When I was in second grade, my mother married and we moved out of my grandparents’ home, where I had lived since birth, to an apartment in Milford, CT. I started a new school, Meadowside Elementary, and had to ride the bus for the first time.
I was a shy, goofy little girl with glasses. I loved reading and watching movies, and internalized what I’d seen and read. I tried to be like the characters I was interested in, the ones who were cool and strong and loveable. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes I just looked like a fool. It’s hard to be seven, having to start at a new school and find new friends before you’ve even had a chance to figure out who you really are. So who I was happened to be whomever I was reading about at the time, or what movie character seemed to be the ideal.
I had a huge crush on Brandon Wagner*, with his freckles and tousled golden hair. He didn’t even know I existed. But I’d seen romances in the movies and I thought he would love me if I surprised him with a birthday gift at school. So I chose an unused Charlie Brown and Snoopy activity book from my bookshelf, which happened to have an errant orange crayon mark on the cover but was otherwise pristine, and wrapped it up for him. I made him a card and I presented it to him the next day on the playground.
He laughed at me. “Eww! She gave me a used coloring book!” he exclaimed, pointing to the crayon mark on the cover. The other kids laughed, mostly the boys, then started chanting about Brian and me sitting in a tree. He flung my book down in disgust. I was ill with embarrassment, and ended up in the nurse’s office, waiting for my Aunt Linda to pick me up.
I went back to school, the taunting and snickering ringing in my head. Brandon Wagner was a jerk, I knew that. But it didn’t make me feel any better. I tried to keep to myself and avoided eye contact with all but the few girls I had made friends with. I stayed away from the boys, except for the one who sat next to me in class. Patrick White. I have a picture of him (and the infamous Brandon Wagner) somewhere around here, but I couldn’t find it in time to post this, so I’ll just have to describe him from memory: Short, light-brown hair; fair complexion; freckles; blue eyes (I think. Maybe hazel.). He was always friendly to me, and he wasn’t one of the boys teasing me on the playground. I was using a stamp my mom had bought me that weekend, one that had my name surrounded by hearts on it. Patrick asked if he could see it, so I handed it over to him and then left to use the bathroom. When I came back, I found Patrick at the front of the class, holding up a piece of paper with my name and hearts stamped all over it. “And this means that I love Lynn,” he was explaining.
I remember running back to the bathroom, utterly mortified. I don’t really remember anything after that, except that I don’t think I let him use that stamp again. We were never “boyfriend/girlfriend”, or whatever the innocent second-grade version of that is, but we were friends. And it was nice to know that someone liked me, just as I was beginning to feel like I wasn’t worthy of anyone liking me.
I moved back to West Haven that summer, started yet another new school, then moved again, starting anew again. I never saw Patrick White after that year at Meadowside, but if I did, I would say “Thank You”. Thank you, so much, for making this awkward little girl feel loved when she needed it most, and for making second-grade so memorable–in a good way.
*Name changed to protect the “innocent”