Last night over dinner Curtis started a discussion about love and attraction; specifically, when did each of us (Sean, Howard and myself) first feel a romantic attachment to someone? I revealed that my first crush was on Jeff Wilson, my best friend who lived at the top of our street. I remember wanting to hold his hand but being afraid he wouldn’t like that, so I never made a move on him. I think I was 5 or 6. I told them about John Merryfield, the boy in my grade with whom every girl my age eventually fell in love; I got that over with early, in second grade, and shifted my affections to Joe Van De Brooke, the dashing older man (he was 10, I was 8) who played catcher on my brother’s Little League Team. That unrequited love lasted two full years, until Joe moved on to junior high and I had to return my gaze to the elementary school playground. There were other crushes, of course, in grade school and long after. But the first boy who “liked me back” came along in sixth grade. His name was Tim Williams.
It is only honest to say that Tim had a crush on me and that became the primary reason I liked him back. I had known Tim and his identical twin brother Todd since second grade and we were all great pals; in fact, I liked Todd easily as much as I did Tim. We all played Red Rover and jump rope and kickball together at recess and had the best time. The three of us were all in MGM, our school district’s gifted program, and I usually sat next to one or the other of them on the bus to our enrichment classes every week. I never suspected Tim might have cared for me a bit more than I did him until I opened my school desk drawer on Valentine’s Day, 1978, and discovered a little wrapped package in there with a note from him. I carefully opened the box without taking it from the drawer (for some reason I couldn’t bear to have my classmates know what was going on) and found a little clip-on koala bear, which were all the rage in our school. I clipped it to my collar, and later that afternoon Tim asked me if I wanted to go steady. Did I! Wait – did I? I said yes because Tim was a nice boy and every girl in my elementary school wanted to go steady. From then on Tim was my constant recess companion and always my first choice when we had to pick partners for anything. Things only got better when his brother Todd started going steady with my best friend Kim.
That summer provided an inconvenient interlude in our relationship. I lived at one end of town and he at the other, and it was just a bit too far to visit each other on either bike or foot. We got together a few times, usually under the watchful eye of our mothers. Well, my mother was probably a bit more watchful than his. I loved Mrs. Williams – she was big and soft and spent her summer lying by the swimming pool, drinking copious amounts of iced tea and gossiping as she slathered herself in olive oil, slowly transforming her skin into leather. The Williams family had a couple of dogs, one of which, a sleek black overgrown puppy, they nicknamed Aqua Dog because of his fondness for fetching things from the pool, especially things he had to dive for. Any poolside conversation was punctuated by the constant tossing of rubber rings and balls into the pool to keep Aqua Dog entertained. Tim and I went to the movies a couple of times, too, but our “relationship” was basically on hiatus until school resumed in the fall.
We went steady for about a year and had the chastest of romances. The fact that I stood half a head taller than Tim made me shy; and though my young gigantitude never overtly bothered him, I think he was self-conscious about our height difference, too. In seventh grade I read Judy Blume’s Forever and started contemplating things I never had before, but once again I was too shy even to take a boy’s hand. I never had the chance to work up the courage to make the first move because Tim abruptly dumped me over the phone on his birthday and soon began seeing a girl named Beth who was a more suitable height for him. I learned later that Todd broke up with Kim the same day (although I believe he had the guts to do it in person). Kim and I soon after had a big fight about something I can’t recall and stopped being friends – I was always more upset by our breakup than the one I’d had with Tim.
I stayed friends with both Tim and Todd through junior high, going with them to school dances and once on a gloriously unsupervised visit to Disneyland. The twins moved away suddenly during tenth grade to a small town in Nevada; rumor had it that their dad had run into some major financial problems and had to get out of town fast. My mom let me invite them over for a Halloween slumber party a few days before they moved; it was the last time I went trick-or-treating, and the three of us stayed up all night watching videos like The Eyes of Laura Mars and Rosemary’s Baby and eating candy. We kept in touch and I ended up going to my senior prom with Tim. By that time he was my height and all hands, but I had long since lost interest. The last I heard – just a couple of months ago – he was still living in that same little Nevada town, managing a casino and married to Wife #3.