Who knows why you like someone when you’re in fifth grade. If you asked me then, I probably would have told you it was because Lisa was “pretty,” or “hot,” or whatever the word was in fifth grade. She had blue eyes and blonde hair, back when I was young enough to be particular about that kind of thing. I’m thankful that I’m no longer particular about that kind of thing.
One morning, my clock radio turned on to wake me just as it was beginning. I didn’t know the lyrics to the song. Something something love sound babe. Something second chance. Something can’t you see I love you. As the guitar whined, Lisa rode the smooth metallic wave of sound through my chest and up into my head. I sprung up out of bed, and as I pulled the beaded chain on the ceiling fan above my bed, I felt relieved that the large white orb that hung from the fan didn’t fall off and hit me in the head, only to break on the floor next to me, as it had done once before. Today would be the day I would tell Lisa I liked her.
Our class went on a field trip to a church or a museum or some kind of place that had a tower that you could look outside of — one with deep cuts through which one could probably hide behind and defend oneself while shooting arrows at enemies. There were probably not ever any arrows shot out of these windows. We weren’t in Medieval Europe. We were in Omaha.
As I was looking out one of these windows, I felt a chin rest on my shoulder, and a wave of softness through my body. It was Lisa, getting the view out the window, and not trying at all to pretend that’s the only reason she was so close to me. I stood still.
For a moment we were Tom Cruise’s character from Top Gun and that woman who he wins over in the movie and we were in the part of that montage scene where they ride on a motorcycle and then they do stuff where you’re very uncomfortable to be sitting next to your parents in the movie theater, pretending not to pay attention to what’s going on on the screen. Take My Breath Away just made the whole thing even worse, but in this moment I could understand why they chose that song.
Then, Lisa stepped away.
There was an older kid along on the field trip. I wonder what he was doing there, or how old he actually was. I wanna say he was like 30. He was probably in seventh grade. He must have seen what happened, because he tried to help things along. “Heeeey, what’s going on with you and that blonde girl?” I just pretended I didn’t know what he was talking about as I tried to regain control over my limbs.
I didn’t tell Lisa that day that I liked her. Neither did I tell her on any other day when I sprung out of bed while Second Chance by 38 Special was playing, nor I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight by Cutting Crew, nor C’est La Vie.
But today, something had to give. Fifth grade would be over in five days, and summer would begin. I rode the bus 42 minutes to get to King Science Center, and I didn’t know what bus Lisa rode. I didn’t know where she lived, and I wouldn’t see her and there were too many Lovgrens in the phone book. So, naturally, during lunch, I sat where I always did, which was with the rest of Mrs. Hoffstetter’s class. I could see Lisa sitting with Mr. Balder’s class two tables over. Then, I ate my lunch.
Lisa’s best friend, Katie, came over. “Lisa wants to know if you’ll go with her.” Since Katie was Lisa’s best friend, she had to be Lisa’s messenger. Lisa couldn’t talk directly to me, and I couldn’t talk directly to Lisa. It was just a rule. It was just another device in the age-old war of saving face. It was as close as you could get to swiping anonymously — to have a third party filter each message so you could like only when liked.
This is how it worked the previous year when I went with Pam. Pam and I had talked on the phone almost every night, but we didn’t talk to each other at school — unless it was through her messenger, Amber. This is how it was until I told Amber that I was breaking up with Pam because we had been going together too long. It was cruel, but really 4.5 months is an eternity in fourth-grader years, and I needed some space to grow.
So, it turned out Lisa did like me, and she thought I was cute (I would have preferred cool), and she wanted to go with me. We of course didn’t go anywhere because that would be awkward considering we couldn’t talk to each other in person. It was just an expression — a nice metaphor, really — evocative of the idea that we’d be headed in the same direction in general and not to any place in particular. Going together should be used instead of the word “marriage,” which really just sounds like a stagnant pool of decomposed plant matter with mysterious bubbles floating to its surface.
I suppose I should describe how excited I was about this going with Lisa thing, as if it couldn’t be assumed. Blindingly excited. Confetti-packed bombs were exploding in my chest. Golden fireworks, twinkling clouds of radiant dust all around. It felt like the whole school was holding a parade in my honor when I saw Lisa smile from two tables over.
That was how it felt. The reality I can’t remember, the same way you can’t remember the car wreck — which seemed to happen in slow motion — when you wake up in a hospital bed.
18 years later, my friend Kristine, after hearing me talk over a whiskey in a wood-paneled bar in San Francisco about a woman I had met two weeks prior, was shocked. “I can’t believe you’re showing your cards this early.” This is something everyone seems to know. If you show someone how you feel, you’re just making yourself vulnerable. Play it cool. Don’t let down your guard. You’ve heard it all.
One hour and fifty-four minutes. That’s how long it took for Lisa to break up with me. I know, because I was wearing the blue-faced watch I had gotten for Christmas. It happened while we were in our respective class lines, coming in from recess.
What I usually had done in recess was to slowly walk the perimeter of the gigantic playground by myself, around where the boys played soccer and the girls played Patty Cake, and look at the ground and think about stuff. Maybe that was what Lisa had liked about me: That I was shy and reserved and thus a blank canvas upon which she could paint her fantasies — the same way I could make her an actor in my imaginary music videos.
Whatever it was she liked, it was ruined because walk around the perimeter of the playground quietly was not what I did that day. Katie told me it was because I was “too hyper.”