Remember your very first date? How old do you think you were? Most people say somewhere between 13 – 16 years. That’s typical. There are outliers, of course, but in general mid-teens is the proper time for such shenanigans. Of course, I’ve never been typical — not in my life.
In my third grade class it was popular to “go with” someone. No one in the entire class knew what this meant beyond the idea of sending one of those notoriously public pass-along notes from a boy to a girl, or a girl to a boy: “Do you like me? Check box. [ ] Yes [ ] No.” This seems to be a fairly common social ritual throughout kid-dom and it must be performed a certain way or… well, I’ll get to that. Rules are:
There should never be a name on this piece of paper. It must be delivered via sweaty-palmed courier through a torrent of whispers. The paper may be folded in any number of ways, but must always be very wrinkled and moist. The last person to pass it along must whisper the name of the one who sent it into the recipient’s ear while she is actually trying to study and get good grades.
Then, there is the obligatory reading of the note, and the turn to look back at him to see what his face is doing. I categorized three types of responses for this moment looking at the guy from the girl’s perspective. (1) The Miser: He sits there kind of hunched-over, eyes trained on the desk, like a miser counting his money. You know HE knows you’re looking at him though because his face gets all red and blotchy. (2) The Rooster (for whom there are other quite legitimate names which would actually apply more accurately here.) This is the guy who sits there in his chair, chest puffed out, arms crossed or in his pockets, eating up the attention. Inevitably, he’ll have some kind of social queue at the ready, usually a wink. One guy once gave me the “Fonzie” double-thumbs-up. (3) The Shy-Guy rarely makes an appearance in this seat of scrutiny because the Shy-Guy knows better. He’s usually well-groomed, very good-looking and intelligent. If you are lucky enough to get a note from a Shy-Guy, it would have more information on it like, “I like you. Do you like me?” He’s sitting up in his chair, not slouching too much, and gives this kind of shy half-smile with the tilt of his head as your eyes meet oh-so-briefly before you both look away… really fast.
Like a tribal chant, the snickers from everyone behind you presses on the back of your neck, reminding you that the ceremony is not over. Oh, not by a long shot. Everyone is waiting for your answer. You must not disappoint by not participating, for that would be a social no-no causing you to be labeled as an anarchist.
Whether Miser, Rooster, or Shy Guy, I always said, “Yes.” Why, you may ask? Three reasons: (1) It was a lot quieter than if I’d said, “No.” I hate negative energy. (Double negative makes positive, right?) (2) It’ll be over by recess. Such allegiances were forged and dissolved multiple times every day. Had we’d been older, soap opera writers would have had a field day with our memoirs. (3) I think it made him feel good about himself. I mean, how would I feel if someone told me they didn’t like me?
True confessions: I am not perfect. Giant shocker, I know! If “perfect” were ten and “imperfect” were one, I’d be kind of negative two… or three. In this third-grade microcosm of civilization, I had… I had a bad day, OK? My mind must have been on something else — like what made Fonzie’s thumbs so cool — because I finally snapped.
A gaggle of girls came to me on the playground — thank heaven we at least weren’t in class — delivering the message, “Robbie wants to know if you’ll go with him.” I looked over at Robbie who was standing TEN FEET AWAY doing the Miser thing. I looked at the gaggle of girls. They stood there, clinging to each other like a pile of box-elder-bugs and giggling.
Ugh! What are we doing? I should have been flattered. I should have played along as always. It was a hideous moment of clarity and confusion for me. I did not understand the point of “going with” someone if all it meant was this: twitter-painted girls, beet-faced boys, and gossip, gossip, gossip, gossip everywhere you go! It makes no sense. “If Robbie wants to go with me,” I broadcasted in a voice loud enough for the kitchen help to hear, “then why doesn’t he come ask me himself? He’s standing right there!”
Must wait now for the orchestra to play, “Dun-dun-Duuuun.”
OK, it’s over. You can uncover your eyes.
So-o-o,… Let’s just say that I learned a little something that day about humiliating people in public… or rather, what not to do. It’s not wise and it’s not nice.
So, when Kenny surprised me on the playground the next day by landing the wettest, gushiest, most grossly slobbery kiss right on my lips, I didn’t publicly humiliate him. I just gave him a bloody nose and told him to go see the school nurse.
To be continued… [My First Date – Slice 2]