Many, many moons ago, while the Earth was still cooling, I got my first genuine crush on a girl in school.
Before Shelly, there were girls who had crushes on me, but I never felt the same. My dad used to call me Archie Andrews, what with girls always trying to get next to me and stuff. Being in the fifth grade, and none too savvy with girls – they didn’t become interesting until later for me – I generally tried to ditch them and dodge their affections. (Later I came to regret this, but retrospectively, there isn’t anything I could’ve done different.)
But Shelly snuck in there while I was in early eighth grade and snatched my heart away. It was just a short-lived crush, not some epic love which lasted through the ages. That came later with Jennifer. Shelly was only a crush, a tiny bit of infatuation, and I shed no tears when I woke up one day and realized I hadn’t exchanged words with her in a couple of years. I didn’t pine for her when I left her three thousand miles behind me, and the letters were the first time I even breached the subject of a crush. I figured, at the time, in my this-makes-sense-to-an-eighth-grader way, the distance made it safe to be open and honest about my feelings with her. Turns out I was right.
Shelly was all freckles, knobby knees and feathered haircut. She had a great smile, and I guess she would be considered cute enough. At least, at that time. Back then, girls didn’t mature and develop as quickly as they do now. Their bodies were still more homogenous with boys than distinctively feminine a lot of the time. There were exceptions, of course, but for the most part, they were still sticks wearing training bras. Her green eyes twinkled under the big, fluffy haircut and bangs, her smile innocent and charming.
I wrote to Shelly for a long time after we moved away. A long time for an eighth-grader, anyway. My mom had my brother and me back in our old Catholic school, the one we attended for a year before our family moved to Georgia. We lived with my maternal grandmother on the San Francisco peninsula. My dad worked across the bay and through the tunnel, an hour from grandma’s and about a half-hour’s commute from the school. So for me, it was getting up when he did, getting ready for school, driving the hour to drop my dad off at work, then get some breakfast at Jack-in-the-Box and eat it in the car while we waited for the school to open so we could go in. Long days, when sitting in the parking lot waiting for my father to finish his day so we could all wade through the dense, slow traffic back to grandma’s became a way of life. Homework in the back seat of a ‘70 Olds Cutlass. Getting home in time to spend a few minutes to myself before being shuffled off to bed. Mornings came early then.
Shelly and I exchanged letters for a while. I developed my crush while I still lived there and she was a classmate. I kept it for about another year, maybe. Then it languished in a quiet, unseen, unnoticed way and passed on without fanfare.
Sometimes, my writing feels like Shelly. I know it’s true love, I know it’s genuine and real and won’t pass away quietly, without fuss, without a fight. But sometimes, I feel like it’s Shelly and the exchange of writing is infrequent at best, fading into not writing anymore, not being there anymore. I’m afraid sometimes I’ll wake up and say “Oh, wow! I forgot about writing!” Years will slip away between us and I won’t remember the address anymore or have any of the old letters to remind me how wonderful it was.
Academically, I know this isn’t going to happen. I love writing. I’m doing it even when I’m not sitting at a keyboard or in front of a pad with pen in hand. It’s happening in my head, in my heart, every moment of my day. Even blogging is writing in a way. But sometimes – just sometimes – I wonder if I’ll let the flame die if I’m not more careful.
Are you nurturing and cherishing your first love, your passion, your burning interest? What keeps you in love with it? What tips and tricks can you give to someone trying to fan the old flame into a roaring fire again?
Sound off, y’all. Show me how it’s done.
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