45: Love Life

45: Love Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Love Life

We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.

~Author Unknown

My love life has been pretty uneventful, with the exception of one remarkable blip. His name is Andy Martin and I’ve been hung up on him since the fifth grade. Andy has cream-colored hair, a toothy smile, and an egg-shaped head. He’s irresistible. When I was eleven, I’d sit on the bleachers at Somonauk Park, watching his baseball games.

Somonauk is our local core of activities. There are no hills and only a couple of trees so you can see the whole world stretching around your head. Like in the ending of one of those cheesy movies where the main character has some triumph and they’re standing with their arms spread out looking at the blue sky and the camera is spinning all around. It’s the perfect contrast to the sweaty bodies bickering over the last slice of bologna inside my house.

During my Andy-stalking days, I’d scare up a girlfriend and ride the two miles to Somonauk hoping to catch a sighting. On the stiff benches we’d weave ribbons into silver barrettes and slip them into our hair.

Sometimes, Andy took a brief break from his baseball obsession to bless me with a glance or a wave. He’d hold up the bat with his skinny-licorice arms and the way he wavered would look a little dangerous, like the bat might be so heavy he’d lose control over it and clobber his own head. But what Andy lacked in beauty and balance he made up for in personality. He was kind, a little bit quiet, and he could make me laugh so hard I wanted to throw up (in a good way). When Andy broke into a smirk after delivering some sarcastic remark, I felt like the sun was rising in my stomach.

He kissed me only once. At the time, we were officially “going out.” I guess I should explain that in order to “go out” with someone, one of the two people (usually the boy) writes a note to the other one. This note tells you everything you need to know about a boy’s real and true personality. You could get a straightforward:

Will you go out with me?

Or the more artistic:

If you want to go out with me check “yes”—if you don’t check “no.”

And sometimes, usually from the most insecure boys—the ones my mom claims will someday make the best husbands—a girl might get a note which says simply:

Do you like me?

Andy was a “will you go out with me?” type, and I readily said, “Yes.” The day after our thrilling agreement to “go out” was cemented, Andy skipped baseball practice to hang out with me on the school playground.

He said, “Your shirt is nice.”

I said, “I spilled milk on it at lunch so maybe it stinks by now.”

He said, “No... it doesn’t stink.”

Andy jammed his hands into his pants.

I could hear myself breathe.

Andy glanced sideways and whispered, “Hey, let’s go back here.” He pulled me behind the rough brick building, pressing forward until his soft mouth hit my pursed one. Andy smelled like fabric softener. I wanted to keep breathing him in and in. Even now, the smell of dryer sheets makes me weak in the knees.

In the kiss department, I’m fairly sure I was a disappointment. I nervously sucked my lips back into my face while he searched for them with his. Still, though neither of us probably enjoyed the act of kissing, the very fact of its success felt magical. We agreed we were clearly in love and began planning our future with discussions about what we would be when we grew up. I chose comedian/waitress (my sister Peggy said all Hollywood performers pay their bills by waiting tables). Andy, predictably, would be a baseball player.

We passed notes in class with love-soaked messages like...

This class totally sucks.

I think Mr. Totesworth has a booger on his lip!

The best memory I have took place on a field trip to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. It happened on the long bus ride there with no air conditioning. Andy and I sat together in one of the very last rows bumping along, holding hands until sweat made rivers between them and our fingers were so slippery-hot it was almost impossible not to lose our grip. Over time, the students around us shrunk and blurred until the whole world was just me, Andy, and the quivering heat. Somewhere in the background, the bus jostled our butts and belched a recurrent hum.

We kept on holding hands at the planetarium, during the black, starry movie, walking through the exhibits, (which I have no memory of because the power of that hand-holding was so strong it wiped out everything in its path) and then back on the bus again. Other kids watched us with longing. We gave them a reason to feel lonely. In my whole lifetime up until that point, I’d never felt so special to another person.

Andy broke up with me on a Monday. He used the ultimate in cowardly break-up moves—the note. But, to be honest, he’d used the same tactic when he asked me out, so at least he was consistent:

Dear Juliet, I’m sorry I am breaking up with you.

It was great. Let’s stay friends.

~Andy

After the joy of being someone’s true and only love, it’s pretty tough to be dumped. I couldn’t understand why Andy would discard our perfect future plans or how he could resist a life with me in it.

For the first few weeks after the break-up, I went on attending his baseball games and manipulating seats by him in assemblies, pitifully hoping for one more flash of blissfully sweaty hand-holding. Then I saw him talking to Paula Bernadel on the school playground. They stood so close they must have been sharing the same breath. Andy reached up and ran a finger through one of Paula’s perfect curls and I heard him say, “Hey, let’s go back here.” He pulled her behind the building and my insides were scraped clean. Something inside broke and fell to the ground floor of my chest, trembling.

Adults think that eleven-year-old first loves are cotton candy filling the mouths of children. And they do melt. But those moments with Andy were my first tender proceedings into the realm of the heart. They offered a blink of knowledge about the realities of love when, until that time, I’d only been privy to theory. My heart fluttered to life with a grace that can be remembered better than described. And every bit of it mattered. Maybe love is always that way.

~Juliet C. Bond

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