You were my best friend, my first true love. We were inseparable. In the increasingly potholed memory of my mind, I remember one of us or both of us overcome with grief that we weren’t seated near each other. The teacher relented. I am occasionally bothered that one memory has us then seated side-by-side at the back of the class, the teacher clearly amused at this younger-than-young love. This conflicts with another memory of the class as having about five or six rectangular tables, each table accommodating six children. In that scenario, there would be no possibility for students to sit together, no back-of-the-class to sit together in. Two memories that cancel each other. As the decades roll by, there are more and more of these.
At the annual end-of-year school show, our class did a musical presentation of a beloved children’s song. The boys and girls were divided into pairs. You and I were a pair, of course. A slam dunk pair. A true pair, unlike the other 15 or so artificially paired Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andys who sang and pranced their way around the stage that day.
You were the definitive Raggedy Andy. I was the definitive Raggedy Ann. You could have been Marc Antony to my Cleopatra. Tristan to my Isolde. Jay-Z to my Beyonce. Years before pesky hormones would confuse either of us into choosing heat over substance, our love was chaste, our desire pure. For me, the next strong connection I would have with a boy would be 13 years later, as a freshman in college. I would marry him, and many years later, we would become past tense. There would have been no possibility of that with you, back then. Five-year-olds don’t break up. They merely get distracted and move on.
Again, in the Swiss cheese of my memory: At the end of the school year, your parents moved from the ancient dilapidated neighborhood in which we lived to someplace that had homes with brighter, shinier faces that announced We’ve-Made-it-to-the-Middle Class. First grade was minus you. I don’t remember the name of my teacher, nor the end-of-year school play. It would take second grade to wake me up again, when my own parents moved, and I had, for the first time, a house with two levels, a postage stamp front lawn, a small concrete front porch, and a real bedroom, vs a tiny, flimsy addition tacked onto the back of my parent’s bedroom.
I saw you again in eighth grade, when we coincidently attended the same junior high. I recognized you immediately. You were “that boy I used to like in kindergarten,” nothing more. We had different friends, different lives. Seen not through the haze of white theatrical make up and thick wool braids, I felt no special connection to you. I don’t remember now if you even recognized me back in junior high or if you remembered kindergarten and the school show.
Had I run into you now, a happily-married woman in her mid-60s, and not a thirteen-year-old terrified by the social nightmare that was my junior high school experience, I would have said all this to you. I would have laughed and had you not remembered any of it, I would have reminded you in great detail, until you did remember. I would have sung the Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy song, the lyrics of which have survived intact, while the memories about some important events of my life have not.
So, here’s to you: My first great love. My first Valentine. My eternal Raggedy Andy.