When I was in 5th grade, I became a romantic.
I was in class doing math, or English, when she came into the room for the first time. She had dark hair and eyes. She was wearing a somewhat old-fashioned floral print dress, mainly black and purple flowers, with white frills around the hem & neck. I remember because it was what she was wearing when my crush began. It only took a few seconds.
I was deathly afraid to talk to her. I was shy beyond words with most people, but with her it was a hundred times worse. Instead of talking, I stood within earshot in case I could hear her voice, which was oddly deep for a girl so young. Anytime I heard it my heart began racing.
This was my first crush, and it changed me from a naive boy into a slightly more perceptive naive boy. It would set up many behaviors I have even now as an adult, for good or bad. It was so stressful, having this huge crush for the first time ever. It was also amazing.
By 5th grade, I had thick glasses, and I was so chubby. I was also tall & awkward. To be honest, not much has changed since then, except I have contacts now. I have always been shy, but the glasses & being overweight made it worse. I was made fun of by the girls because I had an ample chest, much more than they could have hoped for at that age. They called me “Titty Boy”, while the boys called me “Jelly Belly” (after the jelly beans). The girls making fun of me seemed worse because I was afraid that my crush would join in with them.
At the time, I was also a crossing guard. The list for who was going to be crossing guard, and on which corner changed each week. Each time I was on crossing guard duty I kept an eye out for my crush. In all honesty I always kept an eye out for her. In the classroom. On the play ground. In the lunch room. It didn’t matter where. I had become addicted to the butterflies in my stomach when I saw her.
One day, I stood on the corner behind the school. I was wearing my guard sash, and a pink muscle shirt with a cartoon penguin on it. Pink was in fashion for everyone, and who doesn’t want to show their love of adorable penguins while also showing off arm muscles that do not exist? The 80’s were a cruel & awkward time for fashion.
I stood there waiting to see my crush, but I was losing hope. I leaned against the stop sign growing irritated that I hadn’t seen her yet. If I waited much longer I would be late to school.
“Hey!” said a deeper than normal girls voice from behind me.
It was my crush. I had eavesdropped on her enough to know without turning around. When I did turn I felt all the blood rush from the bottom of my feet all the way to my face. The butterflies in my stomach had turned into pterodactyls, slamming my insides around.
“Hi.” I mumbled lacking the courage to look her fully in the eyes.
“I love your shirt! Penguins are my favorite animal.”
“…”, the words were stuck in my throat.
“Can I cross?” she asked impatiently as I stood dumbfounded & jittery.
I tried to keep from passing out as I checked the street for cars so she could cross. She ran across the street and into the school. I leaned against the stop sign deliriously happy and drenched in sweat, also scared out of my mind. I would definitely see her again later when I was crossing guard on the same corner after school. It was all I thought about the entire day.
Later, after school, she came to the corner and crossed. I was too afraid to say anything at all.
The crush became my only thought, other than werewolves. It became so consuming I started leaving for school a half hour earlier. If I wasn’t crossing guard on her corner, I would stand by the steps of the school so I could see her come to school. I tried getting her attention by wearing the pink penguin muscle shirt as often as possible. It didn’t work. Apparently the shirt had lost its magical ability to start conversation.
I was at a loss.
I wanted to talk to my crush to tell her how I felt. If I didn’t I was sure I would explode. It felt like that, at least. I tried figuring out how to get around the huge problem of my shyness. I looked for inspiration in books, movies, and TV shows.
So, I don’t remember exactly where the idea came from, but I decided I would become her anonymous suitor. I got this from reading the back of an old movie called Roxanne. I would write her, telling her exactly how I felt. I would become her secret admirer!
I snuck away from my post one day, and looked down the street she lived on so I could see which house she lived in. Later, I asked my mom to drive down the street. I memorized the house number as we drove past.
When I got home, I decided I would secretly take an envelope and stamps from the desk drawer where Mom kept them. I went to my room and wrote my crush a letter that explained how beautiful she was, how much I liked her, and Lord knows what else. Once it was all down on paper, I knew I couldn’t sign my name. I had to come up with a nickname that was fitting for a romantic secret admirer. I sat for what seemed like forever thinking it over in my mind until it struck me.
Red Wolf! I loved the color red. I loved wolves (mainly werewolves, though). I wrote it at the bottom of the letter, along with a pretty cool cartoon wolf head I drew. I sealed the envelope and wrote down the address I memorized. Once the stamp was in place, I hid the letter in my backpack. I decided I would drop it in the big mail box in front of the school tomorrow. No one would notice since I got to school so early.
The next day I did exactly that. I was vibrating with excitement. I felt brave and bold. I had just become a secret admirer. I doubt anyone else my age had been so crafty, or romantic.
In time though, I realized that I would never know if she liked the letters. I sent them, but didn’t put a return address on them. I was even shy as a made up character. Still, Valentine’s Day was coming up, and I had to send her a gift. I wanted to be romantic so I decided perfume was the best gift.
I have never claimed to be normal, and at the age of ten it was no different. I decided the most romantic thing to do was to make the perfume myself. I explained to Mom I needed to make something for my crush. I asked to go to the store to get supplies. We went.
Once we were home again, I explained I would have to mix it together on the stove. Mom supervised, still only partially aware of what I was doing. I put a bit of water in a saucepan, heating it to a slow boil. I then put perfume I found in Mom’s closet into the water. I also tossed in powdered cinnamon, a bay leaf, oregano, orange juice, dried cayenne peppers, and sliced up green tomatoes.
I should mention that I had no idea how to make perfume, still don’t.
Mom thought I was making some type of soup for my crush. When I wasn’t looking she tasted the mixture. Aside from burning her mouth from all the cayenne peppers, the perfume I had poured in did not help. I quickly explained it was perfume, not soup. Mom looked at me very oddly, and cursed under her breath, and told me I could finish making my gift if I cleaned up.
So, I got back to making perfume. I tossed in some soy sauce and a watermelon jolly rancher for good measure. I let it cool, and then put the mixture into an empty bottle of nail polish remover, which I had decorated with red glitter. I put the gift into a box with a letter from the enigmatic Red Wolf.
Mom took me to my crush’s house to secretly drop off the package on the porch, which I did. I was sure she loved the gift, and in no way harmed by whatever unholy mess it was that I had truly made.
I didn’t write her after that. I heard her talking about liking a boy in our class. I figured Red Wolf had not captured her heart like I wanted.
I still liked her after that, of course. As a matter of fact, I liked her through all of middle school as well. I never really got the courage to actually talk to her. I had gotten chubbier, and my glasses had gotten thicker. I retired the Red Wolf name. I retired the overly romantic side of myself also.
The funny thing is years later, I did tell her exactly how I felt back then. I also revealed that I was Red Wolf. She was shocked. She never said if my perfume had hurt her in any way, so that was good.
I will say that in that moment, revealing all the secret feelings I had back then was amazing. The chubby 5th grader with thick glasses & crushing shyness, the one that the girls called Titty Boy (and the boys called Jelly Belly) was ecstatic.
It was the best day of his life, and it was a pretty good day for me too.
I don’t know if I will ever be as romantic as 5th grade me, but I can say I am not as scared of opening up as I used to be. I usually reserve my crippling shyness for people I really like only now.
Sometimes, I think I might still have a little Red Wolf in me, but I make sure to buy perfume instead of making it.