first-grade embarrassments

1. in the first grade i was friends with a girl named chrissy, who lived on my street. chrissy was fun to hang out with, but she bullied me around a lot. once we were at her house and it was time for me to go home for dinner, but she told me i couldn’t leave until she said so, because it was her house and she made the rules. being the pushover i was at the time, i stayed there, sitting on the floor of her room, until my parents called her mom to find out where the hell i was.

chrissy taught me, among other things, the word fuck. she told me it was a bad word, but wouldn’t tell me what it meant. when i got home that evening (probably two hours late, since chrissy made the rules), i asked my mom what fuck meant. she got an angry look in her eyes, one i’d never seen before, and told me that it meant “i hate you and i want to kill you.”

chrissy and i went to the same elementary school, but she was in a different first-grade class than i was. she told me that she had crushes on two boys in my class, todd and alan. i’m not sure why she didn’t just pick the boy she liked best and decide to have a crush on him. i guess she was the seven-year-old who wanted it all.

one day she informed me that she wanted me to tell both alan and todd that she liked them.

“why can’t you just tell them yourself?” i asked her.
“they’re in your class,” she said. “you should tell them.”

this didn’t make any sense, but i didn’t want to argue. i told her that i was too shy to tell them in person, but i would write them notes if she wanted.

dear alan,
chrissy clements likes you.
alison headley

dear todd,
chrissy clements likes you.
alison headley

i was also too shy to hand them the notes in person. the next morning i staked out the coatrack, figured out which backpacks were theirs, and slipped the notes in when nobody was looking. it was terrifying. all morning i watched alan and todd for signs that they might have seen their notes, but i couldn’t tell.

that afternoon, my teacher ms. tamara called alan and me up to her desk. “alan told me he found this on the ground near the coatrack,” she said, holding up the note i’d written. she was speaking in a low voice, but the whole class had gone dead silent, straining to listen. i was too shocked and embarrassed to speak.

“it’s not nice to write notes like this to people,” ms. tamara continued. but it’s true! i wanted to tell her. chrissy clements likes alan! she made me write the note! everyone stared at me.

“now i want you to say you’re sorry to alan,” she said. i looked at alan. his face was blank. i choked out an apology and fled to my desk, face purple, the class still staring. ms. tamara, brandishing the note, went to talk to chrissy’s teacher. sitting at my desk trying not to cry, i knew without a doubt that if chrissy’s teacher asked her about the note, chrissy would say that she didn’t know a thing about it.

i’m still grateful to todd that he didn’t rat me out like alan did.

2. in the first grade i had my own crush, too, on a boy named jimmy. i can’t remember that there was anything special about jimmy in particular, so i’m not sure why i picked him to have a crush on, but boy did i ever have a crush. i would stare at the back of his head during class, pay strict attention whenever he answered a question, be painfully conscious of his whereabouts during recess, and lay on the bathroom floor at home fantasizing about how we would get married someday.

like all the other boys in my class and in other classes and, really, all boys in existence at the time, jimmy didn’t know i was alive. i didn’t know how to get jimmy to notice me without making a fool of myself like i had with chrissy’s notes, and i was pretty sure that if i did get him to notice me, he wouldn’t be interested. so i never did anything about my crush. after all, i was one of the most unpopular girls in class, i was shy, i wasn’t too pretty, and i had horrible hair.

my horrible hair was brown and frizzy, it puffed out of my head at bizarre angles i couldn’t control, and it was cut just above my shoulders. more than anything i wanted to have long, straight hair like lauren peters. lauren peters’ hair fell all the way to her waist, and it swung when she walked. every time she stood up and went across the classroom to sharpen her pencil, i watched the way her hair moved back and forth in time with her steps. it flowed in such a way that mine never did. how does she get it to do that? i wondered. is it the length? the straightness? is it the way she moves her head?

i was thinking about lauren peters’ hair one morning while sitting at my desk before class started. maybe it was the way she moved her head. deciding that i’d try it out, i got up and walked across the room to the pencil sharpener. i widened my steps and turned my head a little from side to side as i walked, trying everything i could to make my hair move in time. i guess i thought no one was watching.

i sharpened my pencil and headed back to my seat. as i passed jimmy’s desk, he sneered at me a little and said, “don’t even bother. your hair’s never going to swing back and forth like lauren peters’.”

i have no idea how he knew.