I had a monster crush on Thomas Romero. He could run the fastest out of anyone in our class, had a nice buzz haircut, and a sideways, impish smile when he talked to you. Not that I talked to him. I just observed from the opposite side of the room.
Earlier that year, in gym class, we had learned to square dance, because even though I did grow up in the Sin City of liberals (i.e. Austin), it was still, after all, Texas.
For those of you who didn't grow up in the deep south, it goes a little something like this.
*except with four people*
Our gym teacher, in anticipation of the rowdy, first generation ADD Spongebob-watchers not listening very well to his instructions, had actually taken out tape and marked the squares on the floor. Distinct, perfect, hard to ignore, stark white boxes filled the room, a nice contrast to the multi-colored plastic tiled gymnasium floor.
All us little ones had been led single file into the room by our teacher and abandoned for gym class. We huddled in a little group against the wall. Sticking to our besties as the gym teacher assigned individual squares to individual small people.
"You. Over there." "Anne, next to her." "Alex, get in that square." "No, the OTHER square."
Somehow I ended up in a four-person square with Thomas, Alex, and some other boy whose name I don't remember with really pointy eyebrows. The three cutest boys in our class. Then the teacher just walked off and left me there.
I about had a heart attack. Life had not prepared me thus far to be able to handle this smoothly. How do normal people act around boys? They smile right? Smiling is cute!
I pasted a frantic, most likely slightly frightening, smile on my face.
No wait.. that was WRONG! Smiling implies that I'm happy. That I like this. That I like THEM! Unacceptable. They will be able to see right through the smile immediately.
I stopped smiling.
Complaining! Cute girls, popular girls are always complaining! "Too hot." "Too cold." "Too bored." It shows that I'm too super cool for this situation and totally not in love with Thomas!
"Aaawww!" I whined. "I'm stuck with THESE guys?!" "Maaaaaaaaaaan!!" I stuck my hand on my jutted out hip and rolled my eyes and the rest of my head (for good measure) up to the ceiling to demonstrate how enormously peeved I was for getting stuck there.
"I'll swap with ya."
Caitlin Miller peered over at me from the square next to mine. She was sneering at me.
Caitlin was one of those people I prayed for when we learned about heaping coals on your enemies head with kindness in Sunday school. She had a pinched face, orange hair, was covered in a blanket of freckles, and had a personality that made me want to put tacks on her chair and gum in her hair.
Lets just say that when a local news crew came to our school earlier that year for background footage of a school lunchroom for one of their stories, while the rest of us were on our best behavior, trying to get noticed for our goodness and exceptional ability to sit straight and quietly in our chairs, like our teacher assured us we would, Caitlin kneeled on her seat. She leaned way over the table, pounded it with a fist, laughing raucously to herself and waved her sandwich dangerously around in the air to "illustrate a point". She later denied every doing it. Classic Caitlin. One guess as to who filled the 10 second clip on the news that night.
"I'll swap with ya." She repeated, laughing at me with her eyes.
What could I do? I couldn't admit that I wanted the spot and wanted to link elbows with the three cutest boys in our class and skip in circles, laughing, and making significant eye contact. NEVER! Especially after just assuring them that I didn't want to be there.
I hung my head and shuffled over to her spot without even answering and she pranced over to mine with a victorious look on her face.
I had failed.
Now it was the day before Valentines Day and I still hadn't talked to Thomas. Or danced with him for that matter. I had however given up chocolate milk at lunch in favor of the healthier plain milk so that I could impress him by beating him at a race during recess one day. Lance Armstrong said unhealthy foods slow you down and he would know.
I went shopping with my mother at HEB that night. As she picked out the normal milk, eggs, and cereal she needed, I perused the candy aisle and selected a particularly great jumbo bag of blow pops. The cards were a little harder to choose though. After much deliberation, I settled on a box of Tweety Bird valentines cards to attach to the suckers and deposit in people's valentine's bags at school.
I ripped it open back at the house while sitting in my room at my pink, rose covered desk with the manly green office lamp that I had so proudly chosen out myself. I methodically sifted through the pile and sorted them for each classmate.
"Have a weally tewiffic Valentines Day!" That one could go to George. He scratched too much and ate his boogers.
"Ooo What a good fwiend you are!" Eh... Jennifer could have that one.
Then I found the gem that I would give to Thomas. It was perfect. It said that I liked him, but was still silly enough that I could pretend it was a joke if backed into a corner. I carefully signed my name to it in pink pen, as cursively and squiggly as I could without knowing cursive, because that's ROMAAANTIC. I slipped it into its matching tweety bird envelope that besides looking super cute hid it from prying Caitlin eyes that would inevitably tell Caitlin lips that would tell everyone in class' ears that I LIKE-liked Thomas.
The next morning was beautiful. My mom had made her usual Valentines Day breakfast: mini sausages, cinnamon rolls, and pieces of cheese she had cookie-cuttered into heart shapes. The house smelled like cinnamon and butter from the rolls baking and there were presents stacked by our plates and big heart balloons hovering behind our chairs (Yes. My mother rocks.)
Breakfast was eaten. Presents were opened. I made it to the bus on time and chatted happily on the drive with my seat buddy. Today was a great and magical day. Things were going to happen. I just knew it.
When I made it to the classroom, I could feel the excitement in the air. I put my backpack on the hook and my lunch in my cubby and joined the rest of the class flittering from valentines bag to valentines bag.
This one went to Melody. This one to Laurel. This one to Caitlin. I dropped hers into her bag from head height. Maybe it'd break.
I made it to Thomas' desk. I saw his badly decorated Valentines "Mailbox". In went the valentine. The brown paper bag made a soft, pleasant, crinkling noise as it fell in on top of the mound of others. He would soon open it and see the little Tweety Bird lying all topsy turvy below his cage with the ingenious "I sure fell hard for you..VAWENTINE" written inside a large red heart. It was romantic. It was funny. It couldn't fail.
I went back to my desk to wait and sneak candy off the valentines I'd collected so far.
No love was declared back to me that day in the valentines. No "I love you"s or "Be Mine"s from any guys. Though I did get a couple along the lines of "I think you're great!" that I could choose to misinterpret later if I wanted to.
At recess, while helping me make fake bear tracks in the sand, Lauren told me that Thomas had brought a 16 kt gold necklace to school and given it to Stephanie as a Valentines Day gift.
"He must not have got my Valentine", I thought, and continued pressing bear pad marks with my thumb.
*Some names have been changed, other than that, this story all happened. I too am now astounded, looking back, that some little little kid's parents allowed him to bring a gold necklace to school as a present for a little girl. Back then though it only looked like disappointment to me.*
HAPPY VALENTINES DAY EVERYONE!!