What would memories of childhood be without the bittersweet recollections of one's first crush? Whether he teases you mercilessly or ignores you, there's always that frisson of excitement whenever you see him.
This is the school where I spent my elementary and high school years. The structure at the top right of the pic, the one with the flower-shaped roof, is the elementary school building; the others are the high school and college buildings (but during my day the school didn't offer college courses yet).
The guy in question, the inspiration of my 12-year-old heart (let's call him Reuben, that's close enough to his real name anyway) was my classmate in sixth grade. He was a boy who didn't talk too much. He had twinkling eyes and an engaging smile. And he was cute as hell.
We used to play a game in that little green area behind the grade school building (not the football field) during recess and after school hours. It was pretty similar to baseball; only there were no bats involved. The "pitcher" rolled a soccer ball to whoever was "at bat," who then had to kick it as hard as he or she could and hope that none of the rival team's members would catch it. Whether the "bases" were loaded or not, kicking the ball hard and making the rare "home run" was a cause for celebration.
I rarely played because I wasn't very athletic. I was content to just watch and cheer my friends on. Sometimes, though, they would persuade me to participate. I always chose to be the left fielder or right fielder; I was (and still am) such a lazy git and those positions didn't get much action.
Until one day.
I was standing in position way out in the field, watching the action in front. Then Reuben stepped up to the "plate." He kicked the ball. High and hard. I cheered for him (inwardly; he belonged to the other team). But I noticed something that made my jaw drop and my eyes almost pop out of their sockets. In the space of a few nanoseconds, what seemed like a lifetime of dialogue ensued in my mind.
The ball's coming toward me! Shit! (Except I really didn't think the word "shit"; I didn't start using that word until I was in high school.)
No, don't. He might get mad at me if I catch it. (A player is "out" if his/her kick is caught.)
Just catch the damn ball! (I really didn't think "damn" either. But it was something like that.)
So I ran. I was such an obedient child (even unto myself). Imagine this in slow motion, if you will. And listen to the music if you want to be really silly about this.
I rushed forward, heart in my throat, neck arched, eyes straining to follow the ball's trajectory.
I'm not going to catch iiiiiitttt!!!
Yes, you aaaarrrree!
My arms stretched outward and upward, my mind willing the ball to fall into them. The faintest flicker of hope bloomed within me. Maybe I was going to do it after all.
Then I tripped.
Down I fell, down, down, down. There I lay face down with my heart still galloping, pinpricks of pain in my knees and forearms from gashes I realized I must have suffered from the fall, the metallic taste of blood in my mouth from having bitten my tongue, the skirt of my school uniform hitched up, revealing panties that proclaimed the day of the week in curly letters for all the world to see. Oh, the shame!
Except I didn't feel any shame at all at that moment. Because, wonder of wonders, the ball was in my arms.
You did it.
I did it! Damn right I did.
Maybe it was then that I started to get an inkling of the idea that it IS possible to feel victorious in the most unfavorable conditions. That even when you're down and out and your ridiculous underwear is right there in full view of everyone you can still be a winner.
The bell rang. I got up, kicked the ball to its owner, grinned at Reuben's thumbs-up, brushed myself off, ran to the little girls' room to clean up some more, and headed back to the classroom.
Reuben, wherever you are right now, cheers. Catching your ball sure was memorable.