I went to preschool at the Methodist Church, despite the fact that no one in my family, to my knowledge, was a Methodist. Most of my friends at Methodist preschool weren’t Methodist either. They were Episcopalian or Presbyterian. But the Episcopal Church our parents went to didn’t have a preschool and I guess people were like, Predestination is some pretty heavy shit to lay on toddlers. So the Methodists were found acceptable by the local population of WASPS with young children and we all ended up there.
I met Tiny Ginger in Miss Bridges’ three-year-old class. Miss Bridges liked to kick off our school day by plunking out unfashionable jazz standards on an old upright in the corner of the classroom. She blithely led her class of Caucasian toddlers through countless sing-alongs of Darktown Strutters Ball, leaving me (and likely others) to wonder years later, when the lyrics would pop unbidden my head from some dark crevasse of early childhood memory, whether the song was kind of fundamentally racist or just really uncomfortably racist when white people sang it. She liked to arrange us into Boy-Girl couples for activities. I was frequently paired with Tiny Ginger, the shortest boy in the class. I found him engaging enough to propose marriage. He declined politely when I asked, which I found vexing, but Miss Bridges reported the incident to the local newspaper for their “Kids Say the Darnedest Whatever” feature. A staff photographer was brought in for Tiny Ginger and I to reenact the scene, and my first romantic rejection was recorded for posterity.
Years later, Tiny Ginger would regularly get drawn out of the hat to be my dance partner at cotillion class. He was still tiny. I was not. By that time, I was maybe a foot taller and probably double his weight. We foxtrot-ted through Pennsylvania 65000 with all natural grace and enthusiasm you’d expect of a reluctant pony doing a pas de deux with a zitty elephant in glitter retainers continually hectored to Let Him Lead, Alison! Let Him Lead! I remember one night our teacher taught us basic swing steps to Darktown Strutters Ball. Tiny Ginger just stared at me in me in horror and I was like, really dodged that bullet by not marrying you in preschool, bub.
Major World Religion
was in my kindergarten class my first year at public school. I remember him as being foreign, but this was probably just because he wore a lot of complicated, chunky hand knit sweaters in a crowd mostly turned out in sweatpants and Star Wars T-shirts. He and I were regularly kept in from recess as punishment. Me for trying to sneak out of the bathroom to avoid participating in required naptime. Him for punching people. I tried to spin a little romance between us as we sat at the short table by the window, watching the rest of our class play outside. I really didn’t mind being inside because it gave me a chance to catch up on reading. Major World Religion minded quite a bit because it seriously limited the number of people he could punch. I found his aggressive aloofness oddly enticing. The whole bad boy thing. I liked the idea that we were both troublemakers—a proto-Bonnie & Clyde, even if I didn’t know who Bonnie & Clyde were yet—and repeatedly encouraged him to play along. I think one day I tried to kiss him and he punched me in the arm, which actually hurt. Someone found out about it and the rest of the week we suffered through countless renditions of Alison and Major World Religion sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G. More brawn than brains, Major World Religion had to ask me what K-I-S-S-I-N-G spelled. When I told him, he punched me again. The bloom was off the rose, though whether it was because he was merely violent or violent and also illiterate, I couldn’t really say. Sometime later, he transferred to a different school or moved back to Scandinavia or wherever. I didn’t miss him.
I shared a block of desks with Freckles in the second grade. Whenever I tried to sit down in class, he would kick the legs of my chair, causing me to land hard on the cold, puke colored formica floor. He would do this in such a way that it always appeared to be my fault and our teacher would give me this weary sigh and say, Alison, stop messing around on the floor and get yourself back into your seat. Then Freckles would give her a shit-eating grin and she’d return it with a look of adoration. Like Freckles. Look at how well-behaved Freckles is.
I told my mother about the chair-kicking shenanigans. She told me He probably has a crush on you. That’s how boys are to girls they have a crush on. And because I was not old enough to be like, Sure, but that’s also how psychopaths are to pretty much everybody, I took her at her word. Freckles was a cruel, obsequious little, two-faced shitweasel. I was a bored, precocious pain in the ass with a real dislike of being told what to do. We were clearly meant to be.
Girls Chase Boys was what all the kids were doing on the schoolyard that spring. I wasn’t usually a fast enough runner to catch anyone, but one day I managed to snare Freckles by his shirt tail and, trapping him against the jungle gym, planted a big old kiss on his lips. He told me I was fat and stupid. I kissed him again and he told my teacher I was mean to him on the playground. I got sent in from recess for the week. He got moved to a different desk in the room. He spent the next few days making faces at me, but I wasn’t getting the chair kicked out from under me anymore. On the bonus, I also learned early to regard any romantic advice from my parents with real skepticism. Lemons/Lemonade.
moved to town from somewhere up North. He was cute and wore yuppie shoes and button up shirts at nine years old in the thick of the Alex P. Keaton era. He was also unusually bright, athletic and the only son of a not-exactly-Vanderbilts- but-still-comfortably-upper-middle-class family. A Triple Threat, as we would say later. I think every girl in my grade was smitten with him and would remain so through the dark days of middle school. My friend Irish Name and I shared an obsessive devotion to the cult of CF (a name we’d derived by typing his first name into my Speak and Spell, hitting the Secret Code button and taking the first two letters). We spent hours talking and plotting and recounting his smallest gestures in rapturous detail. And we didn’t have to worry about ourselves as rivals, because neither Irish Name nor I could stand within a foot of CF without giggling, let get chosen be his “girlfriend” (whatever that meant in the 4th grade).
Because our real chances were so slim, we unabashedly behaved like assholes where CF was concerned. We called his name on the playground and hid when he turned around. We called his house repeatedly and hung up when we heard his Hello. We anonymously left notes in his desk and mailed in-retrospect-sort-of-creepy Valentines to his house. When my mother invited CF to my ninth birthday, he gave me a cassette copy of Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer” as a present and I slept with it under my pillow for weeks. Once, Irish Name got so worked up when CF touched her arm during our field trip to Old Salem she nearly passed out in a taffy display and had to be helped onto the bus by our cross-stitch sampler obsessed fourth grade teacher.
The summer before my fifth grade year, my parents renovated their house. During the worst part of construction, we moved for a few weeks into a family friend’s house just down the block from CF. I loved that house, in part because at night, for a while, they ran carriage tours around the neighborhood and the sound of hooves and buggy on the street made me feel like I was a time traveler and also because my new proximity to CF would certainly spell romantic success. One day, my little sister had CF’s little sister over to play My Little Ponies and while braiding fuchsia unicorn manes, my sister let slip that I was hopelessly in love with CF and I called him all the time. Predictably, CF’s sister went immediately home and told CF about it. She reported back to my sister that he was horrified at the thought. I, in turn, was mortified and swore I would never speak to my sister again. That lasted about two hours. The shame at having been outed in my crush spoiled the crush lasted forever. I stopped calling. I stopped helping Irish Name write love notes. I stopped making eye contact with CF until high school, when, out of nowhere, in a wholly bizarre turn of events, he and I ended up being pretty good friends. By then I’d moved on to more dramatic infatuations and any romantic feelings I had for CF were wholly yesterday’s news.
I was ten or eleven, on the fat-faced vanguard of puberty (where, as a disappointingly late bloomer, I would remain until approximately sophomore year of high school). Slumber party conversation had transformed from French Braiding: How Does It Work? to lengthy, graphic lectures on slang, sexuality and human anatomy delivered by whatever girl was perceived to be worldliest. Suffice to say, that was never me. I was still trying to figure out why no one else wanted to play Star Wars or Princess Seized by Outlaws Who Saves Her People or stage original musicals about struggling rock bands on the back deck anymore. I mean, learning what Amanda said oral sex was (she was not entirely accurate, fyi) might be useful (I guessed) down the line, but seriously, have you guys read Lord of the Rings? Eowyn is a such a total bad ass.
The Prophet was in my class at school. He was also cast as my prince in the local children’s theater production of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” The net result was that we ended up spending a lot of time together. He was quiet and kind and interested in talking about books and the kind of weirdo television we both ended up watching because we had parents that didn’t monitor their cable. He lived around the corner from me, one block closer to the lake. At the end of the school year, his family announced an impending move to Boston. As farewell, I invited him over one day to watch Pee Wee’s Big Adventure on VHS. I went with my mother to pick him up and I remember he was standing at the end of the driveway with a fresh haircut and what looked like a new short sleeved shirt. He gave me a tiny plastic pot of African violets wrapped in lavender foil as a gift when he got in the car. I felt this previously unknown combination of terror and wonder, embarrassment and longing that froze me into flushed paralysis for most of the afternoon. I spent the whole movie stealing glances at his cheek and his lips and the downy short hairs at the nape of his neck. I couldn’t decide if the way I felt looking at his ear— like, seriously, even his ear–was an uncomfortable feeling or the very best thing I’d ever felt in my natural born life. At the end of the movie, we split a pizza and then Mom drove him home. I gave him a hug. He went back into his house. We wrote a few letters, but I sixth grade started and I never saw him again.
A couple months into sixth grade, I ripped a picture of John Cusack out of a magazine and taped it to my closet door because something about him reminded me of the Prophet. Somewhere in the back of my mind, through the first and most brutal part of my teenage years, I liked to imagine what would have happened if The Prophet had stayed in Asheville. Would we have become best friends and first loves? Would we have sat on the grassy bank of the lake between our houses and listened to his sister’s Clash tape on my boom box? Would we have become film nerds and begged our parents to drive us out to the retro screenings at the multiplex across the street from the mall? Would he have ended up John Cusack and Ione Skye, bound for some perfect unknowable future after the seat belt light dinged on? Almost certainly not (and let me be clear: I’m pretty sure the Prophet looked nothing at all like John Cusack in real life) but because he left before he ended up being like all the other boys I knew, I got to pretend he wouldn’t ever be like them. And that wasn’t a whole lot to get through middle school, but it was better than nothing.