The Boy-Girl Demolition Derby
Around the time of her 10th Valentine's Day, my oldest daughter, Marie, observed, "Y'know, Dad, some of the boys in my class are starting to act like human beings."
"Don't be fooled," I said. "They're just evolving into another kind of animal — the kind that wants to follow you home."
That would have been a good moment to put her into suspended animation like they do in sci-fi movies with space travelers whose destination is years and years away. To miss the painful and confusing years of sexual awakening, I think we could set the wake-up time for age 25.
Why is this a good idea?
Around the time of Marie's announcement about boys, young love was festering on our street. I knew because my 7-year-old daughter, Sally, kept me informed. Our neighbor Billy, 12, had been making time with Rachel, a seventh-grader who babysat our kids after school. "But then Rachel dumped him," Sally reported.
Dumped him?" I asked. "You make him sound like a load of garbage. Why did Rachel break up with him?"
"She saw him kissing Heather (a sixth-grader who lives on our street). But Heather doesn't really like Billy. She was just trying to make her regular boyfriend jealous." No surprise there. I've seen Heather operate; she's full of intrigues.
Sally went on to say that Billy wanted to make Rachel feel sorry for jilting him, so he had gone out onto his porch roof and threatened to jump.
"And did he jump?" I asked.
"Sure," she said, "but he didn't get hurt. He does it all the time, but usually it's for fun and not for love."
"Does all this go on while Rachel is babysitting you?" I asked.
"Sure," she said. "It keeps her from getting bored."
Apparently, on weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m., when these middle-schoolers should've been indoors playing violent video games, minding my kids or plagiarizing the encyclopedia, they were out on the street reveling in some kind of hormonal happy hour, bashing away at each other's emotions like drunks with hammers.
Which brings to mind my own first love. She was a fifth-grade enchantress named Jeanette Scott. Although she was extremely uninterested, I'd walk her home from the bus stop every day. Jeanette loved jumping rope, so I joined in to be with her. Sure, prizefighters jump rope, but they don't do it with two girls turning it for them while chanting:
My name is Wendy
And my husband's name is Willie.
We live in Wake Forest
And we sell whoopee cushions.
My campaign was not advanced.
According to Greek legend, sirens were sea nymphs whose seductive song would lure sailors to their deaths on coastal rocks. Whenever we'd drive past the Scotts' house, my dad would put his hand to his ear and say, "I can hear the siren song." (Dad had more ways to warn of treachery and disaster than Crayola has crayons.)
One night at the roller rink, Jeanette laid bare her feelings for me. I had skated to the sidelines to chat with her when, without preamble, she coolly poured a cup of Dr. Pepper over my head. Her friends laughed. The soda pop, flavored with melted hair product, was bitter in my mouth and icy down my back as I skated away, a tragic figure, vowing to love more carefully or not at all.
It's an ugly business, this boy-girl stuff. It's tough to experience and it's tough to observe.
Oh, look! Here's 25-year-old Marie coming out of her 15-year hibernation. She yawns and asks, "Did I miss anything?"
"Not much," I reply. "The Beanie Baby market collapsed. Pogs are over. Oh! And we have a black president. On a personal level, you missed a lot of unpleasantness as your fickle and sadistic classmates acted out bizarre parodies of normal human relationships. You missed some cruelty, rejection, betrayal and heartache."
"Thanks, Dad, I appreciate it," she said. "But what about my education?"
"You can call it education. I call it emotional scarring."
"No, I'm talking about school."
"Well, if size counts, you'll be the star of the fifth grade."
Rick can be reached at RickEpstein@yahoo.com.