Subject: Dale Miller, Kindergarten
Attributes: Blonde. Built like a pork chop. Proximity a plus – mat next to mine at nap time. Comes complete with new box of crayons (the big box with built-in sharpener and four shades of green – e.g. worldly).
Love Story: Shares his Snack Pack pudding (double chocolate) and gives me the pull top as a ring and stows away on my bus the first day of school because he says I am beautiful like a bride and we are married by Snack Pack forever and ever amen.
Feeling: I do not agree or disagree to the marriage thing. The Snack Pack pull-top cuts my pinkie finger. First understanding of romantic ambivalence.
Outcome: Dale’s mother calls the police because she thinks he’s been kidnapped. First lesson about white vans.
Subject: Mark Sundberg, First Grade
Attributes: Blonde. Very pale. Possibly borderline albino. No eyelashes. Has to stay inside during recess because of sun = sensitive/exotic. Built like a wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube man (the kind found outside used car dealerships and Wal-Mart grand openings. See footnote.*).
Love Story: Gives me spoon ring he wins from gumball machine. Win = lucky, but then realize machine is full of spoon rings. The ring turns my finger green and I think my finger will fall off and I’ll be four fingered forever and no one will ever love me again because I won’t have a finger to put a ring on and I will die alone or become a nun like Sister Lucilla, aka Sister Lucifer, evil incarnate in a frayed yellow girdle, but even Sister Lucilla wears a ring on her ring finger because she’s married to Jesus and has all ten craggy fingers so help me.
Feeling: Rings = love, no matter how green a finger turns. (See Snack Pack pull tab, etc.)
Outcome: Finger does not fall off. My mother paints the ring with clear nail polish and I continue wearing it. First lesson in devotion. Also, first lesson in gangrene and the power of precious metals to stave off death. Also first lesson in using a calculator to swear. Punch in 1134, turn the calculator upside down and it does your swearing for you. As in, Sister Lucifer, go to hell and take your Jesus ring with you.
Subject: RIP Mark Sundberg, Second Grade
Attributes: Mark’s parents split up and he moves away. Absent, he becomes muscular and tan. He becomes more handsome than any of the Tiger Beat posters on my wall. He is a Tiger Beat poster. He is a Disney hero. He is more handsome than the doctors on TV. He is more handsome than my doctors. He is more handsome than my dad. He is more handsome than Sister Lucifer’s Jesus. I will never love anyone else ever again.
Love Story: Before he moves, he gives me another ring he took from his mother’s jewelry box. It does not turn my finger green, but I have to give it back when his mother calls my mother.
Feeling: I want to keep the ring. I want to keep the ring. I should be allowed to keep the ring. See note about devotion above.
Outcome: First lesson in nostalgia and the power of distance. Also, some rings are worth more than other rings.
Subject: Joey Paola, Third Grade
Attributes: Partner for square dancing class. Almost my height. Red haired. Possibly permed. People call him Measle because he has so many freckles, but I think of him more as a connect-the-dots game. I like Word Search puzzles more, but connect-the-dots are o.k. on placemats and pass the time when you’re waiting for your food at Kings Family Restaurant.
Love Story: He isn’t afraid to hold my hand in health class when we watch movies about cartoon sperms and eggs. He has sweaty palms. I will forever think palm-sweat = romantic. Also, hay bales and fiddles and anything coming round the mountain.
Feeling: Hand holding is sexy, except when Sister Lucilla catches you and smacks your hands with her ruler and calls you little horn-toad cabbage heads.
Outcome: Joey P. sends me a note where I have to say whether or not I am officailly his girlfriend – pick one: yes, no, maybe. I check maybe. He dumps me for Gigi Eathorne, who can’t square dance but has great pigtails and a red-checked snappy shirt and will grow up to be a biker.
Subject: Kenny O’Hara, Fifth Grade
Attributes: My first drummer. Red haired. Short with teeth that look like they’ve been hit with a hammer. Hamster-esque personality. Always moving, legs twitching, air drumming, like he’s licked a taser. Never dull!
Love Story: We start a band in my parents’ basement. Kenny O. is in my parents’ basement when I get my period. I don’t know it’s my period. I think I’ve crapped myself. I call my mother into the bathroom and show her my underwear and she hands me a pink booklet titled “So You’re a Woman Now.”
Feeling: Oh dear god no. Just no.
Outcome: I break up with Kenny later that week. I figure he must know about the period and I’m not ready for that.
Subject: Ronnie Peduzzi, Sixth Grade
Attributes: Nickname Toofy. Athlete. Chews tobacco (e.g. worldly). Swears (e.g. worldly). Missing front tooth. Lost front tooth when it was embedded in Rocky Minoccucci’s head during a pick-up game of basketball.
Love Story: Play Spin the Bottle at a party. When he kisses me, he slips what I think is his tongue but then realize is his fake tooth into my mouth.
Feeling: This is not romantic. This is not even French.
Outcome: There is not enough Scope mouthwash in my parents’ bathroom to erase the taste of fake tooth and tobacco spit and shame.
Subject: Randy Blakemore, Seventh Grade
Attributes: My second drummer. Long hair. Three years older. Smells like burnt licorice, though it is probably pot and sweat but I don’t know that yet.
Love Story: Write rhyming love poems to Randy, who never notices me except for the one time he tells me I’d be o.k. if I wore more flannel and Love’s Baby Soft. I buy flannel. Lots of flannel. I douse myself in Love’s Baby Soft and break out in a rash. I write more poems. Randy falls for Lisa DiGiambattista when she plays guitar barefoot in the school talent show.
Feeling: First lesson in pining and loving from afar. Also, the power of barefoot guitar-playing. Also, what’s in Love’s Baby Soft that makes it so itchy?
Outcome: Abundance of flannel.
Subject: Ronnie Peduzzi, Eighth Grade
Attributes: See above.
Love Story: I am preparing for my move to all-girls school because my parents have decided I’m boy crazy. Have second Spin-the-Bottle encounter with Ronnie Peduzzi, who swears this time to keep his tooth in his mouth.
Feeling: It’s important to trust in the power of love. It’s important to believe in people. Romance = risk.
Outcome: He lied about the tooth.
Lori Jakiela is the author of five books, including most recently Portrait of the Artist as a Bingo Worker (Bottom Dog Press, 2017). She lives in Pittsburgh. Visit her author website.