Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pledge of Allegiance: The story of my first crush

As a 5th grader at Faria A+ Elementary, I was smitten by a girl in my homeroom  Jocelyn K., a thin, black-haired, ponytail-wearing girl who, in the small world I occupied between school and my parents’ 2-bedroom apartment, was the prettiest person I had ever seen in the big, wide world. She sat in the 3rd row, close to the front door, and I sat two rows behind her. I never talked to her. I don’t think I so much as made eye contact, but I Liked her, and she was, as I was acutely aware of, the first girl I ever liked, with a capital L.

I can’t explain why I felt the way I did. I never paid attention to Jocelyn in 3rd grade, or 4th. I don’t remember her being extremely popular, to the extent you can be popular in grade school. Neither was she a physical education superstar (which, back then, was tremendous street cred), a performer (in the school’s annual talent show), nor overtly bright (I learned later, of course, that she was going to Stanford.) But every day in 5th grade, at around 9 a.m., when the entire class rose to say the pledge of allegiance, I would dismiss the American flag and covertly look at Jocelyn. I looked at the wispy black strands of hair falling out of her scrunchy, her small ears, the frills on her white shirt, and the slight outline of her training bra pressed against her frame (though I’m not sure I knew what a bra was at the time).

It wasn't very exciting unrequited love. But there were days when she, ostensibly bored of our nation’s jingle, would look around the classroom, and I'd glimpse her face. For my 5th grade self, it was enough to buoy my entire morning. And so it went on, every morning, until one day, she looked back and caught me staring at her. I quickly looked towards the ground, a splotch of embarrassment blooming across my face.

Momentous events like first crushes stick in our memories, and are molded later to explain the arc of our lives. For all of 5th grade, I never did talk to Jocelyn, but the morsels, a glance here and a “Thank you” there, were enough to make me remember, in middle school, high school, and even now, that she was the first girl I liked. Then, I didn't imagine whimsical universes where we’d be friends, or even something more—my fictions were muted, repressed, and non-existent, because the feeling of infatuation was overwhelming enough.

Summer came, with its vicissitudes, and when 6th grade started at Kennedy Middle School, it took a couple of weeks for me to realize Jocelyn wasn’t even there. Or if she was, I didn’t know it. My mind was swept up in the terrifying new social order: the influx of older, cooler, different peers. When my world expanded outside Faria and our daily Pledge of Allegiances, I learned that puppy love jumps from target to target, like a bumblebee haphazardly buzzing from flower to flower. Over the years, I started making eye contact with girls I liked, and, eventually, I even started talking to them.

During second semester senior year of high school, I organized a Faria reunion, one last tribute to our childhood before we flew away from Cupertino. 30 people showed up, and we played handball, talked to our former teachers, Mr. Tuckweiler and Mr. Wong, and sat on the lunch picnic benches, revisiting the year 2000. Jocelyn didn’t come, though if she did, this time, I would have said hi.

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