“Sam! What are you doing? Are you still fucking with those malt balls?” my mother’s voice echoing through the narrow hive-like caverns that were our “quarters” in the big, fancy, beautiful house full of betrayal and ugly. I was in the 2nd grade, a proud student at Burroughs’s K-3rd school and I was, tongue poking from between my determined lips, making the love of my life the Valentines gift I knew was going to sway him to leave Jennifer M for me. I wasn’t as pretty…by like a lot, nor was I as popular as Jennifer M (we had three Jennifer’s in my 2nd grade class so each was a Jennifer something) but I could feel from the bowels of my starting to be feisty soul, I was better for the blonde haired, blue eyed heartthrob of Mrs. Heathrow’s class, Tyler.
There were no added letters to mine or Tyler’s name. We stood out in that our names were just different enough, at the time, to afford us no plus-one status. We also had last names that started with D’s so we were seated by each other, for like the whole year and while Jennifer M, with her wavy, (and I swear to this day…no, I’m not damaged) highlighted, super bouncy and washed, (I was a vile wash liar. “Sam did you take a bath?” –“Yes, of course” as I used my tongue wetted thumb to try and scrape the mud from my been-a-week-or-so-since-I-washed face) hair was like four rows over. She was pretty but, well she’d get older and less so, least with me he was safe in that the deflation of value was going to be far less traumatic. Plus, I was always first to be picked for every P.E. game. Of course it was my thick girth and not so girly willingness to take a fucker out for the point but still, and as I sat there with a Buffums’ shirt box in front of me, brown, (not from dirt, well okay, a little from dirt but mostly from being out in the sun) legs folded Indian style beneath me, I poured my undying love for Tyler out in words, made from those chocolate covered malted balls.
This my friends, was as brilliant a move as I’d ever dreamed of. How better to woo the man of your relentless dreams, while in the 2nd grade, than by professing your love spelled out on the bottom of a Fan C. Pants department store shirt box, in fucking chocolate?! Still I marvel in the fact that I came up with that. I spent hours, literally, perfectly aligning each bubbled looking word, “Tyler, I think you are cute. I love you. Sam”…doesn’t sound like much but think of how tiny my fingers, added with the bending a pudgy girl in half….there was huffing and stretching I assure you, and it was downright impressive. An hour and a half past my usual dragging myself to bed, (even then I had no bedtime) I nodded, proud and assured I was to win the heart of the man of my dreams as I, very gently slipped the top of the shirt box over my heartfelt and hard earned profession of true love. I was to make him feel as loved as he truly was and he would like hold my hand, and marry me of course. I didn’t sleep much that night, my tummy tight with anticipation and pride as I wide awake dreamed of My Tyler kissing me, (but not the yucky tongue kind) and making me his wife.
“We’re late! Did you stay up too late again?!” my mother once again bellowing down the halls as I ran around looking for, “cleaner” crunders and wriggled into my tan corduroy pants and while slipping on my still untied sneakers buttoned my bright green and pink shirt. My heart was pounding. Both because mom was barking at me for being late again and because I was about to wear my heart on my green and pink sleeve and Tyler and I were to be married soon. Backpack thrown over my shoulder, water splashed on my still not clean face, matted hair pulled back into a tight ponytail to hide the big knot of tangled and I brightly, excited but nervously, reached for The Gift. Could hear my heart thumping in my ears even louder than my mom’s voice, my blood pulsing through my body at a rate normally reserved for skating down a steep hill, or teasing a boy until he wanted to touch me, I picked up the starkly white box, “Thump-thump-thumpity-thump” pudgy fingers gently picking it up as to not bend or ripple, or dirty the edges and just as I heard the final, I knew I was seconds from being murdered screech from my mother, I swung around and felt my jaw and heart drop and I heard, and felt, hundreds of heartfelt chocolate bubble letters slide around like marbles in the bottom of the box.
So the actual transport of The Gift, the admission and profession of my true love full of raw emotion and processed sugar, like I was to make sure those, round, balls of chocolate didn’t move around when I picked it up to deliver it, didn’t once occur to me. Not once. Spent my saved up allowance and hours thinking about and making this “Gift” the one that was to change my life, FOREVER and not once did I think it completely through. I arrived at Mrs. Heathrow’s room 3 with a box full of what looked like hamster turds to profess my undying love…..I hope Tyler and Jennifer M are supremely happy to this day.
“Your assignment is to make a picnic box for your favorite friend here at camp. We will have a special dinner for you, your friend and your parents in the gym in four days from now! So think long and hard about your dinner choices. What are your friend’s most loved foods? Have you eaten these things together? Why do you want to share that with them? What does your picnic box say about you? So the twist is, you can’t tell your friend which box is yours! They have to select your box based on the items you’ve selected and how artfully you display them!” the counselor at YMCA camp overly cheerily and egging us on to join in the super fun festivities. I had a friend alright. I had Charlie. Thin, smallish, crazy handsome, greenish brown eyes, a full mouth and curly hair. Charlie was special alright, he was the boy I spent all summer with. The one that held my hand, picked up those oblong pods from the Honeylocust tress that grew around the pool area, snapped them in half and splayed their sticky insides as we both buried our noses in their lusty, almost minty scent, lost in curiosity and the comfort in finding another young soul just as, weird.
Charlie was, much like my 2nd grade love, popular but he wore a sadness that spoke to me and maybe scared the others. He was, and I know this sounds crazy now, but he was sexy. Brooding. Dark. Dramatic looking and just as heart-stopping in his quirk. I was stricken the first time we sat together on the bus and he found my green eyes intriguing in a sea of blue ones, and my own brand of seeable heartache a draw. We were not only close, we were inseparable. I knew who I was packing dinner for, it was Charlie and Me, fuck our parents. Astoundingly arrogant for a ten year old, but I guess to those that know me now, probably not all that surprising.
At the time my all-time favorite food was Carl’s Jr. Food was always a reward in my house, for my mother and ultimately for her children. Carl’s Jr was a real treat and I knew that my mom would kick down and spend the money we never had to buy me the meal to please and impress my beloved and his parents, if for no other reason she got to eat there too. I spent exactly three days coming up with my design and picking my foods, I simply needed a few hours to create my box in a way that would make me stand out and impress enough my special friend that he would be able to pick it out, and want to spend the early evening dinning with me, his family and mine.
Back then Carl’s Jr. made a Western type burger but it wasn’t round like the normal burgers, it was a long oval. Still charbroiled and served with onion rings, (although I don’t remember any BBQ sauce) but it came in an oblong box that both reminded me of a coffin, (and no, I wasn’t a goth or death obsessed kid) or those pods that Charlie and I would run off, away from the kids we didn’t fit in with, to snap in half, sniff and talk about. I thought of that food, those boxes and I, in my infinite wisdom…and wicked smooth love skills, built a box that looked exactly like a graveyard.
“Charlie. Look at those pretty pink ruffles and cupcakes! You want those don’t you? This girl made sandwiches, that’s so sweet, and look how nicely she cut out all the hearts she glued on the box” Charlie’s parents, that looked nothing like him, walking their thin framed young son down the long line of waiting to be picked dinner boxes. Their eyes falling on this perfect one and the next, and the next. Charlie’s determined, beautiful eyes scanned the puffery and grandeur, walked the rows with his parents words pushing him….either along or deeper in search. My palms were sweaty as I looked at my mother’s face, her looks assuring me that my black painted Vans shoe box and coffin stuffed burgers were just another thing that made me less like her, and a reminder of why I was alone a lot and just then I heard, “No, Charlie, not that one” as my special friend reached out and grabbed the meal I had, in fact, selected for us. I felt my heart and eyes swell as Charlie marched up to the podium and handed the box to the woman with the microphone in the gym. “Charlie and his family have selected box number 12. Will the maker of this picnic box please stand and join them at table 6” my teeth dug deep in my lip I stood, grabbed my mom’s hand, gave her the tug this time and pulled her to the plastic table with the hard metal chairs….the finest dinner I’d ever known. I was heard, felt, understood and chosen….craveable that.
That night Charlie and I did what we often did. We silently slipped away from the crowd and let them revel in their loud speak while he and I explored the compelling striations of each others eyes. Felt at home in our oddity, held hands and that night, we pressed our lips together and said for the first time, or the first time I felt it bounce about in my tummy, “I love you”. Can’t say as I ever eat at Carl’s Jr. nowadays but there is not a time, ever, that I pass one and don’t think of my curly haired, handholding, Honeylocust pod loving, beautiful eyed Charlie. The one that picked me because he knew me and loved how I knew him. Charlie’s parents were neither charmed by my box, nor my mother’s conversation so at the end of that summer I never saw or heard from my Charlie again. Doesn’t matter, still a great love and one that reassures me, when I follow my heart I might hurt, fail, look profoundly stupid but….for that one second when a sweet face picks you, in spite of all that you are, or because of it, it feels fan-fucking-tastic.
So tonight, on the eve of one love having to prepare to say goodbye to a quickly adored coworker/boss and another having to discuss hospice with regards to his aging and sadly ailing mother I find myself here….doing the one thing I can do, be me. Share my stories and my soul in the hope that one other person can feel and or hear me…..maybe choose me from time to time. I don’t speak wine like most people do. I used to wish I could but the older I get the less I crave it and the more I rather like the splashing about in the pond of less perfect.