Beth Wesloh is getting married. When I was in fifth grade I was in love with her. I knew that because I told her I liked her even more than I liked my grandmother’s sister. I had no special feelings at all for my aunt but I figured if I liked a girl as much as a family member then that must mean I was in love with her.
My entire knowledge about love at that time came from “Are you there god, its me Margaret”, “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing”, and, scandalously, “Forever” – all by the Shakespeare of 12 year olds everywhere – Judy Blume.
Beth had red hair, pale skin, an awkward, somewhat offbeat, smile. She moved into town when I was in 4th grade, the day I got glasses. I know this because I refused to lift my head off of the desk, I was so embarrassed about my glasses. How could my parents have done this to me? Cripple me with their lousy vision DNA. Mrs. Osborne, the teacher, kept saying throughout the day, “James, you have to lift your head up off of your desk so Beth, the new girl, can see what you look like.” But I had glasses on. So I wasn’t moving.
In seventh grade the bigger kids would just randomly punch you right in the face and laugh. Kids got cruel. But in fifth grade it was all about Judy Blume. Kids had crushes for the first time but nobody called it crushes. It was “love”. They broke free from the now-awkward communications with their parents who “never understood”. They wondered about God and sex and what the older kids did. Lee Applebaum, on my Hebrew school carpool, told my mom,me, and Jennifer F., that his babysitter peed in his girlfriend’s mouth. My mom laughed but I just simply did not understand. Why would any guy pee in a girl’s mouth? That was the most disgusting thing I ever heard. And 13 years later Jennifer killed herself. So what was it all for?
In fifth grade, after three months of pretending to enjoy hopscotch with the girls rather than kickball with the guys during recess, I finally had enough courage to tell Beth that maybe possibly I had real feelings for her. I can’t remember what happened after that. Everyone was embarrassed. She was. I was. All of our friends were. Some running away occurred. But a few weeks later we started riding our bikes together after school. And then I started finding out certain things about myself that I never knew before but I would know all too well for years after.
– I was a jealous man. I mentioned to her that I thought Chris Herzog liked her. She giggled. I felt something then. Like someone played an awful D-minor chord on this guitar I never realized was built into the core of my chest.
– I was a stalker. She had a neighbor who was one year older than us. I could ride my bike past from two houses away and see through the woods if they were playing together. I rode back and forth all day on any day we weren’t bikeriding together. He seemed like a cool guy. So I had no chance if he aimed his intentions in her direction (I was insecure was another thing I learned about myself but don’t want to make it a bullet point).
– I hated snow. Once it started snowing, the game was over. I can’t ride my bike in the snow. Which meant my ability to make my way over to her house was over. I cried the first day it snowed that fifth grade year.
– I was a manipulator. I became friends with all her friends. Even had mini-crushes on them. This way if she wasn’t around I could find someone else to talk to about my feelings for her.
– I was a gossip. Once I recognized in myself the complicated chemical process that turns a piece of coal into a diamond in the heart, I thought I could recognize it in others. So when David Pakenham liked Joanne Arico, I wrote it down in my notebook, detailing all the subtle nuances in their interactions that I had observed. When Jimmy Biondo liked Lori Gumbinger, I wrote it down. I wrote down the names of so many potential 12 year old couples that everyone was dying to see what was in my notebook and finally the teacher prevented me from bringing in that notebook ever again.
– I was a fighter. When Bryan Stryker was flirting with Beth one day, I jumped on him and hit him as hard as I could. Then he beat the total living crap out of me even though he was smaller and a year younger. That very day I quit taking piano lessons from his dad. And that was end of Beth and me bikeriding together.
– I was nostalgic. That night, when I knew we’d never bikeride together (she said, specifically, “I never want to talk to you again”) I thought of all the times we had spent together in the three weeks since I had confessed my love. My dad came into my room and asked why I was crying. “No reason,” I said.
She moved out of town a year or so later and to this day I have never seen her again. A few years ago, like scraping through the layers of an archaeological dig, I suddenly found myself facebook friends with everyone I knew in fifth grade, including Beth. We started playing “Word Challenge” on Facebook. We would IM occasionally and share our respective sad stories at that time.
Now, the other day, via a status update on her wall, I was very happy to see she had just gotten remarried. She looked extremely happy in her new profile photo. Life is good.
I was certainly willing to pay $100 billion to see that photo.