Spring is in the air here in the City and with it comes the inevitable coupling up of animals and humans (though I myself am politely declining any and all close encounters of the male romantic kind until such time as my heart has fully recovered from the last). So that got me thinking back…way, WAY back to the 90s…to when my heart felt its first flutters of love, or at least, deep like. Enjoy…
My first crush was named Paul. We were in the same kindergarten class, and I thought he was adorable. Of course, at the time, I didn’t really understand what a boyfriend or love was beyond what I saw depicted in the Disney movies I so frequently watched. Paul was gentle and sweet, sometimes shy, but always friendly and polite. And the best part was that he had a crush on me back.
Crushes come and go, naturally, and my crush on Paul was no different. For a while in third grade, there was Robbie, who was blonde and played soccer and had just moved from Kansas City. He had that new kid in town mysterious quality, a mischievous grin, and never was without a little twinkle in his eye. I was smitten.
But it turns out I wasn’t the only girl at McIntire Elementary who felt that way; apparently every other girl in the third grade had taken note of Robbie and was secretly plotting ways of winning him over. Realizing he was more into my friend Joanna, I quietly withdrew my heart from the competition and turned my attention back to multiplication tables and my Book-It booklist (which I think we can all agree was one of the best reading incentives ever: read books, get free pizza), and not long after that, Paul too.
Sure, he was a little too into Pokemon by that point for my taste, but we both loved music class and I had never forgotten the heated discussion we’d had over which Power Ranger was the best. It seemed like a good match (if only it was THAT easy now).
In fourth grade, we started switching classrooms for science, history, and math, so even though Paul and I were in different classes, we could still communicate via notes we left in each other’s desks. He left me a carefully folded note one day after science class, asking if I’d be his girlfriend, and naturally, I left one back accepting. I marked the occasion by making note of it in my Lisa Frank polar bear diary
that I kept under lock and key, saying we had “a complicated relationship.” As if I had any idea what that actually meant, but it sounded good and adult at the time. For Valentine’s Day, he got me a TY Beanie Baby keychain, which I still have somewhere in my closet at home in Missouri. For a girl in the 90s, getting a beanie baby on Valentine’s Day was even better than flowers or candy, and I knew I had picked my boyfriend correctly. I think I got him a pack of Pokemon cards, probably as a peace offering to say “I don’t understand this obsession, but I accept that it’s important to you.” This would prove an important lesson for later relationships: you don’t always understand your significant other’s interests, but you must support them anyway.
Things changed in middle school because suddenly, we joined with all the kids from the other two elementary schools, and frosted tips and lots of hair gel became a thing. An UNFORTUNATE thing, but a thing, no less. Not only was there more homework, but now I had to worry about bras and school dances and figuring out how to do my own makeup (which in middle school in my day meant lots of eye shadow, Dr. Pepper Lipsmackers, and maybe a hint of mascara; SO natural…NOT). And there were more boys. So many more boys I had seen around town but didn’t really know. I joined band and was in choir, and Paul was too, so we saw each other still in our music classes, but became friends instead.
I definitely believe in the whole When Harry Met Sally scenario that men and women can only be friends after they’ve gotten physical contact and/or those pesky romantic attractions out of the way (at least, most of the time). That’s what happened to Paul and me. After our brief 4th grade romance (with NO physical contact, mind you), we settled comfortably into a good friendship, which we have maintained up until now. In high school, I used to go over to his house a lot after school with some of the other guys from band, and we’d play video games for a while and drink Route 44 drinks from Sonic.
A few times, I’d catch Paul looking at me, and I’d wonder if perhaps he had rekindled some of those old feelings for me. If he did, he never acted on them again, and we graduated with our friendship intact.
I ran into him two summers ago at a friend’s wedding, and it felt weird but also like old times. He introduced me to his girlfriend (who’s cute as a button and who he’s still with now). We shared some laughs. Once in awhile we send something to each other over Facebook, but we’ve gone in different directions in our lives, and have fewer things in common. He works with computers in St. Louis, and I’m here creating stuff, living a semi-bohemian life. I catch myself thinking about those strange childhood years sometimes, and Paul always enters my mind when I do. He represents a time gone by, a different version of myself, and, in a way, the men who would follow him; the ones I gravitated (and perhaps still DO gravitate) towards.
I think we all are trying to recapture the magic of our first crush in our later relationships in many ways; the youthfulness and innocence, the butterflies in the stomach, the longing. You only get one first crush; only one person gets to be the first to awaken those feelings in you for better or worse. I don’t mean to sound all starry-eyed and nostalgic, but it’s one of those moments you really DO carry with you for the rest of your life. We always hope that the next person we fall for will stir up all of that, make us feel like we’re back in the throws of young, exuberant 4th grade love. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.
I’ll always think fondly of Paul no matter how much life separates us, because that relationship has become oddly preserved just as it was, untainted by whatever else has happened to us in our individual romantic lives. It is just as sweet now as it was then, and for that, I’m grateful. I could use more sweetness in my life.
And for the record, I still know nothing about Pokemon (but THIS is pretty adorable). Sorry, Paul.