1968, Carbondale, Illinois. I was in fifth grade, and something of a know-it-all. I had already decided I was going to be a writer, having recently abandoned my previous choices of astronaut and atomic scientist. And I was generally acknowledged, for better or worse, as the smartest kid on the class. Except for her: Christiana Marie Snyder.
She got better grades than me. She always knew the answer, but didn’t jerk her hand into the air when the teacher asked for volunteers, waiting instead to be called on. She had long, straight brown hair, and mismatched eyes, one green, one blue. And she was clearly smarter than me. It was love at first report card.
But hey, I was eight, and at eight you haven’t got a clue about how to express your feelings for someone. At eight you don’t even know you have feelings! So I kept my mouth shut and worshipped from afar, all the way until February.
But then it got close to Valentine’s Day, and to the annual ritual of going to the store to pick out the box of perforated cards to give to your classmates. As usual my mother had to ask if there was someone special I wanted to get a card for. Much to my (and, I imagine, their) amazement, I said yes. So my mom helped me pick out a nice card with lots of glitter and ribbons and stuff that girls like, and we brought the cards home.
And of course she wanted to know whom the special card was for, but wanted to let me have my privacy and not ask. But she wasn’t above looking at the mimeographed list of classmates’ names I had brought home to see who didn’t get a Peanuts valentine. I was too smart for that, though – I addressed one for Christa, too!
I didn’t address the crimson envelope, but took it with me to school and wrote her name on it there. When the time came for us all to walk around the room and drop our little valentines into the decorated paper bags that served as our mailboxes, I tried to slyly slip hers in without being noticed. Fat chance, the card was bigger than the mailbox – I was busted immediately by a girl across the room with a voice like a braying donkey.
“Hey, look! Christa’s got a boyfriend! Christa’s got a boyfriend!”
Thus commenced the taunting and teasing, and there was much merriment among the urchins. So, I did what any self-respecting eight-year old would do when confronted with the leering question, “Do you like her, Kevin, do you?” I said “Ew, no, ick!”
For what it’s worth, she said the same thing. The difference was, I knew that I was lying.
Days peel off the calendar, and it is May. In spite of our public declarations of ick-ness, we started spending time together at recess, running scams on the other kids, being generally weird. It was nice, and we even started to develop a clique around us. So one day in the playground I steeled my nerves and made my move.
“Christa, I like you.”
She smiled at me, and took my hand. “That’s good, ’cause I like you, too.”
And then Tim and Meg came up, and looked at my hand in her hand, and didn’t say a word. And it was good.
And that day on the way home from school my father says, “Hey, guess what? We’re moving to Florida!”