In the seventh grade, Annette Wasner sent me a 17 page note, and a number of those pages she filled with “I love David Marshall,” repeated over and over as if saying so was punishment.
I had no idea I was lovable or sought-after, and, according to seventh grade convention, had to like her back. In a week, however, we were the old couple of the bicycle rack, alternately sniping and sullen… and thoroughly bored with each other. I threw the 17 pages away.
Then I received a note from Terry Long. She’d scrawled her thoughts on real stationery as she sat in the backseat of her family’s station wagon on a weekend trip. She meant to outdo Annette and completed 23 pages, but Terry included not a single profession of middle school love. Instead, she wrote about whatever—her feelings about her sisters and parents, her thoughts about Mr. Voltatori, her impressions of which classmates were really nice and which really two-faced.
She said I was nice, which was nice, but Terry’s letter wasn’t meant to flatter or flirt. She offered her mind’s operation, generously letting me into her seventh grade meditations and daydreams. If I had the note to read now, I’d probably find it newsy, silly, and dull, but, at the time, her unfiltered thoughts were more intimate than anything I’d known. It was seductive to be in another mind. Her letter was in no way erotic but might as well have been… especially given what I knew about sex then.
At the end of her 23 pages, she said she liked thinking about my reading what she’d written, and I knew that confession meant more than Annette’s reiterations.
After that, every day, all day, I walked around filling mental notecards about scenes I’d observed or witticisms I’d heard or invented, stacking them up against the next time we’d be face to face. Each bit of gossip was a gambit for conversation, and I revised the missives I slipped her at least three times. I wondered endlessly whether we might kiss when I walked her home and knew I’d satisfy for holding hands. I spent my savings on an ID bracelet so I could give it to her.
Her smile or laugh or look into my eyes was new currency. I’d never gathered anything so valuable and learned to spend what I got. In a pattern that became all too familiar in my later romantic life, I was soon spending more than I received.
When Terry grew bored with my ardor—I hope she lasted longer than Annette but can’t remember—it was the first time affection hurt. Our break-up is still vivid in its understatement. She asked me if I could be her friend instead of her boyfriend and—to preserve whatever cool I had left—I said I’d like that better. Of course, we weren’t friends after that.
We all have these memories floating up like triangles in our eight balls, and some people turn to Facebook to make contact again. But some shake the ball again… because real and present people replace those they remember. I have no desire to find Terry—and certainly not Annette! I’ve changed their names. But it’s not that they’re unimportant. I’m keeping my memory of Terry safe. In our little time together, she taught me part of what love is.