I was in the sixth grade before it dawned on me that girls might have other purposes aside from being utility ball targets. The realization wasn’t something that came creeping up on little cat feet, more like a blow between the eyes with one of those same utility balls.
She was in the fifth grade and her name was Gloria, and it reminded me of glorious, and she was. Her hair was red, silky and smooth, and shone like the morning sun. A dusting of freckles marched across her nose like the first scattered stars of evening, and her eyes were so big and green you’d swear they held the ocean.
It must have been early in the school year, within the first few days, when I saw her in the hallway for the first time. She may have been a new student, or was there all along, but that was the first time I saw her as something other than a potential utility ball target. I promised myself at that instant that she would be my girlfriend. And she was, right away. And I thought to myself “How wonderful life is to have so lovely a girlfriend, and how much better it would be if she knew she were my girlfriend.” But like little green men and bigfoot sightings, it had yet to be confirmed.
I found myself loitering in the hall at the end of recess, hoping to catch a glimpse as she made her way into her classroom, or maybe hear a few words spoken to a friend, in the hope she might be talking about me. On the playground, I purposely avoided targeting her with utility balls, and may have even put myself between her and those thrown by others, as a display of my affection and my willingness to take a hit for her. I thought to approach her and nonchalantly ask “Where have I been all your life?” or “Do you work out?”. And if that didn’t work, I still had the ace up my sleeve, a question designed to elicit a response that would, I was assured by friends, do the trick. Me: “Did it hurt?” Her: What?” Me again: “When you fell from Heaven.” Her again: “Did you just call me Satan?” But I didn’t approach her, and I didn’t ask those questions, despite their obvious potential for success. Instead, like sixth grade boys do, at least the ones I knew, I did nothing. Nothing other than love her from afar, wishing that I were brave enough and suave enough to step up and bare my soul, to make my feelings known. And I would say that I pined for her, but how could I grieve the loss of something I never had?
That set a pattern for the way I would approach courtship for many years to come. I’d like to think that as I’ve grown older, and maybe a bit more swift in the way of things, I’ve learned that to never try is to never win.
And I’ve upped my standards. Red hair is ok, and freckles are fine, but to get to know someone, and discover the beauty that’s on the inside, and let it determine how I see the outside, well, that’s how all relationships should begin. I wonder how much different life would be if I’d known that when I was in the sixth grade.