Click the Play button below for a soundtrack to this post:
It’s an April evening in 1986. A rosy glow at the bottom of the stairs lures me to creep downward to rooms inhabited by the three teens of the house. I am only ten and therefore light of foot as well as concealed by hallway shadows, I decide to sit down when I reach the bottom step. I’m soaking in the goings on of this fantasy land before my senses.
From the center room, various shades of bright pink have been infused into the decor–the sheer criss-crossed ruffly curtains, the dresser, the antique wrought iron bed frame, the shag carpet. You can practically scratch and sniff the textured floral wallpaper and get a taste of Baskin Robbin’s Bubble Gum ice cream. Lionel’s voice asks “…is it me you’re looking for?…” through felt fibers of a record player needle. The 18 year old dweller never leaves her room without turning the light off so I know she’s inside, even if she’s not visible from where I spy.
Flanking her open door are muffled sounds seeping from the base of the closed doors. Bryan Adams and clanking tools come from the dirt bike adorned door to the left while Michael Jackson and the turning of magazine pages come from the Princess Diana door to the right.
As I listen and absorb, I’m not sure why I don’t feel pleased as I recall my big accomplishment at school today…
The fifth and sixth graders were being arranged on the tiered rows of the raised platforms for our combined class program rehearsal. My best friend was excitedly asking me for details about my happy weekend news. One of the popular and talented sixth grade twin sisters from behind overheard us, leaned over to her double and said, “She probably doesn’t even have a real boyfriend.”
With calculated confidence, I pulled the folded piece of paper from the pocket of my satin pink jacket. There was the proof, right before their eyes. They didn’t need to hold the letter to see pencil scrawl between the light blue lines, adolescent and unkempt but readable. If words on the page weren’t enough evidence, also visible were greasy lip prints in the shape of a kiss on one flap of the note.
My boyfriend of fifth grade was a brown haired, brown eyed, seventh grader who lived next door to my grandparents. I met him one day while visiting them. The handsome boy and I locked eyes through the fence that separated his swimming pool from my grandma’s garden. That’s all it took.
He wrote a short but sweet proclamation, borrowed his big sister’s tinted lip gloss for the seal of affection, later met me at the fence to hand me the note, and said goodbye.
I tucked the note into my pants pocket, checked on it every few minutes of the two hour car ride back to my home to make sure it didn’t vanish, and anticipated the moment I could steal away to my room.
When that moment came, I read the first love letter I ever received. And then I finished planning my strategy.
Mission Objective: Climb the popularity ladder and learn to be brave.
Code Name: Deliverance
Clearance Level: Classified. For my eyes only!
Phase 1: With utter painstaking detail, write a love letter to yourself that looks like a boy wrote it.
Phase 2: Get as many people at school as possible to believe the letter is real.
Phase 3: Never tell anyone the truth about my imaginary boyfriend and the fake love letter.
Phase 4: Stop worrying about fitting in for good.
Phase 5: Join the C.I.A.
Like that night in 1986, I often sat unseen and unheard by my older siblings (and parents) in an attempt to idealize their fashionable and interesting grown up ways, starting with their music. Reflecting on my little scheme as I watched that night, I realized how silly I was for wanting to grow up too fast.
At least I think I did because I never tried a stunt as elaborate as that again.
I was telling my mom and sister the other day about this very vivid fifth grade memory; I think I mentioned that I was ashamed for never having confessed of it before. Since then, however, I have concluded that the memory isn’t still in my bank to torment me with guilt. The memory is there to show I still have some of that ten year old inside and it’s good to like her. Actually, I think she’s pretty smart and should join the C.I.A. Like A.S.A.P. What better age to join than the one where you really do know it all?
Except… my 1986 mission was a failure. At least a failure in the objective of gaining popularity and diminishing social anxiety. Between my peeking around corners, fine tuning my hearing, and forging a document, I did manage to develop a deep fascination of spies and a love of telling stories.
I take it back… Mission: Accomplished.