I remember the first (and only) love note I ever received in high school. The next day, the girl who gave it to me asked what I’d done with it.
“I burned it,” I coldly told her.
I suppose a little backstory might be in order.
I didn’t have a great time in high school. I was an awkward, scrawny little kid with a loping gait as I walked the halls that elicited frequent snickering and finger-pointing as I went past.
Skinny little twerps in high school got stuffed into lockers in the classic tales of yore, but our lockers were too small for that.
They had to settle for shoving me against walls, throwing me into trash cans, stomping on my sack lunch, or grabbing my schoolbooks and tearing them into pieces.
Well, that was just the boys. How did the girls amuse themselves?
There was a row of girls in front of me in Spanish class who liked to strike languid poses and look back at me with coquettish smiles to gauge my reaction.
If I averted my eyes or feigned indifference they would giggle amongst themselves and intensify their efforts. They’d seductively brush their hair, adjust their clothing, that sort of thing.
If I was seen to be paying any attention to this at all, this would provoke looks of revulsion, as they would pantomime gagging. “He’s enjoying it,” I remember one of them mewling in disgust.
So when the lovely Sally gave me her note, I was… suspicious.
She didn’t attempt to slip it to me in secret; she met me at the front of the class to hand it to me openly, evoking a great amount of giggling and hushed whispers.
I didn’t open it then; I slipped it into my pocket and went back to my seat.
I didn’t even get to read it first. The boy next to me saw me taking it out, quickly grabbed it and took his sweet time reading it—not out loud, thank goodness.
He laughed, gave it back, and then it was my turn to read.
“Dear Rikki,” it began.
“You seem like an interesting person and I would like to know you better. —Sally.”
“What are you gonna do about it?” my nearby tormentor asked.
I was wondering that myself.
Sally wasn’t one of the usual crowd in the row in front of me, but I think you might understand my lack of trust in her sincerity. I thought the “Dear Rikki” was kind of a tell; it seemed a little over the top.
Sure, it was conceivable she was on the up-and-up, but then, as now, that’s not the way I’d bet.
I folded the note back up and thrust it quickly into my pocket.
And the entire class, which had all been watching this drama unfold with hushed, conspiratorial whispers, began laughing at me, which quieted down as the teacher finally entered the room.
“I burned it,” I told her.
I lied. I kept that note and read it so frequently that it fell apart from being folded and refolded so many times.
I had no illusions that Sally—who, make no mistake, was gorgeous—was interested in me. But I liked thinking what it would be like to receive a note like that for real, and how wonderful it would be to have an actual girlfriend.
But that led to my next problem.
My little brother has always been bigger than me. We got along pretty well, but if there was ever any conflict between us, his greater height and strength would always decide the contest quickly.
And he’d spotted me reading my little note, and he decided, by golly, he was going to read it too.
When I refused, he tried to snatch it from my hand, so I took off running. He doggedly chased me around the house trying to grab it, while I did my best to stay one step ahead.
At one point I was far enough ahead that I could duck unseen into the root cellar, where I frantically tried to hide the note by burying it in the dirt.
I quickly realized that wasn’t going to work since my brother would easily find the freshly disturbed soil and figure out where I’d hidden my treasure.
I stuffed the note back in my jeans and stepped outside, where my brother spotted me—and the dirt on my fingers—and he shouted out in triumph as he entered the root cellar where he just knew the target of his relentless search could be found.
While he was distracted, I ran down the street to a friend’s house, gave him the note and gasped, out of breath, “Here, hide this. I’m trying to keep it away from my brother. Oh, and don’t you read it either.”
I’m quite certain he read it anyway, but I didn’t care by that point.
Back at the house, I found my brother waiting for me. Annoyed by his fruitless scrabbling at the dirt, he was standing with a stern expression by our back door, his arms folded as I approached.
And I had had it.
I marched directly up to him, cocked my fist back, and sucker-punched him in the nose, hard. I visualized punching through to a spot a foot in back of his head, and really gave it all I had.
I was determined to really make it count.
This was because I fully expected that he would retaliate, and that the resulting skirmish would not even qualify as a fight, as he would mop the floor with me in short order.
This did not happen. The punch probably stung quite a bit, but other than that, it didn’t seem to phase him. He stepped back with a look of surprise. There was a brief silence.
Then he ran into the house. “Mom!” he shouted. “He hit me!” As I recall it, he wasn’t crying; he sounded more shocked with amazement than anything else.
My Mom, who no doubt had been watching this all play out for quite some time, answered him serenely:
Recently my brother finally learned the contents of the note, 55 years later, as I told this story to him and several of his neighbors. He gave me permission to retell it on my blog, so I asked him how I might frame this story in a way that didn’t put him in such a negative light.
He shrugged. “I wanted to read it,” he simply replied.