Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Muncie Boyhood-The Crush

What girl could resist my handsome face and keen fashion sense?
When you are a small boy in school, you aren’t supposed to be interested in girls. After all, they’re yucky. They have Cooties. They wear dresses and play with goofy toys like dolls. Of course, that’s usually not something your mother teaches you. Rather, it is something the other boys educate you about as they tease you.

I remember standing in front of Roosevelt Elementary School looking up into one of the large trees that stood majestically guarding the building. In my ear a song is ringing:

“Mike and Holly sittin’ in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, second comes marriage, then comes Mike with a baaaby carriage.”

Truthfully, I don’t remember the exact names. I heard the song so many times. But, it could have been Mike and Holly because in first grade she took a liking to me. I remember little “love” notes passed to me. I remember sitting on the floor to watch a movie and she would sit next to me; looping her arm through mine.

Oh, the shame of it all!

Outwardly, I was teased into acting like I hated it. In first grade, you’re not supposed to like girls in the least, but now the truth comes out…secretly, I really liked it. I liked it a lot.

Holly wasn’t my first girl, though. There were two before her. First, there was Tammy. She was the little girl who lived across the street from me before I was old enough to go to school. I do remember her complete name, but I can’t remember much else; except for the fact that she was a great friend and I was really sad when her family moved away.

Tammy kissed me once. The next day, I developed a case of The Hives. Of course, it had to be Tammy’s fault, and so I told her as much. In fact, I yelled it at her across the road.

“I’m ‘lergic to you! You kissed me and now I’ve got hives!”

After she moved, I only saw her once more when my folks took me to visit her. I’ve always wondered what became of her.

The other “woman in my life” before Holly was Cheryl. She was my skating buddy. Her grandmother and my mom were best friends, and because of them we became friends too. We used to take roller skating lessons together at Gibson’s Skating Rink when we were in Kindergarten and the early years of elementary school. She was a really cute little girl, but mostly she was my friend. We went to each other’s birthday parties, and played at each other’s houses. Good friends. To all of my old Southside classmates who used to dream of dating her, I can proudly say that she did kiss me once. I think we were six or seven, but hey! A kiss is a kiss…and, she didn’t give me hives.

After Tammy, Cheryl, and Holly, girls fell off the radar for a few years. I was consumed with boy stuff (toy guns, bikes, and Hot Wheels) until fifth grade. In Mrs. Denny’s class, despite the fact that I was still absorbed in the more manly pursuits of jumping ramps and shooting arrows at passing birds, I noticed a girl. That’s when it began.

The Crush!

My friends.  Tim and two of his sisters.  Yes, she's in the photo.  This was at the height of The Crush!
She really wasn’t new to me. I suppose I had known her all my life. It was just that I noticed for the first time that she was the most beautiful, smart, fascinating, and talented girl in all the world. I noticed all these things, but I couldn’t tell a soul. After all, I was a fifth grade boy, and I still wasn’t supposed to think girls were safe to be around. Additionally, I just knew that if I fessed up to the love I was feeling, I would be ridiculed from coast to coast.

That was the beginning of an obsession that lasted for five years! I was convinced that eventually I would be able to profess my feelings, and that she would feel the same, and we would get married. Sittin’ in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. She was my dream girl.

She was also my best friend’s sister. Tim, who was about two years older than me, had one brother and three sisters. Tena was the oldest sister, and was my same age. It was her grandparents that owned the home behind my folk’s place where so many of my childhood memories took place. That being the case, she was conveniently around a lot. After fifth grade, she stopped being Tim’s sister, and Tim became Tena’s brother…at least in my mind.

I never told her about this crush until I mentioned it in passing at a reunion years later, and it lasted until I was a sophomore in high school. It wasn’t until I found an interest in another girl and began to date for real that it faded into history, and became just another story in my past.

One event during this period stands out, and I’ve retold it a number of times over the years. Sometime, while I was a student at Wilson Middle School, I decided I needed to get her something as a gift. It may have been Valentine’s Day, but I don’t recall for sure. I can’t remember the occasion, but I do remember the deed. I bought her a cross necklace at the K-Mart on south Walnut Street.

The problem was…I couldn’t tell her about my feelings, and I couldn’t come up with a good reason to give it to her without revealing the truth. So, I came up with a plan.

I would give it to her anonymously.

The rear of our neighbor's house on east 21st Street, and the scene of my secret admirer delivery.
I wrapped it up, and put a note on it. “To Tena. From a Friend.” It was a cloudy day, overcast and cool. No one seemed to be home at Cecil and Irene’s house; her grandparent’s home, so I stealthily made my way from my house to their front porch using all of the skills that I’d developed over the years of playing army in their yard. It was a circuitous route that would make the guy who draws The Family Circus proud. I hid behind trees, bushes, and flower beds; darting from hiding spot to hiding spot until I’d made my way to the target position.

If anyone saw me, I must have looked ridiculous.

I carefully placed the gift on a ledge that jutted out from a support column, and then reversed the sneaky process to make my getaway. I pulled it off. Whew!

Now what?

Curiosity was killing me! Did they see it when they came home? Did they give it to Tena? Did she like it? What did she think about getting a gift from a secret admirer? I just couldn’t take it! I had to find out!

But how?

A new plan.

I went over to Cecil and Irene’s after they came home under the guise of finding out if Tim was there. It was brilliant! Tim was my best friend. It only made sense that I’d go over to see him. I’d done it a million times. I’d go see Tim, and I’d be able to glean the reaction just by paying attention. They’d never know.

Except they did know!

I strolled up on the porch and knocked on the kitchen door like I’d always done before, and Irene answered like she usually did…except this time she had an odd look on her face. It was a strange smile with a sparkle in her eye.

“I know what you did?”

My heart jumped up in my throat and my stomach did a somersault. I’m sure my face flushed.

“Huh? I didn’t do anything? I just came over to see if Tim was here.”

“Mike. I know you did it.”

My mind: What do I do now? Lie! Lie! Lie!

“I didn’t do anything. Is Tim here?”

“No, he’s not here. But, I know you did it.”

“I really don’t know what you’re talkin’ ‘bout. If Tim’s not here, I guess I’ll go. See ya later.”

Terror makes for very effective self-deception. My secret was on the verge of being revealed, and I couldn’t let that happen, so I LIED. I don’t think that Irene bought it, but I lied so vehemently that I almost convinced myself. I walked off the porch and around the corner mumbling to myself that I couldn’t believe that she actually thought that I’d done it. I had to mentally stop and remind myself that I truly had done it. I guess sometimes we lie to ourselves much better than we ever lie to someone else.

That is as far as it ever went, however. No one ever said anything more about it. I never brought it up, and Tim, if he knew about it, never mentioned it. Eventually, my fear subsided.

A couple of years later, I saw her wearing what looked like the same cross on a different chain. I commented on it and asked her where she got it. She had no real reaction and I don’t remember her answer. In the end, it was a big deal to me, but really an epic failure.

I added secret admirer gifts to the list of things that I’d never do again.

From then on until my first real girlfriend Toni sent the crush into the realms of history, I never came close to sharing my feelings for Tena again. The only way my crush displayed itself was through the goofy smile that would plant itself on my face every time she was near. I would pass her in the hallway at Muncie Southside and BOOM! Smile all over the face. I couldn’t make it go away. The smile muscles contracted so tightly that it actually hurt.

The crush was all bottled up inside, and it stayed that way until I saw her and her husband at a class reunion. I think it may have been our twentieth-year reunion. We were all walking in together, and I said hello.

“Hi Tena.”

“Hi Mike.”

“You know, I used to have the biggest crush on you.”


Nothing more was said. What more could be said? We all walked in. She and her husband went to their table. My wife and I went to ours. It is interesting how much of a relief it can be to even give voice to something as silly as a childhood crush. It was nice to let it out.

When I look back on all these girls, and at the wonderful wife that became the love of my life, all I can say is…

Boy, do I have good taste in girls.


  1. YOu are seriously a GREAT writer, Mike! I'm really impressed. Now I will read more of your items...Thanks!

  2. Thank you. I appreciate the compliment. :)

  3. Great story Mike and fantastic pictures! You were quite the dashing young lad. :)

  4. love the photos..