I was in an accelerated learning program in junior high, something they called “special progress.” You got to skip a grade, which delighted me because I had enough of being surrounded by children and wanted to get to high school where the older boys were.
Owing either to the meaness or incompetence – likely both -- that was my junior high’s administrative staff, in ninth grade I was separated from my best friend and placed in a class with a handful of girls I didn’t know or like, and a roomful of hormonally hysterical boys who occasionally got into spitball fights. They actually separated the small clutch of girls from the boys, perhaps to protect us from those slimy missiles that scattered whenever the homeroom teacher turned her back on us.
Then one day, I noticed…him. A blonde god. A movie star. Bright ruby lips and eyes as clear as blue glass. Like Walter, he was tall and lean, all sharp and skinny angles. But he was so pale, his skin seemed translucent and his eyes were soft and kind. At my first opportunity, I passed him a note. I have no idea what I said, but it was enough to make him write a note back. His name was Tom.
And thus began my first texting relationship – the 1960s version anyway. We had few opportunities to meet outside of class at first, but in class we were note-writing demons. And since the class was French, our subject soon turned to romance.
“J’aime tu,” we’d write each other back and forth in as fast as our Bic pens could scribble. (If we’d been listening to the teacher instead of writing notes, we might have known it should’ve been “je t’aime.”) Once, for some class project, the teacher moved us far apart and we had to depend on a loyal network of friends to silently pass the notes along under tables and across aisles.
It wasn’t just a physical attraction. Tom was a poet and so was I. We wrote poems to each other, for each other, about each other. We were going to run away and be poets together. Perhaps we’d join a circus and travel the world together, writing poetry that was raw and real and full of the experiences we would have.
I remember our first tryst vividly. It was the winter holidays, and the pain of being parted for two whole weeks drove us crazy. We came up with a plan – we would leave the neighborhood and go adventuring together. We both lied to our parents and surreptitiously met at an out-of-the-way subway station, taking the train to Prospect Park. It was only a few subway stops away but it felt like Paris to us. No one knew us there. No one could stop our love. We owned our world.
I remember that Nature had become monochromatic under the frost. It was a Brooklyn December and it was harsh. My feet were so numb they felt like frozen meat when I walked. Tom had walked ahead of me and came to a stop by a tree, where he tried to shield himself from the cutting winds as he waited for me to catch up.
I wore socks and boots and a good winter coat and gloves and a scarf and a hat, and still I was shivering. Tom wore jeans, a thin shirt, and a corduroy jacket lined with cheap fake sheepskin. His lips were almost blue. The sleeves of his hand-me-down jacket were too short, and his wrists and hands had turned a lobster red from exposure. I saw him tug his sleeves to cover his wrists when I came to him and my heart melted. I threw myself into his arms and, for the first time, we kissed. We kissed and kissed and through his skimpy clothes, I could feel his heart beat.
I would have stayed with him under that tree until spring, is how I felt then.