his arm in the air, I knew I needed to abort the crush immediately.
I pulled his hand down, covered his mouth and looked into his eyes. "David. Don't tell on me. I was wrong. I don't like you."
He jerked away. It was over. David didn't like me, and the year was only half over. Now I had to live with my rejection.
Weeks later I had a new crush, one that I kept as a friend, Ben Plocher.
When I was in college, I visited my hometown. At an ice cream shop, I saw David. He hadn't grown since junior high. He was about 5'6'' and had died his hair black. It wasn't gothic, more emo. However, I recognized his eyes. He had thinned out, but I remembered everything about him. I no longer had to tell him of any residual feelings, but I did want to say hi.
He scooped my ice cream and as I paid, I said, "We went to elementary school together. Do you remember me?"
He looked at me the same way he had years ago. "Yes I do, Joy." And without a smile or any acknowledgment, he turned to the till.