She was a dark-haired beauty, with long, golden-tanned legs and flashing eyes. Her smile lit the room so brightly that everything else in it was rendered flat and dull by its radiance. I could not take my eyes off her. By the lucky chance of the letters beginning our last names, she was seated at a desk in the row directly in front of me, just enough to the side that we could catch each others’ eyes without her having to turn completely around.
My task, and a daunting one it was, was to get her to WANT to catch my eye. I tried everything I could think of. My initial strategy was to make myself the intellectual star of the classroom. I became hyper-attuned to the tiniest whim of our teacher. My hand was the first to shoot up in answer to any and all questions. It reached the point that she had to ask me to let others have a turn.
I retreated when it became obvious that I was now competing with my beloved, much to her annoyance, for the teacher’s attention. Another strategy was clearly called for, but what?
Perhaps my drawing prowess would win her. I threw myself into illustrating every conceivable class project, the more complex and elaborate the drawing better. The illustrators of medieval manuscripts had nothing on me for embellishment. I made certain that she saw my latest work, by dropping it deliberately on the floor and innocently asking her to pick it up. She was completely uninterested, not even glancing at my masterpiece as she handed it back to me. So much for talent.
It got worse. Over the days that followed, she began to show increasing attention to the boy who sat next to her. THAT idiot? That plodding, dim-witted, talentless interloper? How could she possibly prefer that moron to ME? I sank into despair. The color seemed to flow out of my life.
I stumbled on the solution completely by accident. In answer to one of the teacher’s questions, I made a pun, and everyone laughed, she especially hard, I noticed. I needed no further encouragement. I embarked on my new career as the class clown. I was inspired. I made jokes whenever I could. Puns, quips, jests, witticisms flowed from my lips. And much to my delight, the object of my desire responded. I was rewarded more and more often with approving glances from those flashing eyes.
If humor was the key to unlocking her heart, I was up to the challenge. The sillier the joke the more she approved. I expanded my repertoire to include physical comedy. I lost control of my pencil and sent it flying across the room in a vain attempt to corral it. Approving snickers. I fell off my chair. Adoring chuckles. I lost my balance and bounced off the wall. Peals of laughter. The more absurd the pratfall, the more she enjoyed it. If love makes fools of us, I was more than willing to play the part.
We became inseparable. We chose each other as partners for every class activity that required teamwork. We flirted with each other whenever the teacher wasn’t looking, whispering and passing notes back and forth.
I should have known that it was too good to last.
Oh, I thought of a good one! I leaned across the desk to tell my newest one-liner to her. She stretched back across hers to hear it.
And between us, suddenly, stood the teacher.
I was already in the back row, so there was no place to move me. My beloved, however, was banished to the very first row, forced to exchange seats with the loathsome boy who now occupied her former chair. Not only could I no longer talk to her, I couldn’t even see her from my desk. The hours until the end of that day were torture. When the bell rang I caught a brief glimpse of her as the room emptied, but the crush of students rushing to the door blocked my way, and by the time I was able to get out of the classroom, she was nowhere to be found.
The next morning only extended my misery. Every second seemed like an hour.
The only time I saw her was when she stood to answer a question. The room brightened for that brief moment, and went dark again when she sat down.
All was not lost, however. True love will find a way. In my misery, I had forgotten about lunch! At lunch we could sit anywhere and with whomever we wanted. Our love affair might now be confined to the lunchroom, but that limitation only added to its intensity. We spent that happy half hour breathlessly chattering away, oblivious to everything and everyone around us.
Mornings after that were spent in giddy anticipation of the lunch bell. True, the afternoons still dragged, but knowing that I would see her the very next day at noon helped me endure the passing hours.
It happened on a Friday. Mom had packed a lunch and had given me a few pennies for a carton of milk. Three of us sat at our table: me, my darling and the boy who had been given her seat (whom I had since forgiven). He issued a challenge no self-respecting class clown could ignore. He bet me a nickel that I couldn’t fill my mouth with the entire half pint of milk without swallowing or spitting it out.
Kids from other tables began to gather around. Side bets were taken. I pushed the straw into the little hole in the side of the carton. I took a deep breath, and drew the liquid into my mouth. I sucked it in until the straw made that gurgling sound that indicated the carton was empty. My cheeks were bulging. I could not have managed another drop, but I had done it! My love’s eyes had never looked at me so adoringly.
And, suddenly, there was the teacher.
“Eddie, what on earth a you up to?” she demanded, leaning close and poking both of my bloated cheeks with her index fingers. Hard.
What did she expect? The entire half pint exploded out of my mouth, right into her face. Well, not all of it. What missed her hit my lady love. Squarely in the kisser.
After a brief but humiliating talk with the principal, I returned to the classroom. I was, for the remainder of the day, the hero of many of the boys. Not so much the girls, but what did they know?
Although my sweetheart and I laughed about it the next week at lunch, things were never quite the same between us. My jokes didn’t seem to amuse her as much as they had before. My goofy faces and exaggerated clumsiness no longer made her shriek with delight. There was a certain wariness about her whenever I drank milk. She even chose to sit at other tables on occasion.
By the end of the semester, we had drifted apart.
But all these years later, I still think of her once in a while. Something triggers a distant memory and suddenly the flash of her smile, for a fleeting second, brightens the room.
A man never forgets his first love.