She doesn’t pay attention to much during the short ride to school from her house. She focuses on the radio, which is playing Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know“. She feels like it is her anthem, even though she knows her love is unrequited. Her mother has no idea of the boy she adores. After she told the entire neighborhood about her kindergarten crush, Danny, the girl stopped sharing.
Like most crushes, hers starts out as a secret only shared with her best friend. It starts some time after the beginning of second grade, when she is “the new girl”. They are in fifth grade now. Everyone listens to George Michael‘s Faith album, and they are apparently oblivious to the meaning behind “I Want Your Sex“. “Out of the Blue” by Debbie Gibson, now that’s a song that means something.
In the time of this secret, unrequited love, the girl confers with the magic 8 ball as to whether there is a chance of a fairy tale ending. She starts paying attention to Huey Lewis & The News on the radio, because the boy says it’s his favorite band. She and her best friend come up with code names for their crushes, because the worst thing that could happen would be for their secrets to come out. The code names are food. They find this hilarious.
Fifth grade is a coming-of-age of sorts; the last grade of elementary school. Some, including the girl and the boy, are made members of the safety patrol. They wear white holster-type things adorned with the silver safety patrol badge. The girl thinks she could die when the boy adjusts the holster-type thing’s strap over her shoulder.
As the halls of junior high approach, the girl gets brazen. Maybe she just gets stupid. In any case, the secret she’d kept for so long is suddenly shared with classmates – classmates that aren’t friends; classmates that have likely used her for homework answers over the past few years. She sits at the lunch table, not realizing that shit is about to hit the fan, as those she’s confided in share her secret with the boy.
The lunch bell rings and the boy and girl are in the hall amidst the crowd of kids. The boy looks at the girl. “I hate your guts.”
The earth stands still, and the girl’s heart shatters. Ashamed, alone, embarrassed, she flees to the girl’s room to cry. Even there, she can’t have peace. One of her betrayers finds her there, apologizing for what’s just transpired. The girl doesn’t believe she means it, but she lets herself be accompanied back to class. As if they are friends. As if they have an understanding.
This first heartbreak hurts, and the girl’s love for the boy fades. Whitney’s voice fades from the charts, at least for now. The girl wishes she’d kept her secret.
In sixth grade, they are small fish in a bigger pond. Another boy catches her eye. He knows how to play Richard Marx‘s “Right Here Waiting” on the keyboard. The girl forgets the lessons she learned only months prior. The same mistakes are looming, but for now, she is happy to pick out the notes of the chorus on the keys. Music seduces her into falling for these boys. Something else convinces her to betray herself.
But that’s a story for another day.
This essay was originally written in March, 2013.
School Hallway Photo: Eric Allix Rogers